What Pulisic’s move means for Chelsea

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Christian Pulisic’s $73 million transfer to Chelsea is a monumental moment in American soccer.

It could also be a huge clue as to the direction Chelsea is heading in over the next few years.

[ MORE: The right move for Pulisic? ] 

Pulisic, 20, is now seen by many as the heir to Eden Hazard‘s Stamford Bridge throne, and despite many Chelsea fans being excited and intrigued to see how the USMNT star fares when he arrives in the summer, they will also be feeling a little dread that Hazard’s potential move to Real Madrid is edging closer.

Pro Soccer Talk understands that Pulisic has been told that some key attacking players at Chelsea will be moved on between now and this summer in order to allow him to become a key player for the west London club. It is likely that was a big factor in Pulisic not selecting to join the likes of Liverpool, Bayern Munich or Manchester United who were also in the running for his signature.

Chelsea host Southampton on Wednesday (Watch live, 2:45 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) at Stamford Bridge and our Premier League analysts will be breaking down Pulisic’s move.

If the likes of Hazard, Willian and Pedro are on the way out, Pulisic, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Ross Barkley and even Ruben Loftus-Cheek look like being the future of the club. Aside from Hazard leaving, Chelsea fans will be excited to see their forward line freshened up.

[ MORE: Pulisic issues statement ]  

Both Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud are surplus to requirements under Maurizio Sarri, and Hazard playing as the false nine doesn’t get the best out of his talents. If Hazard joins Real Madrid, Pulisic will be handed the keys to this Chelsea attack. He is young and hasn’t played in the Premier League before, but there’s no doubt he is one of those players that only gets better when playing with more talented players around him. The power and pace may take some time getting used to, but being fed by Jorginho, N'Golo Kante and others will surely be a dream for Pulisic to press high and use his trickery in the final third of the pitch.

But what about off the pitch?

Chelsea aren’t daft. They’ve just locked up the best player the U.S. has ever produced and will no doubt try and market Pulisic to boost their presence in the U.S. and North America as much as they can. Having Pulisic in their squad means that any time Chelsea will play on U.S. soil in the next few years, stadiums will be packed to see the kid in action. It is that simple. Chelsea will likely become the top supported PL team in the USA in the coming years if Pulisic is a star at Stamford Bridge during the prime of his career.

When it comes to the old shirt sales myth, the way these deals are structured means that Chelsea will not directly make back what they’re spending on Pulisic, but the player will no doubt gain huge value commercially by being one of the faces of the club. Whatever way you slice it up, Pulisic and Chelsea are good for one another from a business standpoint and the American player is being bought for more than his ability on the pitch. But that, crucially, seems to be the main factor here.

Sarri’s system of possession-based soccer and high-pressing suits Pulisic’s game well and now it is about him hitting the ground running in a Chelsea shirt in the summer. His arrival is exciting for Chelsea as they’ve beaten a number of rivals to sign Pulisic, but it also points to Sarri dismantling their current attacking lineup. If Hazard remains it will be a huge boost for everyone connected with Chelsea. If he goes, Pulisic will have plenty of pressure on his shoulders to emulate the Belgian magician.

Chelsea and Sarri are lining up the dominoes and Pulisic’s arrival will allow the others to start falling.

Spurs’ Son happy South Korea “unscathed” in North Korea qualifier

Photo by Korea Football Association via Getty Images
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As expected, North Korea did not broadcast its World Cup second round qualifier against South Korea this week, making for an old school “wait and see” for fans back home in South Korea.

The match ended 0-0 in front of no fans in Pyongyang, with just police in the stands as Heung-Min Son and South Korea kept their group lead over the North Koreans on goal differential.

[ MORE: Monster deal for Mbappe? ]

Son, the Tottenham Hotspur star, says it was an odd experience. From The Korea Herald:

“The opponents were pretty physical, and we exchanged some terse words,” Son told reporters at Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul. “It might have been their strategy. They played it rough, and they took exception to our own physical play. …. Rather than focusing on the match, we started worrying about trying not to get hurt. It means a lot to have come out unscathed from a match like this.”

The few videos released by journalists show an eerie scene, and South Korea’s status as AFC powers probably played in North Korea’s lack of desire to broadcast a potential home loss. But you have to think that also lived in the home players heads a bit, too.

Atlanta heads into MLS playoffs looking to defend its Cup

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MARIETTA, Ga. (AP) It’s been a strange season for Atlanta United.

They’ve added more two more cups to their collection.

They’ve endured some rather baffling losses.

[ MORE: Monster deal for Mbappe? ]

After all that, the defending MLS Cup champions are heading into the postseason from essentially the same position as last season.

Atlanta, which was runner-up in the Eastern Conference, will host the New England Revolution on Saturday in the opening round of the playoffs, a rematch of their Oct. 6 game to close out the regular season.

“We’ve put ourselves in a pretty decent spot, as strange as the season has maybe been,” midfielder Julian Gressel said Wednesday after a training session. “We’ve already won two trophies, and now we have a chance for a third.”

In mid-August, United broke out the champagne after a 3-2 victory over Mexican powerhouse Club America to capture the Campeones Cup.

A couple of weeks later, they were celebrating again with a 2-1 victory over Minnesota United in the U.S. Open Cup final, guaranteeing a spot in next year’s CONCACAF Champions League.

“I felt like we were always there and pretty much at our best in those games,” Gressel said. “That’s why I’m pretty confident we’ll be at our best when it really matters.”

But there are reasons to be concerned. Atlanta struggled badly in some league games – especially on the road – and rarely looked like the dynamic team that won the MLS Cup in just its second year under former coach Tata Martino.

With Frank De Boer now at the helm, United got off to a sluggish start and spent much of the season juggling lineups and switching up tactics in a desperate bid to find some consistency. Atlanta never put together an unbeaten streak longer than five games – it had three such stretches a year ago – and finished with 58 points, 58 goals and a plus-15 goal differential. All were short of the 69 points, 70 goals and plus-26 differential from the 2018 season.

[ MORE: USMNT player ratings ]

Still, United’s second-place showing in the East behind New York City FC matches last year’s finish, guaranteeing the team at least one home game in the playoffs and another in the conference semifinals should it beat the Revolution.

That’s a crucial edge for a franchise that has essentially broken every MLS attendance record and again averaged more than 52,000 per game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, doubling up every team in the league except Seattle and Cincinnati. In 17 home games, Atlanta lost only twice.

While United closed out the season with a 3-1 victory over New England, the Revolution has been one of the league’s hottest teams over the second half of the season.

Atlanta will be further tested by the possible absence of its best defender, Miles Robinson, who is dealing with a strained left hamstring sustained during a workout with the U.S. national team last week.

If Robinson can’t go, United will have to change up their lineup once again and possibly adopt a more defensive approach to Saturday’s game.

“If I do push up, it’s more so getting back a little faster than I normally would, things like that,” said midfielder Darlington Nagbe, one of those who may be affected if Robinson can’t go. “Just feel the game out and see how it plays out.”

In the regular-season finale, Ezequiel Barco got the start over Pity Martinez, a lineup that de Boer might go with again in the playoffs.

Barco played only 15 league games this season because of injuries and a lengthy stint with Argentina at the FIFA U-20 World Cup, but he provided the sort of spark de Boer was looking for against New England. Martinez, who was the 2018 South American player of the year and Atlanta’s major acquisition during the last offseason, has struggled to find his nice in MLS with just five goals in 32 appearances.

“We have to see,” de Boer said. “The only thing that concerns me is to win the playoffs.”

MLS switched up the playoff format this season. Instead of the top two teams from both the East and the West receiving byes and two-legged rounds to determine the winner of conference semifinals and finals, only the first-place finisher gets the opening round off and every step of the playoffs is a single-game elimination.

There is no room for error.

“If you have an off day, you might be out,” Gressel said. “I feel like it’s a format that favors the underdog a bit more, or gives the underdog a bit more hope.”

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 His work can be found at https://apnews.com

Zlatan paces MLS jersey sellers, offers fresh quip on Minnesota challenge

AP Photo/Chris Carlson
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Zlatan Ibrahimovic: He’s like a more charming, less anarchist version of Tom Hardy’s Bane.

The LA Galaxy man was revealed to again have the top-selling jersey in Major League Soccer on Wednesday, days before the club begins its 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs run with a match in Minnesota.

[ MORE: Monster deal for Mbappe? ]

Snow is in the forecast, but Zlatan is not bothered by such weather.

“I’m from Sweden I was born in the snow. When it snows, I’m a viking. When it’s warm, I’m a lion. We adjust for every condition there is.”

Back to the jerseys, the MLS MVP finalists are 1-2-3 in sales. Ibrahimovic is first, followed by Atlanta’s Josef Martinez, and LAFC’s Carlos Vela.

The top sellers amongst Americans are Seattle’s Jordan Morris (7) and Cristian Roldan (12). Chris Wondolowski of San Jose is 13th, while other domestic names on the Top 25 include Sebastian Lletget, Brad Guzan (!?!), Dom Dwyer, Jozy Altidore, and Graham Zusi.

Midweek El Clasico possible in December following political unrest

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Political unrest in Catalonia has both La Liga and the Spanish government looking to move the first El Clasico of the season.

Barcelona and Real Madrid are scheduled to meet at the Camp Nou on Oct. 26, but the jailing of nine Catalan separatists has caused uproar in-and-around Barca.

In fact, Barca as a club has denounced the imprisonment, so it plays more than a peripheral role in the controversy.

[ JPW: What now for Berhalter, USMNT? ] 

Players heading to and returning from international break have faced in challenges in getting to the club.

Instead, Marca says that we may see a midweek match played in Madrid on Wednesday, Dec. 18, with the reverse fixture in March moved from Madrid to Barcelona.

Dec. 18 would give both teams three matches in eight days before La Liga’s winter break. Barca would play Real Sociedad, Real Madrid, and Alaves, while Real would play Valencia and Real Betis in addition to the Clasico. Both difficult runs, but fairly even.