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Coutinho losing playing time in complicating situation

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According to reports in Spain, Philippe Coutinho‘s agents Kia Joorabchian and Giuliano Bertolucci have contacted Barcelona over concerns about his playing time.

However, with a noticeable dip in Coutinho’s recent performance and Ernesto Valverde’s preference for young Ousmane Dembele on the wing, the 26-year-old Brazilian has found himself in a difficult situation, with slight criticism beginning to come from team management.

Prior to Barcelona’s surprising 2-1 loss to Levante in the Copa del Rey final 16, Valverde’s assistant Jon Aspiazu gave a newsworthy response when asked about the Brazilian’s recent lack of playing time. “Coutinho is perhaps not at last year’s level and Dembélé has passed a little above him,” Aspiazu said on the GOL television broadcast of the match. He did reverse that take slightly, following up with, “But he is a player which we consider as a starter and will be very important for us in the remainder of the season, for sure.”

Coutinho has not started any of the last four La Liga matches, with Barcelona winning those four games against Espanyol, Levante, Celta Vigo, and Getafe by a combined 13-1. Valverde not only has directly replaced the Brazilian in the starting lineup with 21-year-old Dembele, but Valverde has added Arturo Vidal to the midfield duo of Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic, leaving absolutely no room for Coutinho in the lineup.

Coutinho did start the Copa del Rey loss to Levante and play the full 90 minutes, but he was uninspiring despite bagging a late goal from the penalty spot, with Barcelona looking lost in Lionel Messi’s absence. He completed just one pass in the penalty area and collected two key passes, failing to register a single shot on target outside his penalty.

After the Copa del Rey defeat, Valverde was asked about Coutinho’s weakening squad position, and he was far more diplomatic than Aspiazu, but still managed to acknowledge the situation. “If a player is not happy, he has to fight to reverse the situation,” Valverde said.

With ranking club staff addressing the situation publicly and his agents reportedly firing back privately, Coutinho’s status with the Barcelona squad feels like it’s at a crossroads. Despite Barcelona’s surprising Copa del Rey loss, they still hold a five-point lead at the top of the La Liga table, and this could all possibly be for nothing should the Brazilian improve his play and earn more time on the pitch. However, if he continues to ride the bench through the next month, it could trigger clubs to try and pry him away from the Catalan club and take advantage of his worsening squad position.

Atletico Madrid roster for MLS All-Star Game includes Felix

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Major League Soccer fans will get a good luck at one of the hottest prospects in world soccer when the MLS All Stars take on Atletico Madrid in next week’s MLS All Star Game.

Joao Felix, the $142 million 19-year-old, is among the roster announced by Diego Simeone for the match.

[ MORE: Newcastle in for $28M Saint-Maximin ]

Felix scored 20 times with 11 assists in 40 matches for Benfica before moving to Atleti in the summer. Those numbers include a hat trick against Eintracht Frankfurt in the Europa League quarterfinals first leg.

The other stars will be there, too, provided no transfers happen in the interim. Koke, Thomas Lemar, Diego Costa, and Saul Niguez are in the squad.

New Atleti defender Kieran Trippier and longtime El Tri hero Hector Herrera will also be sure to help drive attendance in Orlando City.

The full roster is here.

Leagues Cup preview: MLS gets its next shot at Liga MX

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It’s not a typo; The s is very real.

The Leagues Cup — not the League Cup — is the new competition pitting Major League Soccer sides against some of the top sides from Mexico’s Liga MX.

The tournament has been expanded before it’s even seen a ball kicked in competition, as the second edition with go from eight to 16 teams.

[ MORE: Newcastle in for $28M Saint-Maximin ]

For now, though, we’ve got four American and four Mexican sides meeting over the next two months in a bid for North American supremacy not unlike a CONCACAF Champions League stripped of all the minnows.

Much like the CCL, the Mexican sides will be expected to triumph, even with all of the quarterfinals being staged in the United States.

Chicago Fire hosts Cruz Azul on Tuesday, followed by the LA Galaxy’s visit from Club Tijuana.

Wednesday will see the Houston Dynamo host Club America, and Tigres UANL at Real Salt Lake.

The winners meet Aug. 20, while the final will be played Sept. 18 in Las Vegas.

There’s a lot of promise in this, and it gives MLS another chance to make some statements about the distance between it and Liga MX. The Mexican sides have flat out dominated the CCL, and it’s not difficult to make the same prediction for this tournament.

But, like many tournaments, it also gives success-starved clubs a chance to give their fans something big and their players a tonic. For Bastian Schweinsteiger‘s Chicago, for one, it’s a huge opportunity. And for Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the Galaxy, it’s a look toward another piece of silverware for one of the world’s biggest trophy cases.

USMNT prospect Ledezma earns praise from van Nistelrooy

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Even for talents of the highest levels with top soccer education, sometimes a kid’s gotta learn how to eat.

Richard “Richie” Ledezma, 18, is in the midst of his first year at Eredivisie side PSV Eindhoven, a spot which beckoned after a five-match, one-goal season in the USL with Real Monarchs of the USL.

[ MORE: Chicago adds USMNT hero ]

Ledezma starred for U.S. U-20 team at the World Cup after his first half-season with PSV, which saw him play with the U-19s while trying to lose some weight.

From Goal.com:

“PSV help me with my nutrition, with my food and how I eat. It’s the quantity of food you eat, I guess,” he added. “Because I came a little chubby, when I got here, I guess. They all called me ‘fatty’ and stuff, so I was like, cool, you know? So no more McDonald’s.”

Goal’s James Westwood had a wide-ranging interview with Ledezma and also spoke with soccer royalty: longtime Real Madrid and Manchester United scorer Ruud van Nistelrooy was Ledezma’s coach with the U-19s.

“He’s making a difference in midfield with very quick-thinking passes, movement, can score a goal, play people in, he’s creating chances for the whole team.”

That’s not just good praise from a legend, but a solid sign for fans of the United States men’s national team. A proper No. 10 or playmaking midfielder could allow Gregg Berhalter or another future USMNT coach to use Christian Pulisic on the wings.

Ledezma has some work to do before he breaks into the first team of the Dutch runners-up, who have signed former Stoke City man Ibrahim Afellay and has Gaston Pereiro in the fold as well.

Newcastle reportedly in for $28M mercurial Nice attacker

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L’Equipe says that Newcastle United have returned to Nice in the hopes of landing Allan Saint-Maximin.

The Ligue 1 outfit wants $28 million for the playmaker, who could team up with Miguel Almiron and (maybe) Joelinton to give the Magpies a much-improved attack.

[ MORE: Chicago adds USMNT hero ]

Saint-Maximin, 22, has 10 goals and 10 assists across his last two seasons with Nice, and played everywhere in attack for Patrick Vieira: both wings, center forward, second striker, attacking mid… even some left and right midfield.

The player, however, has been a headache for Vieira at times, with the manager saying Saint-Maximin believes that he has enough talent to reach the highest level without the required amount of work.

That said, the youngster’s skill set is electric. He’s a March birth date, too, so a relatively young 22. That $28 million would be another transfer record broken for Newcastle, assuming it happens ahead of the Joelinton move.

Or… as Newcastle fan knows, neither could go through.