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MLS top coach Bradley leads LAFC’s daily quest for greatness

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LOS ANGELES (AP) Bob Bradley rocks in his chair under the sizzling Southern California sun and gives an exaggerated New Jersey shoulder shrug. The Los Angeles FC coach can use his entire body to make a point, and he’s emphasizing what’s actually important about individual accolades, such as being named Major League Soccer’s Coach of the Year for the third time.

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“Individual awards are recognition of the team,” Bradley said, naming LAFC general manager John Thorrington and “everybody else I get a chance to work with every day.”

“I think we’ve created a good environment,” he added. “I think we challenge each other every day. The most important part is you create an environment where people enjoy what they’re doing. Everybody feels part of it. Players know when they show up every day that there’s been a lot of thought that goes into what we do, and the culture that we’re trying to build. For me, it’s only recognition of all that.”

To Bradley, this sport is not about awards. It’s only partly about championships, even when LAFC is about to start a potential three-game run at its first MLS Cup title with the biggest game in franchise history on Thursday night against the LA Galaxy.

Instead, it’s about building a team that vigorously pursues excellence, never reaching perfection and never stopping. With Bradley telling the story, the mundane day-to-day work of professional soccer is an epic quest that probably won’t be completed, but should always be embraced.

“Look, trophies become part of that, but it’s about football,” Bradley said. “It’s something the fans can see. Every time you step on the field, there’s something real there. There’s something different there. There’s something that if you watch, you want to come back and see again.”

Bradley has been trying to build that ideal team for the past 25 years, ever since his decade in charge of the Princeton men’s soccer program propelled him around the world on a coaching odyssey including stops in MLS and with national teams in the U.S. and Egypt, followed by professional sides in Norway, France and Britain.

His latest stop has arguably brought him closer to perfection than ever before. A lifetime of coaching knowledge has combined with LAFC’s eager ownership, smart player selection, a beautiful stadium and an already robust fan culture to create something spectacular in record time.

Bradley will be honored with the Sigi Schmid Coach of the Year Award on Wednesday after guiding a 2-year-old franchise to the best regular season in league history. LAFC (21-4-9) reached the MLS records for points (72), goals (85) and goal differential (plus-48) while dazzling the continent with an aggressive, cohesive brand of soccer.

Less than three years after the first American coach in Premiership history was fired by Swansea after just 11 games, he sits atop MLS with one of the best teams ever assembled. Bradley rejects any notion of I-told-you-so satisfaction after his abrupt dismissal at the Welsh club in December 2016, although he is clearly confident he could have succeeded with more time to implement his ideas.

“They’re so far in the rear-view mirror,” Bradley said of all his past stops. “Every day brings you that new challenge. You enjoy that part, you feel good about it, and I believe in the way I do things. I love to engage the people around me to bring something out of them, and hopefully in doing that, they can bring more out of me.”

Deep into his second year in charge at LAFC, his players have grown accustomed to Bradley’s style. The same coach who designed the sophisticated offense that allowed Carlos Vela to score an MLS-record 34 goals also nags his players to clean up after themselves when they eat at the LAFC training complex, believing that sloppiness at the lunch table can translate into imprecision on the field.

“It’s not the bigger picture with him,” defender Steven Beitashour said. “It’s so minuscule. It’s the smallest little details. … It all correlates to the game. It’s all about just trying to improve, and not showing up just to be here. There’s so many individuals that I’m not going to mention that improved so much, that I would never have thought could be at the level they are, unless they were under his system. He sees everything.”

And on Thursday night, Bradley will lead LAFC into its Banc of California Stadium for a one-game Western Conference semifinal against Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the Galaxy. The sixth chapter of the already sizzling El Trafico rivalry is the rivals’ first postseason meeting.

For all its success, Bradley’s team has never beaten its closest rival. Along with three exciting draws, the Galaxy have won two of the clubs’ five matchups, including Ibrahimovic’s electrifying two-goal MLS debut last year in the first El Trafico.

While Bradley greets this matchup with excitement – “It had to be the Galaxy,” he said – he would never hold his work hostage to a single day’s result, even if others might try.

“The champion of the league is determined by MLS Cup, and we’re one of the teams with a chance,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about. But everything else we’ve done, the way we keep trying to do it into the future, none of that changes.”

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Much-chased Havertz reportedly prefers Bayern move

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The latest transfer gossip regarding rumor mill regular Kai Havertz pours a lot of cold water on the hopes of several Premier League giants.

Havertz, 20, has been linked with Liverpool, Manchester United, and Manchester City this season with his odds of leaving Bayer Leverkusen at an all-time high. He’s also been connected to Arsenal, Chelsea, and Tottenham to cover most of the Top Six bases.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

But Sky Sports says the German playmaker is keen to stay in his home country and make a move to Bayern Munich, who has been linked with Havertz, Leroy Sane, and Timo Werner in a bid to revolutionize its UEFA Champions League credentials.

Havertz has 10 goals and eight assists in 34 matches this season after exploding for 20 and seven in 42 last year. He doesn’t turn 21 until June.

The youngster provides little defensively but averages 2.3 key passes and 2.3 dribbles per match in Bundesliga play while passing at a tidy 87 percent despite living in the danger areas.

Whoever gets Havertz has a gem on its hands, but perhaps the Premier League will amp up their interest and recruiting efforts after these reports (if they haven’t already).

Transfer rumor roundup: Celtic star to Spurs, Thiago to Man City

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On a day in which Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta highlighted the challenges of teams in the transfer market this summer/fall, we’ve got some very interesting new rumors.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Let’s continue with a North London note, and a big one at that.

Six-foot-five Celtic powerhouse Kristoffer Ajer is a target of Tottenham Hotspur, says Polish side Sporten.

Ajer claims his focus is on Celtic and acknowledged the two years left on his contract.

The towering center back has 14 caps at the age of 21 and has been an absolute force since dropping back from center mid, where he made his name in Norway with Start.

Ajer has chipped in five goals with three assists in 129 senior appearances for the Glaswegian set.

This could be a solid and shrewd move by Daniel Levy as Spurs bid to improve his defense while lowering the average age of the corps.

Man City’s in the news, too, as a potential reunion looms for Pep Guardiola at the Etihad Stadium.

Thiago Alcantara has been with Guardiola at Barcelona and Bayern Munich, and now could leave Bavaria for the Etihad Stadium according to Don Balon.

Thiago, 28, has three goals and two assists in 2500-plus minutes for Bayern this season and has won eight league titles between La Liga and the Bundesliga.

He has 37 caps with two goals for Spain, and would give incredible depth to City’s already strong midfield. But would he be willing to spend the end of his prime with a club likely not in the Champions League for at least one season?

Scottish FA extends suspension to June 10

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Scottish football has extended its COVID-19 suspension of activity until June 10.

That date is some six weeks longer than the initial expectation of April 30, and includes training.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

“The message is very clear: The government restrictions introduced to save lives must be adhered to and there is no prospect of an early resumption of training let alone organized football in Scotland for several weeks,” said a statement from the Scottish FA.

Celtic is running away with the title though there’s some minimal hope for stumbling Rangers, who have a match-in-hand as part of their 13-point deficit on Neil Lennon’s leaders.

The relegation picture is a lot cloudier. Hearts are in the automatic relegation spot with 23 points, four points back of playoff side Hamilton. St. Mirren and Ross County have 29 points.

The Scottish season traditionally divides into top six and bottom six after 33 matches, so there would be plenty of chances for teams to affect their fate.

Top 10 individual displays in Premier League history

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ProSoccerTalk’s lead writer and editor Joe Prince-Wright and Rotoworld.com’s Neal Thurman have teamed up to select their top 10 individual displays in Premier League history.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

From five goal hauls to dramatic comebacks and stunning moments of brilliance, this list has a little bit of everything.

Click play on the video above to watch the incredible solo displays once again, while below Prince-Wright and Thurman detail why they think these performances belong in the top 10.


Harry Kane (v. Chelsea, 2015) Kane truly burst onto the scene as the young Tottenham team announced themselves as genuine title contenders under Mauricio Pochettino. Kane tore apart the usually solid Chelsea defense at the old White Hart Lane on a chilly New Year’s Day, as he scored a screamer for his first and turned sumptuously before firing home a second. Tottenham were 4-1 up at one point as Kane ran John Terry and Gary Cahill ragged. This was the moment you knew he was the real deal. Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea went on to win the title in 2014-15 but they knew their bitter London rivals, led by Kane, were on the up. In his first full season in the Premier League he scored 31 goals in all competitions and the way he dropped deep to link up play, hammered home goals from distance and was a threat in the air and with both feet make him as close to the complete center forward as you can get. Quality of opponent: 10/10; Importance of the match: 8/10 – JPW
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Dennis Bergkamp (v. Leicester City, 1997) I couldn’t possibly participate in an exercise like this without including my all-time favorite Premier League player. You could argue whether Bergkamp’s third in this match was his best-ever for the Gunners but you certainly can’t argue with it being his most dominant match when it comes to both process and end product. His opener would be considered a career highlight for most as he came in from the top left corner of the box, took a couple steps toward the middle of the pitch and curled a shot with some power into the far top corner to open the scoring. His second saw him take a through ball and produce a looping carom off of the goalkeeper that stayed on target and dipped in time to go in rather than over the crossbar for a 2-0 Gunners lead. After the Foxes clawed both goals back, Bergkamp was at his sublime best taking down a lofted Robert Pires cross with his right in full stride, flicking the ball around the onrushing defender with his left without it touching the ground, and then calmly slotted past the goalkeeper. A master class in calm, control, and skill that looks nearly impossible in slow motion let alone real time. Bergkamp had a career filled with jaw-dropping highlights but this match was his Premier League masterpiece. Oh, and Arsenal won the title by a point that season so the point won at Filbert Street was as massive as his goal scoring heroics. Quality of Opponent 6/10; Importance of Match 10/10 – NT


Eric Cantona (v. Liverpool, 1995) Where do we even start with this!? Eric Cantona had been banned from playing for eight months after his infamous kung-fu kick on a fan away at Crystal Palace. It looked like he would never player again. Many said he should have been locked up after his violent reaction to being provoked by a Crystal Palace fan. Man United and Sir Alex Ferguson stood by ‘King Eric’ as the man who had been the final piece of Ferguson’s jigsaw had delivered trophies galore after arriving from Leeds. The first game back for the flamboyant Frenchman was, of course, against Man United’s bitter rivals Liverpool at Old Trafford. The build up to the game was insane and Cantona delivered a stunning assist in the opening minutes. French flags, berets and chants of “Ohh, Ahhh, Cantona!” were all around Old Trafford and he kept his cool to score a late penalty to make it 2-2 and deny a resurgent Liverpool a big win. Despite being 10 points behind Newcastle in December, Man United went on to win the Premier League and FA Cup double that season as Cantona scored the winner against Liverpool at Wembley and was their top goalscorer despite missing their first eight games of the season. This performance got United back on track after an okay start to the season and Cantona’s x-factor and swagger mean he will always be a legend at Old Trafford. Quality of Opponent 7/10; Importance of Match 10/10 – JPW

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Ayegbeni Yakubu (v. Middlesbrough 2004) This one sticks out for me more for the fantasy implications than it being the platonic ideal of a 4-goal performance. The final day of the 2003-2004 season, I had a bet with a friend on the outcome of our season-long fantasy results. We were neck-and-neck all season and the outcome of the bet rested on our scores on the final day of the season. Yakubu was a strong goal-scorer while at Pompey netting 29 in 65 appearances on the south coast. Not enough to make him a no-brainer fantasy standout but certainly good enough that, by the end of the season, there was an expectation of some quality. On 12 goals for the season heading into the finale, a goal or maybe two was a reasonable expectation but a no point did I expect the Nigerian’s 4-goal outburst. None were works of art although the fourth was a rocket after some nice work to free himself for the shot. Sixteen years on and the guy who lost our season-long bet to me based on Yakubu’s exploits still brings it up from time to time when we talk over social media (Never forget, Kris!). Quality of Opponent 6/10; Importance of Match 3/10 – NT


Andy Cole (v. Ipswich Town, 1995) Andy Cole is a striker who often gets overlooked when Premier League greats are discussed but he shouldn’t be. After a slow start to his career, Cole moved from Bristol City to Newcastle and then to Man United and all the time he did one thing: score goals. ‘Andy Cole scores goals’ was the famous saying and he set a new Premier League record back in 1995, which still stands today. His five goals in Man United’s 9-0 demolition of Ipswich Town (which is also a record for the biggest win in PL history) saw him bag goals of all kinds. Flicks, powerful drives, calm finishes and predatory instincts summed up Cole’s game and his partnership with Dwight Yorke would eventually lead United to their famous treble in 1999. Cole had a lot of pressure on his shoulders when he left Newcastle for Man United for $8.7 million in January 1995 but he delivered right away. He is the third-highest goalscorer in PL history with 187 goals as only Alan Shearer and Wayne Rooney sit ahead of him. Quality of Opponent 2/10; Importance of Match 5/10 – JPW


Jermain Defoe (v. Wigan, 2009) Speaking of all-time dominant performances, Spurs 9-1 whipping of Wigan in 2009 is an all-timer. Yes, Wigan shipped a TON of goals over the course of the 2009-2010 campaign, 79 in all, in a season where they barely managed to avoid relegation. Still, 9-1 losses are a rare display of dominance in the Premier League and five-goal performances by an individual player are nearly as rare. That’s what Jermain Defoe produced in November of 2009 and there was a pretty special one in the mix. Let’s start by noting that none of Defoe’s five were cheapies. The first and fourth were both contested shots with some precision work required to beat the goalkeeper and one or more other defenders. The third was a challenging volley with Defoe moving toward the incoming cross and having to hit it on the move, not an easy skill. The third and fifth were both sharp angle shots and while the first one was a nice example of that skill, the second one was outstanding due to the angle and the power of the shot. It was a virtuoso performance that also entirely overshadowed Aaron Lennon’s one goal, three assist performance which was outstanding in and of itself. Quality of Opponent 4/10; Importance of Match 6/10 – NT


Jamie Vardy (v. Liverpool, 2016) In a magical season for little-known Jamie Vardy and relegation favorites Leicester City, Vardy’s double against Liverpool was the moment many Foxes fans thought the impossible was possible. The ‘Vardy Party’ was for real. The 5000-1 title odds given to Leicester at the start of the season was probably seen as too generous by many as they barely survived relegation from the Premier League in the previous season. Vardy and Riyad Mahrez finished the 2014-15 season in fine fashion and new manager Claudio Ranieri masterminded an incredible defensive unit in 2015-16 which relied on the positioning of N’Golo Kante, the trickery of Mahrez and the pace of Vardy on the counter. Liverpool were undone by that as Mahrez unleashed Vardy and he hammered home an amazing volley from distance to send the King Power Stadium wild. He added a second with a trademark clinical finish and Vardy’s 24 goals led Leicester to an amazing Premier League title success. Vardy’s display propelled them to the most improbable title in this history of the game and this performance was the moment which made Leicester truly believed they could write their names into the history books as they went away to Man City and won 3-1 a few days after this. Quality of Opponent 8/10; Importance of Match 10/10 – JPW

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Andrey Arshavin (v. Liverpool, 2009) 2009 was a great year for big goal-scoring outbursts. Seven months before Defoe’s five, Andrey Arshavin exploded  for four goals at Anfield in a wild 4-4 drew between Arsenal and Liverpool. The Reds (2nd) and Gunners (4th) both finished in the top four in the 2008-2009 season with the Reds going undefeated at Anfield on the campaign. As such, it was no mean feat for the Gunners to get a result or for Arshavin to score four. The Russian opened the scoring in the 36th minute, tapping in a Cesc Fabregas pull back from close range. The quality of Arshavin’s goals would improve in the second half after Liverpool scored twice to put the Gunners down. Arshavin equalized in the 67th minute with an absolute screamer from just outside the box. Three minutes later he was at it again putting Arsenal on top only to see Fernando Torres level the match again almost immediately. With time running down, Arshavin sprinted the length of the pitch as Arsenal countered a Liverpool attack with Theo Walcott feeding the Russian as he outran everyone down the attacking left side to slot past Pepe Reina. It looked for all the world like Arshavin’s goal had won the match for the Gunners only to see future Gunner Yossi Benayoun rescue a point late in stoppage time. A breathless match highlighted by Ashavin’s brilliance. Quality of Opponent 9/10; Importance of Match 9/10 – NT


Steven Gerrard (v. Everton, 2012) So many of Steven Gerrard’s memorable displays have come in cup and European competitions but there are more than a few Premier League displays which stand out. Gerrard tore Man United apart on several occasions at Anfield and Old Trafford, especially with Fernando Torres in tandem, but his hat trick against Everton will forever be etched into the folklore of Merseyside derby history. Gerrard clipped home a delicious first and then linked up with Luis Suarez to score two more at the Kop End as he capped off a fine individual display. Despite winning the League Cup, Liverpool struggled that season under Kenny Dalglish but Gerrard never stopped surging forward from midfield and this display was a perfect example of what he was so good at. Everything. The timing of his runs, the finishes, the passing and his leadership skills were all on show as the local lad gave Liverpool bragging rights over Everton once again. Captain fantastic put on a show at Anfield. Quality of Opponent 6/10; Importance of Match 8/10 – JPW


Sergio Aguero (v. Tottenham, 2014) The dawning of the Pochettino era at Spurs contained some hiccups as he shook up the side and introduced his style. Only a few months into the Argentine’s tenure as manager at White Hart Land, Sergio Aguero and defending champions Manchester City showed Spurs exactly how much distance they had to make up to try to win an elusive Premier League title. Aguero scored all four goals for the hosts as City beat Spurs 4-1 at the Etihad as he added to his legacy of prolific matches that has included a five goal match, two four-goal performances, and a five-goal tour de force. The quality of the opponent makes this impressive as does the fact that he actually saw a penalty saved during the match as well.  The goals weren’t of the absolute highest quality with two of them coming from the penalty spot and the two from open play being prototypical, if not spectacular, Aguero goals showcasing his poacher’s mentality and ability to pick corners and angles while slowing down the play while the action rages around him in the penalty box. Consider this a combination of an excellent performance and a life-time achievement award for a man who has piled up big goal-scoring match after big goal-scoring match in the Premier League over an amazing career. Quality of Opponent 7/10; Importance of Match 7/10 – NT

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