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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.”

More AP MLS: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Premier League player Power Rankings

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Our latest Premier League player Power Rankings see plenty of players remaining in the upper echelons.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Matchweek 12 was wild, with players from Liverpool, Chelsea and Leicester City continuing to dominate our top 20. The likes of Ciaran Clark, John Lundstram and Dwight McNeil were so close to cracking the top 20…

Remember: this is a list of the top 20 performing players right now in the Premier League. If they didn’t play in the last matchweek, they aren’t getting in this list!

Let us know in the comments section below if you agree with the selections.


1.  Christian Pulisic (Chelsea) – Up 2
2. Jamie Vardy (Leicester) – Up 2
3. Sadio Mane (Liverpool) – Down 2
4. Tammy Abraham (Chelsea) – Down 2
5. Wilfried Ndidi (Leicester) – New entry
6. Caglar Soyuncu (Leicester) – Up 1
7.  Fabinho (Liverpool) – New entry
8. Andy Robertson (Liverpool) – Down 2
9. Virgil Van Dijk (Liverpool) – Up 6
10. Willian (Chelsea) – Up 6
11. Gerard Deulofeu (Watford) – New entry
12. Raul Jimenez (Wolves) – Down 7
13. Kevin De Bruyne (Man City) – Even
14. Youri Tielemans (Leicester) – Even
15. James Maddison (Leicester) – New entry
16. Marcus Rashford (Man United) – Down 4
17. Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool) – Up 2
18. Fernandinho (Man City) – New entry
19. Matteo Kovacic (Chelsea) – New entry
20. Richarlison (Everton) – New entry

U.S. teenager Matteo Ritaccio signs pro deal with Liverpool

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Another American making waves at a Premier League giant?

Maybe.

Matteo Ritaccio, who just turned 18 years old, has signed his first professional contract with Liverpool.

The Long Island native has been playing with their U18 academy side since the summer of 2018, as he holds an Italian passport and was therefore able to make the move to Europe from the USA.

Liverpool detailed how they have worked hard to scout and then secure the signature of Ritaccio, a midfielder.

“He had first been spotted by the Reds as a 13-year-old at a training camp for the US national team, though he also holds an Italian passport. A tough-tackling and exciting player, Ritaccio started the season in fine form for the U18s but his momentum was brought to a halt by a leg injury.”

Ritaccio is a product of the famed youth side BW Gottschee and he impressed Liverpool’s coaches with a fast start to the 2019-20 season before injury struck.

He will be back fit early in January and it will be intriguing to see how he develops.

Jurgen Klopp isn’t afraid to throw plenty of youngsters into the side, as he proved during the recent victory over Arsenal in the League Cup.

Remember the name: Matteo Ritaccio.

Everton’s Moise Kean dropped due to discipline issues

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Everton striker Moise Kean was dropped for the 2-1 win at Southampton on Saturday after being late for a team meeting.

Kean, 19, was not in the Toffees squad for their first Premier League away victory since March and Sky Sports in the UK say that was because the Italian international has been having issues with his timekeeping.

Here’s some more information from our partners at Sky Sports News in the UK:

“The former Juventus forward was late for a team meeting and as a result was left out of the squad for the 2-1 Premier League victory at St Mary’s. Sky Sports News understands it is the second time Kean has been late for a team meeting.”

It is believed the player has apologized to Silva and his teammates for being late, but he does have previous, and not just with Everton. Italy boss Roberto Mancini left Kean out of the Azzurri squad in September after he and Roma’s Nicolo Zaniolo were late for a team meeting at the U21 European Championships in the summer.

Somebody get Kean a new watch, or at least set a few more reminders on his phone!

Kean arrived at Goodison Park for $33 million this summer but has yet to score for the Toffees as Richarlison, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Cenk Tosun have all been preferred to him in the central strikers role.

This is a tough one. Kean is young and adapting to life in a new country, so let’s give him the benefit of the doubt, but rules are rules and Silva obviously runs a tight ship.

Southgate on Sterling punishment: ‘We are like a family’

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Gareth Southgate called an impromptu press conference at England’s St. George’s Park training base on Tuesday to discuss one thing.

Raheem Sterling v. Joe Gomez.

[ MORE: Sterling issues public apology ]

According to multiple reports, on Monday the Man City winger was sat in the players’ canteen at England’s training base when Gomez, the first of several Liverpool players to arrive, walked in and was laughing. Sterling then reportedly said “you’re the big man now are you?” and confronted Gomez, trying to grab him around the neck as the two were separated.

This all came after Sterling clashed with Gomez in Liverpool’s 3-1 win over City at Anfield on Sunday, as the England winger was booed heavily by the home fans and also clashed with England teammates Jordan Henderson and Trent-Alexander Arnold during the game.

After a tumultuous 24 hours, Southgate kept calm as he discussed why he had decided to punish Sterling by making him unavailable for the EURO 2020 qualifier against Montenegro on Thursday.

“I love all of my players. We are like a family. The important thing is for a family to communicate and work through problems,” Southgate said. “I don’t expect as a manager to not have to deal with issues. In the end I have to find the right solution for the group. That’s a difficult line, you try to be fair when dealing with all players. I won’t always get that right but I am the manager. Raheem is very important for us but I felt it was the right thing.”

Southgate has been criticized by the likes of Rio Ferdinand and other ex-England players for making the spat public, but others believe he has handled it well and sent a clear message out to the rest of his squad.

Sterling is England’s best player, on current form, so leaving him out is a big call for Southgate. England’s manager is a big fan of Sterling and has praised his ability on the pitch and his maturity off it in recent months.

But Sterling was wrong to go at Gomez and he has since admitted it on social media.

Southgate wanted to nip this in the bud and he is in full control of the situation. What damage this incident, and the way he reacted, does in the long-term remains to be seen. But Southgate is a man who sticks to his principles and he doesn’t want England’s players going at each other due to club matters.

If he sent out a weak message following Sterling’s actions it would have told the rest of the squad it was fine for them to act in a similar manner.