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USL begins 10th season with eye on future

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The United Soccer League begins its 10th season on Friday with a pair of matches in the Championship; Seattle Sounders 2 will host Reno 1868 and Orange County plays host to El Paso Locomotive.

A lot has changed in under a decade. The Championship division now has 35 teams, while the third-tier League One has another dozen (with 30 more lobbying to get into it the thing).

We caught up with some USL mainstays at all levels to talk about the progress, from league president Jake Edwards to San Diego Loyal co-founder Warren Smith and Pittsburgh Riverhounds coach and serial hardware winner Bob Lilley.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ] 

The coach is a good place to start. Lilley has won titles in the A-League with the Montreal Impact, the USL First Division with Vancouver Whitecaps, and the USL with the Rochester Rhinos in 2015. Now he’s turned around the Pittsburgh Riverhounds ahead of the 2020 season.

He sees the USL’s growth as pay-off for a generation of players, coaches, and owners who were willing to put in the time for the good of the sport, looking back fondly on the role he played in helping ambitious clubs Montreal and Vancouver win on their way to MLS.

“It’s an investment that starts out where you’re just putting pennies in a piggy bank and at some point it grows big enough that it takes on a life of its own,” Lilley said of the USL’s progress. “The increases keep getting bigger, and the last 3-5 years we’ve been really driving forward. We need to find new ways to be meaningful to our market. We need to stay aggressive, trying to keep pushing this thing forward.”

Like Lilley, Smith has done this dance and done it well in a lot of different places. Now the president of first-year side San Diego, he’s overseen the resurgence of the Portland Timbers and the growth of Sacramento Republic.

Smith makes a remarkable claim about what a USL club can mean to a market.

“The difference between us and MLS, just because of where they are choosing to have to put their teams, I think New Mexico United means more to the whole state of New Mexico than most MLS teams mean to their particular cities. We’re able to electrify communities and bring people together, uniting and celebrating the people of the region.”

To Smith and Edwards, it comes down to the variety of top minds running clubs.

Smith says that less than a decade ago, the investors in the room were coming from soccer backgrounds. Now, it’s others who see the investment as sound.

“In 2012 at the annual meetings, the room was full of soccer fans, soccer people, more soccer people than business people,” Smith said. “Since then with the success of Orlando and Sacramento, we’ve seen an influx of more experience and different sports experience. There’s a lot more sophistication, and the league has chosen a good group owners who want to grow the brand. The USL was good football then, but it’s even better now.”

Edwards said the league likes “to hang its hats” on its ownership groups, who in turn have had to learn from the successes and mistakes of their forebearers while also recognizing that this giant country has a plethora of soccer cultures.

“You’ve got to listen first and foremost,” Edwards said. “You’ve got to spend the time in the community and learn it before you launch to learn what it is they want out of a football club. You have someone who owns the team but really they own the team.

“Ultimately they’ve got to listen and be amongst the community and let the fan base have a voice. Our clubs can be such a great representation of their communities. There’s a real sense of pride people have in their communities that they might not have an outlet for, and the football club gives them that outlet. Go down and be with six or seven thousand people, and wear your colors and show your passion to be from Louisville, Albuquerque, Austin, or Oklahoma City.”

What Edwards stresses is doing expansion “the right way” over the long-term, angling to grow and grow to make a massive impression when all eyes are trained on the United States for the 2026 World Cup in North America.

“What do we want to look like when it arrives?” he asks. “We will see between now and the World Cup, a few more expansion markets like Providence, Buffalo, Des Moines, and some of you haven’t heard of yet. League One is a huge focus for us. We’ve gone from 10 to 12 teams, and now we have 30 markets that are actively lobbying to bring League One to their communities.”

Lilley says it helps that the soccer has improved tremendously since he was a player in the early 90s, pre-MLS.

“It’s just a whole different landscape now,” Lilley said. “You know the movie ‘Slapshot?’ Some of the start of me coming into the pro soccer environment — NASL was done. MISL was just shutting done — in the late 80s, some of the fights and some of the stuff going down on the field was comparable.”

The players are better, and the coaches, too. Three of his former players, in fact, have gone on to coach in MLS (Mauro Biello, Mark Watson, Nick Dasovic).

Lilley has seen the tactics grow from when he instituted a flat back four in the late 1990s after seeing it become all the rage in Europe. He’s worked past three at the back, five at the back, you name it, but it’s only in this last stage of the USL that he’s seen big changes in coaching (so credit to whom for still winning).

“From 1997 to 2010, whatever I saw from a team early in the season a lot of times it would be the same thing later in the season,” he said. “That’s not the case. I think it makes everyone better when new ideas… everyone’s trying to win and that’s the expectation of owners. It’s not okay just to make up the numbers.”

Bob Lilley
Lilley coaches Pittsburgh in the U.S. Open Cup (Photo by Jason Mowry/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Lilley says that’s why he’s sure to instruct his players on being functional outside of a base system. He switches it up on them.

What drives him?

“Trying to survive,” Lilley said. “Trying to win so I can stay in it. I try to build flexibility in my team. I think part of growth is not just giving guys game but trying to give them information tactically. There’s so much tape out there, we’re always looking for an edge. Sometimes with the team, if you play the same way all the time and it’s not quite working, and then you change, you can send them in a tailspin, ‘Well what’s wrong? What did we do?’ but if you tell them you’re preparing them and looking for an edge, well, good players adapt to the environment, to the coaches, to the system, to the weather, to the referees, to the opponent. It’s hard to prepare for us because we do a lot of things well.”

So as the league drives forward into Year No. 10, there is a collection of executives, staff, and coaches who’ve been through the proverbial war and are smarter for it. There’s been attrition, of course, but now there’s stability.

And it’s Edwards’ job to remember where they’ve been as much as where they are going.

“When I think back to the wild west days, the boom or bust days, it was a core mission to get away from that,” he said. “We’ve done that, but we’re still in growth mode.”

How to watch PLTV on Peacock

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PLTV on Peacock is absolutely essential viewing for every single Premier League fan and here is how you can watch shows such as Fantasy Premier League, Premier League Today and The Kelly and Wrighty Show among many others every single day.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]  

The PLTV schedule for key shows during the week is below, as signing up for NBC’s streaming service Peacock gives you access to it and allows you to devour all of the extra shows around each Premier League matchweek.

Simply put, we’ve got you covered with everything you need on the Premier League as Peacock provides you with live games, PLTV and all of NBC Sports’ original content and shows.

There will be more than 175 exclusive Premier League games on Peacock during the 2020-21 season, out of 380 games, with the rest of the games on NBCSN and across the NBC family of channels.

[ SIGN UP: Peacock details ]

The Premier League schedule is one of the key parts of the new streaming platform and to get access to the PL games you need to sign up to an ad-supported premium tier for $4.99/month, serving no more than five minutes of advertising per hour. An ad-free version of the premium tier is also available for $9.99/month. Premium has more than 20,000 hours of content; free has about 13,000 hours. For more on Peacock, click here.

Peacock and Roku have also announced that Peacock is now available nationwide on the Roku platform. Premier League fans who use the platform can now find exclusive Peacock Premium matches on Roku.

Peacock is widely available across Apple devices including iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Apple TV 4K and Apple TV HD; the Roku platform; Google platforms and devices including Android™, Android TV™ devices, Chromecast and Chromecast built-in devices; Microsoft’s Xbox One family of devices, including Xbox One S and Xbox One X; and VIZIO SmartCast™ TVs and LG Smart TVs; as well as Sony PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 4 Pro. Comcast’s eligible Xfinity X1 and Flex customers, as well as eligible Cox Contour customers, enjoy Peacock Premium included with their service at no additional cost.

If you haven’t yet checked it out and would like a free 7-day preview of the Peacock Premium service, which will include access to all of this weekend’s live Premier League matches, you can sign up here.


PLTV on Peacock schedule for key Premier League shows

Monday
5-5:30am ET: Premier League Today
6:30-8:30am ET: The Weekend Review
9-9:30am ET: Premier League Today
10-11am ET: Fanzone

Tuesday
5-5:30am ET: Premier League Today
7-8:30am ET: The Analysis Show
9-9:30am ET: Premier League Today
10-11am ET: Fanzone
12-12:30pm ET: Premier League Today

Wednesday
5-5:30am ET: Premier League Today
7-8am ET: 1-to-11
8-8:30am ET: Inside the Premier League
9-9:30am ET: Premier League Today
10-11am ET: Fanzone
12-12:30pm ET: Premier League Today

Thursday
5-5:30am ET: Premier League Today
7-8:30am ET: The Kelly and Wrighty Show
9-9:30am ET: Premier League Today
10-11am ET: Fanzone
12-12:30pm ET: Premier League Today
1-2pm ET: Fantasy Premier League

Friday
5-5:30am ET: Premier League Today
7-8:30am ET: The Weekend Preview
9-9:30am ET: Premier League Today
10-11am ET: Fanzone
12-12:30pm ET: Premier League Today
1-2:30pm ET: The Weekend Warm-Up


Edouard Mendy to Chelsea: What does it mean for Kepa, Blues’ defense?

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Edouard Mendy to Chelsea: What does it mean for Kepa Arrizabalaga and how much does it improve the Chelsea defense?

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]   

Frank Lampard has confirmed that goalkeeper Edouard Mendy, 28, has arrived from Rennes in a $28 million deal and the Senegalese international will provide ‘competition’ to Kepa as he’s signed a five-year contract.

“Competition is a regular thing. We have brought Mendy in for that competition. It’s in everyone’s hands to get into the squad,” Lampard said. “I think it is the hardest position, because of the individual nature of it. I have to be sympathetic to that point. Last year I changed a few times, it’s a different thought process. We are always striving for the best performance.”

Is anyone buying that Mendy is just ‘competition’ for Kepa?

A couple of high-profile mistakes in Chelsea’s opening two games of the Premier League season has highlighted Kepa’s poor form and Chelsea have moved fast to bring in Mendy.

What does this mean for Kepa Arrizabalaga?

As the ProSoccerTalk lads discuss in the video above, this is probably the end, or at the very least the beginning of the end, for Kepa at Chelsea. Kepa has never really settled at Chelsea and over the last two seasons he hasn’t backed up being the most expensive goalkeeper in the world.

That transfer fee was a little false, as Chelsea were backed into a corner after losing Thibaut Courtois to Real Madrid and paid Kepa’s release clause of $91.1 million to Athletic Bilbao. But they still paid it and even if the fee was half of that, eyebrows would have been raised. Kepa, 25, has failed to command his box, looked nervous with the ball at his feet and shots from outside the box have also given him plenty of problems. Not a great combo for a goalkeeper.

Chelsea may look to loan him out but there’s no doubt that after being dropped for veteran Willy Caballero at the end of last season, the writing was on the wall and Kepa is on borrowed time at Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea director Marina Granovskaia said the following when Mendy arrived, as Kepa will perhaps be kept as the back up option: “As soon as Petr Cech and our technical team identified Edouard as the most suitable goalkeeper to complement our existing group, there was only one player we wanted to bring in. Edouard arrives following a season of real success with Rennes, he is ambitious for more, and we welcome him to our club.”

Does Edouard Mendy to Chelsea improve their defense right away?

Not right away, but it will help. His impressive ability to come for crosses and his towering six-foot six-inch frame should provide some stability and confidence from the defenders around him but the way Chelsea play suggests their defensive issues will remain.

Frank Lampard loves to attack and it’s fun to watch. Well, unless you’re a goalkeeper or defender for the Blues. Mendy is one part of the jigsaw and so too is Thiago Silva who will add a calm head and his experience to a youthful defense, and Ben Chilwell at left back will also improve their defensive outlook.

Lampard loves to attack, though, and we must admit that without N’Golo Kante in front of a oft-changed back four, things will be tough. Mendy’s arrival should help settle things down and help Chelsea improve at the back but Lampard needs his center backs to stand tall in the coming weeks and months.

Crystal Palace – Everton: How to watch, start time, prediction, odds

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Crystal Palace – Everton: It’s a battle of perfect teams on Saturday when Everton visits Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park (Watch live at 10 am ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]  

The Eagles have knocked off Southampton and Manchester United to open their 2020-21 Premier League season while Everton has handled Tottenham Hotspur and West Bromwich Albion.

[ MORE: ProSoccerTalk unfiltered, Week 2 ]

Two legends of the game will be at the helm when Roy Hodgson and Carlo Ancelotti match wits on Saturday. Can the former continue to coax unexpected results of his Eagles against the strengthened and powerful Toffees?


Team news: Crystal Palace – Everton (INJURY REPORT)

James Tomkins (thigh), Nathan Ferguson (knee), Patrick van Aanholt (shoulder), Christian Benteke (ankle), Gary Cahill (thigh) and Jairo Riedewald (undisclosed) are all set to miss out for Roy Hodgson’s Eagles.

Fabian Delph returned for the midweek League Cup game but Everton won’t have Jarrad Branthwaite (ankle), Mason Holgate (ankle), Cenk Tosun (knee), and Jean-Philippe Gbamin (calf).


What they’re saying

Roy Hodgson on how the Eagles won (again) at Old Trafford: “We made certain and kept them playing in front of us and they could not profit from those spaces they are skillful enough to find. And when we had the ball I thought we looked very dangerous and threatening so I don’t think it was a big surprise that we scored three.”

Carlo Ancelotti after Jordan Pickford made a gaffe against Fleetwood Town: “I think the first goal was not an individual mistake because we passed the ball back to Jordan, it was a really difficult ball and we could behave differently. Of course you have to improve there. We want to build up from the back, but when there’s no risk. If it’s risky it’s no good because we can concede a goal like we did. It can be a good lesson for the future. I didn’t speak to him and, as I said, I have to speak with players that were involved when we build-up.Jordan was not the only one.”

Jordan Pickford
FLEETWOOD, ENGLAND – SEPTEMBER 23: Jordan Pickford of Everton is challenged by Josh Morris of Fleetwood Town (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images).

Odds and ends (full odds provided by our partner, PointsBet)

Palace is an underdog despite beating United and it’s perhaps a bit surprising to see them at +275 with a draw at +220. An Everton win delivers +110.

PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links


Crystal Palace – Everton prediction

Hodgson has coaxed some tremendous midfield performances out of James McArthur, James McCarthy, and Luka Milivojevic in his tenure at Palace but out-performing Abdoulaye Doucoure, Allan, and Andre Gomes is a big ask even for that steely crew. James Rodriguez is in incredible form but so is Wilfried Zaha. Couldn’t this one go either way? Yes, but if Everton’s moving in the direction many believe it will be able to take all three points in a composed 2-1 win.


How to watch Crystal Palace – Everton stream and start time

Kickoff: 10 am ET Saturday
TV Channel: NBCSN
Online: Stream via NBCSports.com

Brighton – Manchester United: How to watch, start time, odds, prediction

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Brighton – Manchester United: Impressive Brighton and Hove Albion hopes to continue Manchester United’s winless league season when the Red Devils visit the Amex Stadium on Saturday (Watch live at 7:30 am ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]  

It will be the first two meetings in several days, as Brighton’s win at Preston North End and United’s takedown of Luton Town set up a League Cup fourth round date at the Amex.

[ MORE: ProSoccerTalk unfiltered, Week 2 ]

United handled Brighton well last season, winning 3-1 and 3-0, so this will be a great test at the acumen of both managers: Graham Potter in his second full season with the Seagulls and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer attempting to prove his doubters wrong.


Team news: Brighton – Manchester United (INJURY REPORT)

The Seagulls will not have Yves Bissouma, who was suspended three matches for his no-look, studs-up kick into the face of Newcastle defender Jamal Lewis. Brighton manager Graham Potter revealed that the long-term recovery of Jose Izquierdo is about two weeks away from being complete.

Manchester United will be without Axel Tuanzebe and Phil Jones.


What they’re saying

Potter on the League Cup win setting up consecutive Man United tests: “It’s a big week for us with those two matches and then Everton before the international break. That’s what we wanted because we wanted to go through in this competition. Players always want to play and the best thing for them is to be out on the field on nights like tonight to keep everyone in the group ready for when they’re needed. You saw that today. There was a willingness to run and fight for the team and get the result and that’s why I’m very happy.”

United’s Solskjaer after goalkeeper Dean Henderson starred on his senior debut: “The goalkeeping department and training level has been really high, of course, you can see driven and dedicated people and I’ve enjoyed watching them. Dean in goal, good save, you can see he’s having to concentrate and it’s a different job to what he’s done a few times last season and he came up with the save when he had to.”

League Cup results
LUTON, ENGLAND – SEPTEMBER 22: Dean Henderson of Manchester United saves a shot at Kenilworth Road (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Odds and ends (full odds provided by our partner, PointsBet)

Brighton is +375 to win at home, while a draw nets the wagerer +260. Manchester United is expected to win and thusly -130 to take all three points.

PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links


Brighton – Manchester United prediction

The only thing keeping us from pegging a very impressive Brighton team to collect another win is the shadow cast by Manchester United’s 2019-20 season (and long tradition of winning). United was rusty in its loss to Crystal Palace and had to work hard to defeat Luton Town in the League Cup. If that rust was there last week, how do the legs feel after a week? Anyway, the Red Devils still have Bruno Fernandes and it just doesn’t seem like this team starts 0-2 (or even 0-1-1). I grimace as I write 2-1 to Manchester United.


How to watch Brighton – Manchester United stream and start time

Kickoff: 7:30 am ET Saturday
TV Channel: NBCSN
Online: Stream via NBCSports.com