MLS Playoffs: 5 Key Battles in 1st Round

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It’s playoff time! With the new MLS postseason format, featuring single-elimination matches, the margins between victory and defeat are razor thin. Winning individual battles, or a battle to control a zone in the field, are more important than ever.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at five key battles ahead of the start of the 2019 MLS playoffs.

5. Wayne Rooney v. Michael Bradley, Toronto FC CB’s

At this point of the season, every game could be Wayne Rooney’s last in a D.C. United uniform. Along with Luciano Acosta and Paul Arriola, Rooney is clearly the key man to D.C. United’s attack. The ball will flow through him as D.C. gets going, and it will be on TFC to mark him tightly and make sure he has no space to turn and strike the ball, or get on the end of a cross into the box.

Michael Bradley, at 32-years old, is no spring chicken. Especially late in the season, it will be interesting to see how he does marking Rooney when Rooney drops into the space between TFC’s backline, or whether he can pass him off to Omar Gonzalez or Chris Mavinga in the center of defense.

4. Union central midfield v. Red Bulls central midfield

The Philadelphia Union have enjoyed an outstanding season, and a large part of that has been the play in central midfield of Alejandro Bedoya and Haris Medunjanin. The two veterans are adept on both sides of the ball, can play a pass, intercept passes, and control the tempo of the match. If they’re put off their game, with some pressure as soon as they receive the ball, the New York Red Bulls have a chance to win.

Whether it’s Sean Davis, Christian Caceres, Mark Rzatkowski, or Alejandro “Kaku” Romero Gamarra (who is coming off a goal for Paraguay during the international break), their work in the middle of the park will be crucial to determining which team controls the tempo, possession, and ultimately, who creates the most chances. Otherwise, Medunjanin and Bedoya will pick out Brenden Aaronson, Marco Fabian or Kacper Przybyłko and be off to the races.

3. Julian Gressel v. Jalil Anibaba

It’s a direct rematch of the last week of the season, where Atlanta United triumphed over the New England Revolution with a 3-1 win to close out a strong regular season campaign. While there’s plenty of focus on Josef Martinez, Gonzalo “Pity” Martinez – who didn’t play in the season finale – and Ezequiel Barco, the real difference-maker in the attack for Atlanta United is Julian Gressel. The German-born wing back has plenty of marauding runs forward, is always available to receive a pass and can deliver quality crosses too. He ended up with two assists in the season finale and Anibaba was eventually substituted, though it may have been more to give the Revs some offensive punch with Juan Aguedlo coming on. It will be up to either Anibaba, or someone on the Revs to shut him down, cutting off one supply line of balls into the box for Josef Martinez to rifle home.

2. Jordan Morris v. Reggie Cannon

It’s a battle of two U.S. Men’s National Team regulars. Jordan Morris has had a resurgent second half of the season and appears to be in the best form of his life. On the other side, Cannon’s parlayed his terrific form for FC Dallas, despite his young age, into a starting role for the USMNT.

Morris in recent weeks has proven he still has his game-changing pace, as well as an improved left-footed touch. It’s going to be up to Cannon to stay with Morris down the wing, or pass him off to a teammate such as Reto Zeigler should Morris cut inside and not leave space open behind Cannon for a runner down the left wing.

1. Zlatan Ibrahimovic v. Ike Opara

One of the league’s best strikers against the reigning MLS Defender of the Year. 6-foot-5 (Zlatan) against 6-foot-2 (Ike Opara). When Ibrahimovic and Opara meet, it will be one of MLS’s duels of the ages. Zlatan has been nearly impossible for defenders to contain in MLS, as he not only uses his incredible size and tactical nous to win headers, but his technical ability on the ball ain’t bad. However, if there’s one player who can push around Zlatan, it might be Opara.

Opara has been a revelation to Minnesota United and could single-handedly be the reason they’re hosting a home game in the playoffs this year, rather than hitting the road or watching from home. He’s also part of the reason Sporting KC has been a complete mess this season.

If history is to be used as a precursor, the only meeting between Opara and Ibrahimovic this season ended in a scoreless draw. We’ll see if Opara can notch another win over Ibrahimovic this weekend as well.

Tottenham Hotspur hires Celtic’s Ange Postecoglou as next manager

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Tottenham Hotspur finally has a new boss: Ange Postecoglou has left Celtic to become the next Spurs boss.

Celtic granted permission for Spurs to speak with their trophy-collecting boss, and things progressed quickly as the 57-year-old looks set to oversee the club’s big rebuild.

Postecoglou will take over the club on July 1, and Spurs boss Daniel Levy issued high praise for the veteran manager.

“Ange brings a positive mentality and a fast, attacking style of play. He has a strong track record of developing players and an understanding of the importance of the link from the academy – everything that is important to our Club. We are excited to have Ange join us as we prepare for the season ahead.”

[ MORE: Recalling Zlatan’s “unicorn” career ]

Spurs suffered through an inconsistent 2022-23 season with Antonio Conte at the helm, followed by Cristian Stellini and Ryan Mason in interim stints.

Tottenham will not have European football this season and is at risk of losing legendary center forward Harry Kane. The club has eight players including Kane going into the final year of their contracts, including Ivan Perisic, Davinson Sanchez, Eric Dier, and Hugo Lloris.

Spurs finished eighth last season, 15 points off the top four despite spending much of the season inside of it. The club’s finished fourth just once in the past four seasons despite qualifying for the Champions League the previous four seasons.

Ironically, Celtic is being linked with pursuit of Brendan Rodgers and Jesse Marsch in the wake of Postecoglou’s departure

Who is Ange Postecoglou?

Postecoglou, 57, was born in Greece and moved to Australia at a young age, starring for South Melbourne as a player and earning for caps for the Socceroos.

He is coming off a domestic treble with Celtic and won five of six trophies available to him in his two seasons with the Bhoys.

At Celtic, Postecoglou played with a 4-3-3 for much of the first half of his tenure but played a lot of this campaign in a 4-2-3-1.

Postecoglou won trophies as a manager with South Melbourne, Brisbane Roar, and Yokohama F. Marinos, claiming the Asian Cup during his stint as Australia national team coach.

He said he expects tricky early times wherever he goes.

“Wherever I’ve been, the initial part is always rocky, because my ideas are… well they’re not extreme to me but I can see how they can be seen as extreme from the outside. It takes a while. Usually it can take me six months, it can take me a year to really bed them in, depending on how many opportunities I have to change the playing squad and the staff and all those kinds of things.”

Fiorentina vs West Ham: How to watch live, team news, updates

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Fiorentina and West Ham lock horns in the UEFA Europa Conference League final at the Eden Arena in Prague on Wednesday, June 7 and the Hammers are the favorites.

[ LIVE: Fiorentina vs West Ham live ]

The east London side have only won one major European trophy in their history (they won the European Cup Winners’ Cup back in 1964-65 and were one of three winners of the now also defunct Intertoto Cup in 1999). In total it is their fourth European final.

David Moyes has seen his West Ham side struggle through the Premier League season as they finished 14th in the table but they prioritized winning the Europa Conference League and after winning 13 of their 14 games in the competition so far, they’re just one win away from winning the competition and thus securing a spot in the UEFA Europa League group stage for the 2023-24 season. If the Hammers do prevail in Prague, there will be eight Premier League teams playing in European competitions next season.

As for Fiorentina, the Florence-based club have had a decent season in Serie A but they will finish outside of the top seven so the only way they can qualify for European competition next season is by winning this final. Fiorentina narrowly lost to Inter Milan in the Coppa Italia final in recent weeks as they last won a trophy in 2001 when they won the Italian Cup. Like West Ham, La Viola have only won one major European trophy in their history, also the Cup Winners’ Cup back in the 1960-61 season.

Here is everything you need to know on Fiorentina vs West Ham.


How to watch Fiorentina vs West Ham live, stream link and start time

Dates: 3pm ET June 7, 2023
Online: Live updates via NBCSports.com
How to watch: TUDN, Paramount+


West Ham team news, lineup options 

David Moyes has a very good idea of his starting lineup as Alphonse Areola has been his goalkeeper for European competition this season, while Declan Rice will captain the Hammers in midfield in what could be his final game in a West Ham shirt. Tomas Soucek (playing in his homeland of Czechia) will partner Rice in midfield.

Michail Antonio, Jarrod Bowen and Said Benrahma are certain to start in attack, with Lucas Paqueta also a nailed-on starter. In defense Kurt Zouma will be the main man, with Aaron Cresswell, Nayef Aguerd and Thilo Kehrer completing the defensive line. Gianluca Scamacca is the only injury absentee for West Ham with Danny Ings, Pablo Fornals and Manuel Lanzini very good options off the bench.

Fiorentina team news, lineup options

The main men to look out for are Arthur Cabral up top, while Moroccan star Sofyan Amrabat in midfield and Argentina winger Nicolas Gonzalez are key. Fiorentina also have the likes of Luka Jovic and Jonathan Ikone to call on in attack.


Premier League transfer news live, today! Latest updates on the summer window

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We are all set for a very summer transfer window, as the latest transfer news keeps flooding in and plenty of big names are expected to be on the move.

[ VIDEO: Premier League analysis ]

The 2023 summer transfer window opens on June 14, 2023 for Premier League clubs and it will close at 6pm ET on September 1, 2023.

From superstars like Declan Rice, Harry Kane, and Jude Bellingham in-demand, to speculation around the future of Lionel Messi and plenty of money set to be spent by the likes of Arsenal, Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool, this will be a fun summer.

Plus there are Americans to watch as Tyler Adams, Christian Pulisic, Brenden Aaronson, and Weston McKennie are all high-profile USMNT players who could make a summer move.

[ TRANSFER NEWS: Arsenal | Liverpool | Chelsea | Tottenham | Man City | Man United

Below we roundup the latest transfer news, done deals, reports and rumors and give our analysis on what’s going on as Joe Prince-Wright (JPW), Nicholas Mendola (NM) and Andy Edwards (AE) will guide you through a hectic last few weeks of the window.


Transfer news live today! Latest from the summer window, so far…

June 6 – Christian Pulisic views Chelsea return but ‘a lot of things can happen’

Christian Pulisic has been linked with Juventus and AC Milan as things have not gone according to plan at Chelsea over the past season-plus.

But that doesn’t mean he’s absolutely skipping town this summer, Pulisic told reporters in California this week.

“Obviously, it’s been an interesting journey at club level for me. I thought it was a great couple years and the last couple years just haven’t gone at all how I’ve planned them to be,” Pulisic said. “And right now my focus is obviously here with the national team. I’m just excited to get back playing and just enjoy myself and do what I love to do out on the field. And from there, this summer, we’re obviously going to have to see what happens. It’s obviously very early. As of right now I’m a Chelsea player and I plan to go back. But a lot of things can happen. A lot of things can change.” (NM)


June 5 – Real Madrid contact Tottenham over Harry Kane

Harry Kane scoring goals in a white shirt is very familiar, but might the England and Tottenham striker do so next year in another country?

Marca report says Real Madrid is ready to pay over $100 million to Tottenham for the veteran forward, who scored 30 goals this Premier League season.

Kane as it stands now is in heavy pursuit of the Premier League record for goals but he’s also getting deeper into his career without a trophy and Real certainly has a reputation for collecting trophies.

Throw in the fact that Spurs are not going to be competing outside of England this year, and that Daniel Levy is thought to be leery of selling to another Premier League rival, and might Madrid make sense for Harry? (NM)


June 4 – Chelsea, Liverpool closing in on marquee targets

Reports from Fabrizio Romano say that breakthroughs are near for Chelsea and Liverpool when it comes to marquee midfield additions.

Chelsea is nearing a deal to acquire standout Sporting Lisbon midfielder Manuel Ugarte for around $65 million, with Romano saying there are “key hours ahead” in the race to fend off Paris Saint-Germain.

And the father/agent for Brighton star Alexis Mac Allister is expected to arrive in Liverpool to hammer out final personal terms between the Reds and the World Cup winner. Then it’ll go to Brighton and Liverpool, with a fee not thought to be an issue. (NM)


June 3 – In-demand $40M back name checks Liverpool

Wolfsburg defender Micky van de Ven has had a dream to play at Anfield since attending a game there as a youngster. An excellent ball progressor, Van de Ven is viewed as a $40 million target and reports have said Jurgen Klopp is an admirer. So it’s a mutual appreciation society.

“I once went to the Liverpool stadium with my dad,” he told AZ WAZ. “That was over Christmas on Boxing Day. Liverpool vs Arsenal. That was madness. Then when ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ comes [on] – that’s a goose bump moment, that was very cool. It’s a dream to play there.”

The 6-foot-4 Van de ven turned 22 in April and has served as the captain of the Dutch U-21 national team. He moved from Volendam to Wolfsburg in the summer of 2021 and became a full-time starter in his second season, occasionally swinging to left back. (NM)


June 2 – Man United in ‘detailed talks’ for young forwards

According to The Athletic, Manchester United have been in ‘detailed talks’ over the signing of Randal Kolo Muani and Rasmus Hojlund. The young forward duo are both being chased by the Red Devils as Erik ten Hag wants to add one of them and a more experienced striker. Per the report, John Murtaugh has spoken to both Eintracht Frankfurt and Atalanta multiple times about Kolo Muani and Hojlund respectively and United are hoping to move on with chasing summer targets despite uncertainty surrounding their ownership status as the Glazer Family continue to explore the option of a full or partial sale of the Premier League giants. Kolo Muani and Hojlund both fit the mould for the type of player Erik ten Hag wants and if United can land one of them and somehow pull off an unlikely move for Harry Kane (unlikely due to Daniel Levy’s unwillingness to do business) then it will be a heck of a summer for the Red Devils. (JPW)


June 2 – Gvardiol wanted by Manchester City

According to a report from The Times, Josko Gvardiol is at the top of Pep Guardiola’s wish-list this summer. The Croatian defender, 21, is thought to be valued at $108 million by RB Leipzig and although the German giants don’t want to sell, it is believed Gvardiol is keen on a move to City. The report says that City plan on moving on at least one of their center backs and all of John Stones, Ruben Dias, Manuel Akanji and Nathan Ake seem certain to stay with Aymeric Laporte perhaps the most likely to move on. Gvardiol has long been linked with a Premier League move and his power in the air as well as his pace and ability on the ball is a perfect fit for the Premier League and City. Josko Gvardiol also got a good look at City this season as Leipzig were hammered by Erling Haaland and Co. in the UEFA Champions League. We’ve seen this season how Guardiola’s side dominated the final months of the season not only due to their incredible goalscoring exploits but largely thanks to a solid defensive unit. Having mobile center backs who can slot in at full back and step into midfield is key to the way they play. Gvardiol can do that. (JPW)


June 1 – Manchester United move to front of queue for Mason Mount

A report from ESPN says that Manchester United have moved to the front of the queue when it comes to signing Mason Mount this summer. Mount, 24, has just one year left on his contract at Chelsea and is expected to move on this summer. Mount has been linked with moves to United and Liverpool but the report says that Mount is keen on heading to United although the Red Devils have some reservations over the $75 million transfer fee Chelsea are asking for. Per the report, clubs are waiting for later in the summer to try and buy Mount as they known Chelsea will have to move players on due to the enormous squad Mauricio Pochettino has inherited and will have to trim. Does Mount to United make sense? It does. He can slot in anywhere in Erik ten Hag’s midfield and is the perfect kind of player to add depth to their squad and be a great 12th man or step in when key midfielders are injured or need a rest. His time at Chelsea is clearly coming to an end and even though Mount has struggled this season at Chelsea, his quality is proven in the Premier League in recent years and on the international stage with England. (JPW)


May 31 – Liverpool eye Bundesliga midfielder

Bild says that the Reds are turning to the Bundesliga to address their midfield. Jurgen Klopp will turn to Borussia Monchengladbach’s Kouadio “Manu” Kone this summer, as Liverpool has reportedly told the player that it will be approaching Gladbach. Kone, 22, has been linked with several big clubs including a late March report regarding Manchester United interest. A ball progressor who reads the game very well, Kone is said to carry a price tag of more than $40 million. (NM)


May 30 – Chelsea all-in on Ugarte

Chelsea are in talks to sign Manuel Ugarte, according to Fabrizio Romano. The Uruguayan and Sporting Lisbon holding midfielder is admired by new Chelsea boss Mauricio Pochettino. Romano says PSG are in the race for Ugarte too. Ugarte, 22, is exactly the kind of player Pochettino loves as he will dig in, win the ball and get it to others to create. Alongside Enzo Fernandez, Ugarte will add extra defensive stability to Chelsea’s midfield and improve the balance of their squad. Our partners in the UK at Sky Sports says that Ugarte has a $65 million release clause in his contract. (JPW)


May 30 – Declan Rice linked with Bayern Munich

Our partners at Sky Germany say that Bayern Munich are very interested in signing Declan Rice from West Ham. Bayern, who won their 11-straight Bundesliga title on the final day of the season, have made Rice, 24, their top target as Thomas Tuchel is a huge fan of the England international.

Here is more from Sky Germany reporter Uli Kohler: “Tuchel had a phone call with Rice. I don’t know what they were talking about – maybe money, maybe about what he can expect here [in Munich]. Bayern is keen on him. They need a strong defensive midfielder but everybody knows there are a lot of other clubs interested in him. Bayern could afford it. They would like to keep it below €100m [£86.4m]. They have to look at their accounts very closely but I think they can afford it.”

Rice has long been linked with a move to Arsenal or Manchester United but it is believed that West Ham’s asking price for their captain and central midfielder (who is out of contract next summer) is putting up Premier League clubs. Bayern appear to be ready to pay close to the $120 million West Ham want for Rice. Is he worth it? He is. There is perhaps no better two-way central midfielder under the age of 25 in Europe and Rice’s ceiling is extremely high. (JPW)


May 25 – Harry Kane, Declan Rice, Mason Mount are summer targets for Man United

A report from our partners in the UK at Sky Sports says that Manchester United are trying to sign a trio of England internationals: Harry Kane, Mason Mount and Declan Rice.

“Manchester United will try to sign Harry Kane, Declan Rice and Mason Mount this summer. Their No. 1 target is Kane. He is the player Erik ten Hag wants most. It is unlikely they will sign all three players and everything depends on what happens with the takeover. Kane, Rice and Mount are exactly the kind of characters Ten Hag wants in his dressing room.”

It is clear Kane will be the top target for United as Erik ten Hag has spoken about signing a new striker and that is their main transfer need. It is tough to see Tottenham selling Kane to a direct top four rival in Manchester United for anything less than $130 million, even with Kane’s contract winding down. That said, do you take that money this summer and use it to rebuild? Or let him go for free in the summer of 2024?

Next up, Declan Rice will surely be their next main target, as all three of these players have just one year left on their contract. Rice, 24, is just the type of player United need alongside Casemiro in central midfield and the England international has become one of the best two-way central midfielders in Europe under the age of 25. Rice’s close friend is Mason Mount and the latter clearly doesn’t want to sign a new contract at Chelsea, so he could be the cheaper option of the three. All of this hinges on Manchester United’s takeover but if, as expected, they qualify for the Champions League, then signing two of these three players would be a huge upgrade on their current options and gives them quality, depth and experience in midfield and attack. First choice would be Kane and Rice but Kane and Mount would still be pretty decent. (JPW)


How many times has a team won the treble? Man City goes for history

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There’s been a lot of treble talk these days, talk that’s found a new level of buzz since Manchester City moved within one win of joining the club.

It’s an elite club, by the way, of teams that have won their domestic league, top domestic cup, and the European Cup.

Nine times in history has a team won the treble, and only once has it been done by a Premier League club.

[ MORE: Recalling Zlatan’s “unicorn” career ]

That’s why Man City’s defeat of Manchester United earlier this month in the FA Cup Final rings so true for the Citizens; The blue side of Manchester would join the red side as treble supporters, as United won the treble in 1998-99.

Man City goes for the third jewel of its treble crown on Saturday versus Inter Milan in Istanbul when it kicks off the UEFA Champions League Final.

For more treble trivia, head below the jump.

How many times has the treble been won?

Bayern Munich and Barcelona have each done it twice, with Bayern doing it in 2012-13 and 2019-20 and Barca pulling it off in 2008-09 and 2014-15.

Celtic was the first to win a treble, doing it in 1966-67, while Ajax was the next in 1971-72.

PSV Eindhoven then won it in 1987-88 before Man United made it happen 11 years later. Inter Milan is the only Italian team to pull it off, winning in 2009-10.

(UEFA.com)