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Season Review: Huddersfield, Fulham, Cardiff, Brighton, Southampton

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As the 2018/19 Premier League season has come to a close, it’s time to take a very brief look back at each club’s campaign and review how they did. First, we look back at the bottom five sides and work our way up the table.

Huddersfield Town, Fulham, and Cardiff City were relegated to the Championship, while Brighton & Hove Albion and Southampton both managed to stay up, barely. Each team took its own path to where they finished in the table, so here’s a look back at some of the journeys.

Huddersfield Town

Finishing position/points total: 20 / 16pts
High point
: Doing the double over Wolves.
Low point
: Losing 5-0 to Liverpool to cap a stretch of 8 losses.

Our opinion: They struggled to score all season, with just 22 goals in 38 league matches. Shut out in a whopping 19 Premier League matches, they never had the firepower to compete.
Star player
: Aaron Mooy
Most memorable goal
: Isaac Mbenza equalized on an assist from goalkeeper Jonas Lossl to draw Manchester United on the penultimate day of the season.


Manager grade: David Wagner: C- / Jan Siewert: F
Hopes for next season
: Huddersfield needs to stabilize and regroup next season, and a top-10 Championship finish should be the target, building towards a promotion campaign the following year. Siewert wasn’t able to do anything of note in charge during the second half of the Premier League season, and the jury is still out on if he’s the right man to lead them through the Championship.

Fulham

Finishing position/points total: 19 / 26pts
High point
: Winning 3 straight under Scott Parker.
Low point
: A 4-1 loss to Watford to mark 9 straight.

Our opinion: An absolutely woeful defense doomed what was an otherwise entertaining attacking club. With a change of manager came a change of style, but nothing improved at the back. Fulham needs to sort out its back line for next season or a quick return to the Premier League can be thrown out the window.
Star player
: Aleksandar Mitrovic
Most memorable goal
: Jean-Michael Seri blasted an absolute stunner against Burnley early in the season. Andre Schurrle also victimized Burnley with a glorious volley as well.


Manager grade: Slavisa Jokanovic: D- / Claudio Ranieri: F / Scott Parker: C+
Hopes for next season
: The club did well to secure a permanent manager so quickly so they can get to work strengthening the squad for a promotion campaign to come straight back up. The priority this offseason will be looking to secure assets like Mitrovic, Jean-Michael Seri, and Ryan Sessegnon while looking to improve the defense.

Cardiff City

Finishing position/points total: 18 / 34pts
High point
: Beating Manchester United on the last day of the season.
Low point
: Failing to score in 4 straight, confirming relegation.

Our opinion: A club that many through would finish bottom of the league, or close to it, gave it a real fight and came close to staving off relegation a few times. The season clearly wore on Neil Warnock, who said there isn’t “a cat’s chance in hell” he ever manages in the Premier League again.
Star player
: Victor Camarasa
Most memorable goal
: Junior Hoilett‘s wonderful curler to beat Wolves in November pulled the club out of the relegation zone for the time being, but it can’t beat Camarasa’s unbelievable strike to beat Leicester City in stoppage time.


Manager grade: Neil Warnock: C
Hopes for next season
: They will be a real challenger for promotion in the Championship and should do well if they can improve the playmaking abilities up front.

Brighton & Hove Albion

Finishing position/points total: 17 / 36pts
High point
: Winning 3 straight in October, critical to staying up.
Low point
: 8 straight without a win Jan-Feb in a relegation battle.

Our opinion: Brighton was one of the most fun teams this season, with a combination of suffocating defense and an attack that could crop up at any time against any club. While they often fired blanks, when they came alive it was exciting and enjoyable. Still, the attack was too inconsistent and they’ll want to make smart improvements.
Star player
: Shane Duffy
Most memorable goal
: Glenn Murray‘s winner against Wolves capped off a critical 3-game winning streak and ultimately proved vital in keeping the club alive.


Manager grade: Chris Hughton: C-
Hopes for next season
: Sacking Chris Hughton, the man who pulled the club out of the muck and brought them to the promised land, is a bold decision. This is a team with good assets and a solid base, and they should be able to stay up again next season with the right leader.

Southampton

Finishing position/points total: 16 / 39pts
High point
: Beating Arsenal 3-2 in December.
Low point
: 6-1 loss to Man City as part of a 12-match winless run.

Our opinion: Southampton started off the season horribly and was a real candidate to go down until Ralph Hassenhuttl saved them. His management kept this team up and there’s real hope for the future with a young, scrappy squad that needs improvement.
Star player
: Nathan Redmond
Most memorable goal
: It wasn’t the best goal of the season (that would be the Redmond curler to finish off the campaign on Sunday?) but the most memorable is Charlie Austin‘s in the 85th minute to beat Arsenal and end their long unbeaten run. It sparked the turnaround for Southampton, marking their first league win in over three months and beginning a nine-match run where they picked up 15 points.


Manager grade: Mark Hughes: D- / Ralph Hassenhuttl: A-
Hopes for next season
: With Hassenhuttl in charge and improvements to the defense this summer, Southampton should be able to show more consistency next season. On their day, they’re capable of beating any team in the league and that should lead them to a belief in a top 10 finish. This team shouldn’t be battling for Premier League survival again.

La Liga want to move Barcelona v. Real Madrid to avoid protests

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MADRID (AP) The Spanish soccer league wants Barcelona’s game against Real Madrid to be moved out of the Catalan capital to avoid coinciding with a planned separatist rally.

[ MORE: La Liga scores, schedule

Separatist groups in Catalonia have called for supporters to rally in Barcelona on Oct. 26 when Barcelona is scheduled to host Madrid in the “clasico” match.

The league runs the top two tiers of Spanish soccer. It has called on the Spanish soccer federation (RFEF) – which controls regulations and fixtures for professional and amateur games – to shift the match to Madrid. The league has also requested for the return match to be switched from Madrid to Barcelona.

The league said Wednesday it has “requested the competitions committee of the RFEF to meet and change the location of El Clasico because of exceptional circumstances beyond our control.”

Catalonia has seen violent protests for the last two days with police clashing with protesters angered by the Supreme Court’s decision to sentence nine separatist leaders to prison.

The federation said the clubs have until Monday to respond to the request to change venues.

Catalan independence flags are a regular feature at Barcelona’s home games at the Camp Nou Stadium.

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

Report: Sacramento finally gets MLS expansion franchise

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After years of trying, it appears that Major League Soccer is finally heading to Sacramento.

Sacramento Republic FC have long been one of the best runs franchises in the lower leagues in the United States of America and both city officials and their new ownership group have backed this push to join MLS.

It seemed certain that Sacramento would get a team in 2016 and 2017, but they’ve been left behind as plenty of other cities have been awarded expansion franchises.

A report from the Sacramento Bee states that the franchise will be announced on Monday in a ceremony in downtown Sacramento.

“Sources said league officials will hold a press conference in downtown Monday followed by a fan event in the afternoon, celebrating the franchise award. The announcement will mark the successful conclusion of a laborious five-year effort by Sacramento community leaders and various investors to secure a franchise in MLS.”

New majority owners LA billionaire Ron Burkle (who also owns the Pittsburgh Penguins) and Hollywood producer Matt Alvarez joined Sacramento businessman Kevin Nagle this spring to get the finances in line for a new soccer-specific stadium and to pay the expansion fee which is close to $200 million.

Sacramento released a statement on the speculation, after Burkle, Alvarez and Nagle had been working closely with MLS in recent months to iron out the details of arriving in North America’s top-flight.

“We share the great excitement and anticipation in our community about Sacramento’s bid to join Major League Soccer. We will continue to respect the MLS expansion process and remain confident about the future of our club and our city. We look forward to sharing more information in the days ahead.”

Nagle and Warren Smith set up Sacramento Republic FC, who began play in the United Soccer Leagues in 2014, and have built an impressive fanbase.

Burkle and Alvarez were the final pieces of the jigsaw as their cash investment will allow the construction of a $250 million 20,000 capacity stadium long planned in the Railyards district of downtown Sacramento, while the city will also add funding to the effort as they add their second major league franchise.

Sacramento Republic will have an instant rival in MLS too, as the San Jose Earthquakes are located just 120 miles south-west.

With St. Louis awarded an expansion franchise in August and to begin play in 2022, MLS is now up to 29 teams with Nashville and Miami joining for the 2020 season, plus Austin FC arriving in 2021.

MLS Commissioner Don Garber seems keen to get the number of teams to 30, with Charlotte, Phoenix, Detroit and Las Vegas all pushing hard to become the 30th franchise in the coming years.

Sacramento’s journey to MLS has been a long one, but now they are about to celebrate.

Bulgaria detains four fans following racist acts

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SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) The Bulgarian government says it has detained four soccer fans linked to making racist gestures, including Nazi salutes, during a European Championship qualifying match against England.

[ MORE: Bulgarian FA chief resigns ]

Bulgarian fans also directed monkey noises at England’s black players during the match, which was halted twice in an effort to stop the racist abuse. England won the match 6-0.

The Ministry of Interior says police have “detained four people, whose involvement in what happened is being clarified.”

The ministry says any evidence collected will be handed over to prosecutors.

In the fallout from Monday’s game, the president of the country’s soccer federation has resigned and the Bulgarian special police forces have raided the federation offices.

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

Berhalter slams USMNT after Canada defeat. What now?

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Gregg Berhalter and the USMNT hit a new low on Tuesday as they lost 2-0 to Canada in Toronto and it could have been worse.

Much worse.

[ MORE: USMNT player ratings ]

Totally outplayed in their CONCACAF Nations League game, pressure is mounting on Berhalter as the U.S. men’s national team perhaps haven’t even hit rock bottom yet. Two years after their shocking failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup as they lost at Trinidad & Tobago, in many ways the performance against Canada was worse.

What progress has been made since that fateful night in Couva in 2017?

[ MORE: 3 things we learned

Speaking to reporters after the damaging defeat at BMO Field, Berhalter threw his players under the bus. Big time.

“The first thing that stands out to me, was desire; desire of Canada,” Berhalter said. “Give them credit. But having said that, the minimum we expect is to match that. We need to compete on every single play in games like this, and that’s important. I don’t think it was a lack of effort. I don’t think it was purposeful. But I wasn’t happy with the desire that we displayed tonight to win the soccer game. Too many 50-50 balls we lost, and that hurt us.”

USMNT fans are calling for Berhalter to be fired just 10 months into his reign, and his possession-based style isn’t sinking in with his young, hard-working squad. Berhalter wants the USMNT to play like Barcelona but right now they look more like Burton Albion. And that’s being kind.

The youngsters coming through are being asked to overcomplicate things and aren’t playing to their strengths. After a heavy defeat to Mexico last month and a damaging loss to Canada, qualifying for the 2022 World Cup would now be a huge achievement for the USMNT. It should be a given.

Where do we go from here?

The fact USMNT general manager Earnie Stewart may well have to get the thumbs up from Berhalter’s brother, Jay, who is the expected incoming new CEO of U.S. Soccer, adds to the anger from U.S. fans.

It is unlikely Berhalter will be removed anytime soon and that U.S. Soccer will stick with him after waiting a year for him to take charge.

Former interim coach Dave Sarachan did the best job he could do from November 2017 to November 2018, but that lost year waiting for Berhalter has sent this young group of players spiralling backwards.

The lack of progression is clear for all to see, but Berhalter doesn’t want anyone pointing to the shocking defeat in Canada as a true reflection of where this team is at.

“I wouldn’t make a statement about the program based on this game,” Berhalter said. “The reason why is that these games are difficult. It was never going to be easy and come here and win the game. There was no way. When you look at their team, when at their quality, when you look at where they are right now, it wasn’t going to be an easy game. We have to accept that. I think all of us have to accept that. We wanted to win the game, and hopefully we’re going to keep improving and hopefully we’re going to start winning games on the road, but tonight wasn’t the night to do it.”

Berhalter is under pressure and things have got worse for the USMNT since their embarrassing World Cup qualifying failure two years ago.

Is it time to pull the plug on Berhalter? After the performance against Canada his players appear to think so, and so too do the fans.

U.S. Soccer have a big decision to make, as things look like they will get a lot worse before they get any better.