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What Tottenham reaching UCL final means

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From Rob Dauster, lead writer of College Basketball Talk

Let’s get this out of the way before I get rolling here: I am a Tottenham fan.

Die hard. I care more about Spurs than I do any other sports team.

[ VIDEO: Spurs stun Ajax ]

I assume we’ve all seen the video of Steve Nash losing his mind when Lucas Moura scored his last-second winner in Wednesday evening’s Champions League semifinal. He is a studio analyst for TNT’s Champions League and also a lifelong Spurs supporter with deep North London roots. He sprinted off the set, did two laps around the building and returned with tears in his eyes, all while he was live on the air.

My reaction was similar, only it was in my living room, I danced with my three-year old Boxer, I woke up a sleeping two-month old and I wiped out trying to take a corner in the dining room. My wife has the video. The blackmail has already started.

I say all that to say this: I don’t care if Spurs fall to Liverpool in the final on June 1. That’s the truth. I want them to win more than I’ve wanted any team to win any game since UConn won the 1999 college basketball national title, but if this is the end, if Jurgen Klopp‘s heavy-metal football overwhelms a worn down, banged up and, frankly, lesser Tottenham with a never-ending barrage energy, I’ll be fine.

More than fine, truthfully.

[ MORE: Pochettino hails Spurs heroes ]

The ‘Spurs have no trophies’ jokes will continue to be mildly annoying, but at this point that’s the same as saying ‘Rob, you’ve gotten fatter since college.’ Of course I have. If that’s the best you got, maybe leave the banter to someone a bit wittier.

(Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images )
(Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images )

Because I don’t care about winning trophies just to win trophies.

I don’t think that’s what being a fan should be about. I want Harry Kane and Dele Alli and Mauricio Pochettino to win anything and everything they can, but the reality is that Spurs winning a domestic cup doesn’t impact my life in any meaningful way. Let’s say Spurs did win the Carabao Cup this year. I would have been happy for a few hours. I probably would have had a beer or three to celebrate. I’m sure I would have watched the highlights on twitter a couple times.

And then you know what would have happened?

I would have come home and my three-year old would be having a meltdown because I told him he has to wear socks, my wife would be asking me to change my two-month old daughter’s diaper because she won’t stop crying, my dog would be going absolute bonkers because Boxers are incapable of doing anything else and between all of that I’d have to find the time to mow the lawn, fix a dresser and patch up a couple of holes in my ceiling where the nails popped.

The same is true if they find a wait to beat Liverpool in three weeks. Or if they lose to Liverpool.

And despite wearing a lucky matchday jersey that was too tight 15 pounds ago, I’ll have absolutely no control over the result.

So if I have no control over it, and if my life will be exactly the same regardless of whether or not they win, why am I going to get torn up over a trophy?

That’s not what I believe sports should be about for fans.

Jimmy Greaves is Tottenham’s all-time leading goal-scorer. He played for the club for a decade in the 60s. He’s a legend in North London, and nine years ago, he said this to the Daily Mail:

“People are always coming up to me, ‘Jim, can you remember that goal against West Brom in 1968?’ and I say, ‘No.’ But that’s all right because they only want to tell you about what happened to them, anyway. ‘Well, you had the ball on the halfway line, and I remember that because I was with Charlie and we’d just got two pies…’ and it turns out the real story is about Charlie dropping his pie and what you did wasn’t all that important anyway.”

And he could not be more right.

Being a sports fan should be about the memories, about the moments, about the buildup leading to the biggest game in your club’s history. It should be about the experiences that come along the way. No matter what happens in Madrid on the first Saturday in June, nothing will ever be able to takeaway the experience of watching Wednesday night’s comeback, or the jubilation every Spurs fan mainlined when Moura scored the winner.

(Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images )
(Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images )

And nothing will be able to takeaway the indescribable swing of emotions that occurred during the second leg of the quarterfinal tie against Manchester City, when Spurs gave up three goals to put themselves in a losing position only to retake the lead before Raheem Sterling‘s 93rd minute winner was disallowed through VAR.

And I’ll never forget the final matchday of the group stage, when that man Moura scored in the 86th minute in the Camp Nou to get a draw that sent Spurs to the knockout rounds, or watching on a second screen as PSV Eindhoven found a way to make some miraculous saves that allowed them to draw Inter and keep Spurs in second place in the group.

And I’ll always remember Christian Eriksen‘s 79th minute winner over Inter on matchday five that kept Spurs’ chances of advancing alive, just like I’ll always remember the two goals Harry Kane scored in the final 12 minutes to give Tottenham a come-from-behind win on matchday four, when they were dead in the water after mustering just a single point from the first three group stage games.

And I will make sure to remind everyone I come in contact with that this all happened as Spurs played without a home until April, played without a midfield for the second half of the season, dealt with more injuries than Jon Snow’s army of the living in the Battle of Winterfell.

This run should not have been possible. And yet, here we are.

That’s the beauty of sports and sports fandom.

That is literally all that I can ask out of the club that I support. Give me a reason to spend day and night looking forward to the next time they set foot on the pitch. Give me an escape from reality for a couple of hours a week. Give me a reason to feel alive in the leadup. Give me heart palpitations for 90 minutes.

A win on top of that is nothing but icing on the cake.

Hyndman, Hamid seal permanent MLS deals

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Two players who have featured for the U.S. Men’s National Team in the past signed permanent MLS deals on Monday, after spending the all or parts of the 2019 MLS season on loan in the league.

The question is, should we be disappointed? It’s two USMNT-eligible players in their prime who are leaving Europe for regular playing time? Will that playing time get them back in the USMNT picture? Or were their old club teams simply the problem before?

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

It was a return for Bill Hamid, who was a D.C. United homegrown player and arguably the first player on the team sheet between 2009-2017. Hamid actually returned from Europe in 2018 and spent all of the last year and a half on loan from FC Midtjylland in Denmark.

Hyndman on the other hand signed a permanent deal with Atlanta United, after the former MLS Cup champions signed the 23-year-old midfielder on a loan deal from Bournemouth in the Premier League. It was Hyndman’s fourth club in four years – including three loan moves – and perhaps Atlanta is a place he can put down roots and stay for the long term.

Per both D.C. United and Atlanta United, both players signed multi-year deals. D.C. United reportedly even paid a transfer fee for Hamid.

Both players are solid to good players in MLS, and as Americans, they add quality and don’t cost a team an international spot. But for the U.S. Men’s National Team, it’s unclear how this could affect the pair.

On one hand, USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter has shown a preference to certain players he had in the 2019 January camp, including guys like Nick Lima, Paul Arriola and Christian Roldan, even if performances don’t necessarily merit them playing each match. On the other hand, as someone who has played in Germany, and England, Berhalter surely understands the benefits of challenging yourself every few years to play and train at a higher level. It doesn’t have to be Jurgen Klinsmann levels, where every single year they have to step it up, but finding a new way to freshen things up in a tough environment can have positive benefits for everyone, assuming there is playing time.

For Hyndman, who moved to Fulham’s academy in 2011 at the age of 15, it marks the end of seven years in Europe trying to break in. He had decent half-season spells with Hibernian and Rangers in the Scottish Premier Division, but one can argue that Atlanta United is itself on a higher level of play. That being said, Hyndman has clearly decided that regular gametime is best for his development as a player than relocating to the Netherlands, Italy or Germany to play. He wasn’t likely to get any at Bournemouth, even with their current Premier League struggles.

In Hamid’s case, he took a chance on Europe with FC Midtjylland. However, pretty quickly he realized that it wasn’t the right situation for him and within six months, he was back on D.C. United on loan for the next year and a half.

In both cases, there may have been options to continue their European adventures. Whether it was in the Championship or another “mid-major” European league, in the past, two players entering their primes might have tried to stay in Europe a little longer. But the lure of MLS, with a decent salary, less competition for places and the opportunity to play at home in front of family is a strong one, and the national team will have to adjust with it.

 

Would Saul make sense at Man United?

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As Manchester United prepares its roster construction for the future, one player that’s reportedly on the shortlist is Atletico Madrid central midfielder Saul Niguez.

Although originally from Elche, in southeast Spain, Saul has been on the books of Atletico Madrid since 2008 (other than a season on loan with Rayo Vallecano), making his first team debut in 2012 and growing from a scrawny midfielder into an international-calibre box-to-box star for both club and country. Per Diario AS, Man United has been interested in signing Saul before, and now it’s been revived. The report states, “The interest from Manchester is very real, and strong.”

[READ: Arsenal comes back to beat West Ham]

So, what kind of a player is Saul?

As mentioned before, he’s a sturdy, powerful box-to-box midfielder who can win headers defensively and knows how to play well in a Diego “Cholo” Simeone system. At the same time, he’s certainly not afraid to make a late run into the box. Last season he tied a career high with four goals in La Liga and also scored in the UEFA Champions League.

At 25-years old, he’s a hardened veteran player. But is he what Man United needs?

If you look at the current squad at Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s disposal, he’s got quite a few No. 8’s, right? There’s Paul Pogba, Andreas Pereira, and Fred. You can argue Scott McTominay has at times played like an 8, as has Jesse Lingard on occasion. One might argue that what Man United really needs is a better No. 6, someone who can be a destroyer and cover a lot of ground, freeing up that side of the game so Pogba could feel more comfortable attacking.

If Man United were to sign Saul in January – or next summer – we could potentially see him line up in a midfield three, though he’d be center right with Pogba to his left. Behind the pair would be McTominay to clean up the messes.

On paper, it’s a decent midfield for sure, but it’s just one step on Man United’s path towards becoming a team that can challenge for the Premier League and Champions League.

Of course, this is all theoretical. Saul carries a $166 million transfer release clause, and for the player he is, considering he doesn’t score many goals and affects the game in little ways, it’s a lot to spend for a guy who isn’t a guarantee to improve his team enough to make it back to the Champions League.

But if Man United was able to negotiate a better transfer fee for Niguez, they could do worse than a talented midfielder from Atletico Madrid. The question then will be – is Saul a system player (only successful under Simeone), or can he find success in the Premier League too?

USWNT’s Rapinoe named SI Sportswoman of the Year

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In 2019, Megan Rapinoe won a World Cup title, Golden Ball, Golden Boot, FIFA World Cup MVP, and the Ballon d’Or. Now, she can add her name to another distinguished list.

Sports Illustrated on Monday revealed that Rapinoe had been named SI’s 2019 Sportsperson of the Year. She’s the first individual soccer player from any gender to win the award, and she follows the 1999 U.S. Women’s National Team as the second USWNT-related athlete to garner the award.

[READ: Rapinoe wins 2019 Ballon d’Or]

Other notable winners of this award are Serena Williams, LeBron James, the Golden State Warriors, Michael Jordan, and Muhammad Ali.

“Even in a year with many great candidates, choosing Megan as the Sportsperson of the Year was an easy decision,” Steve Cannella, co-editor-in-chief of Sports Illustrated said in a statement released by the magazine. “She is a force of nature on and off the field, a trailblazing soccer player who also proves every day how large and loud a voice a socially conscious athlete can have in 2019.”

Rapinoe has had about as good of a year as a player can have, and she did it under enormous pressure. She withstood verbal and online taunts from the U.S. president for her noted opposition against his political decisions, as well as dealt with injuries during the tournament. Even if she wasn’t always at her best on the field, she found a way to score key goals at important moments.

Every Women’s World Cup seems to raise the profile of the USWNT and soccer in this country, but beyond her work on the field, Rapinoe’s hair, media savvy and ultimately, her performance won over any critic she could have. What she’s done for soccer in this country is immeasurable, and hopefully there are people that have a desire to keep watching the beautiful game after the World Cup, thanks in some part to Rapinoe.

Rapinoe will grace the cover of Sports Illustrated for the Dec. 16 issue.

Ljungberg on Pepe: He ‘showed his quality’

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Arsene Wenger used to say that players needed around six months once they came to the Premier League to get adjusted to both living in England and getting acclimated to the pace and physicality of the league.

For Nicolas Pepe, it was advice well heeded.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Offensively, Pepe was outstanding as he scored a goal and an assist in Arsenal’s 3-1 win over West Ham. At the same time, Pepe worked hard on the defensive end, making life difficult for West Ham left back Aaron Cresswell and anyone down West Ham’s right flank.

On Monday, Pepe showed that he was worth his $87 million transfer fee, and he only needs a yard of space to create something magical.

“People always ask me about Nico and I try to explain,” Ljungberg after the game. “He comes from the French league, he comes to the Premier League – in my opinion the best league in the world – and it’s a lot faster and a lot harder. He needs to adapt. People put pressure on him but that’s not so easy, and I thought what he did today was he worked really hard offensively and defensively and showed his quality.

“I’m so pleased for him because at the same time he was a big, big buy for the club and then comes pressure with that as well. He will fall asleep with a smile tonight.”

In the 66th minute, Pepe found himself isolated on the wing with just Cresswell to beat. After cutting inside, Pepe curled home a beauty which ended up being the game-winning-goal. It was just his second Premier League goal of the season and his first from open play. Perhaps now after five months of bedding in at Arsenal, Pepe is ready to shine.

There’s no doubt that with Arsenal’s defensive issues, they need their attacking stars to score in bunches from here on out. If Pepe can finish the season with ten goals and ten assists, it will be a wild success, and set him up well for the next season.