Andy Edwards

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MNUFC’s Opara wins MLS Defender of the Year

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For the second time in three seasons, Ike Opara has been named MLS Defender of the Year, this time as the foundational piece of Minnesota United’s much-improved defense.

[ Report: Sacramento finally gets MLS expansion franchise ]

Opara becomes just the fourth player to win multiple Defender of the Year awards, joining Carlos Bocanegra (2002, 2003), Robin Fraser (1999, 2004) and Chad Marshall, the only three-time winner (2008, 2009, 2014) in MLS history. Opara won the award going away, nearly doubling the percentage of votes received by second-place Walker Zimmerman.

Defender of the Year Player % Club % Media % Final %
Ike Opara  25.75% 27.27% 44.88% 32.64%
Walker Zimmerman 20.40% 17.17% 12.20% 16.59%
Miles Robinson 19.40% 13.13% 15.75% 16.09%
Maxime Chanot 1.67% 16.16% 4.33% 7.39%
Eddie Segura 4.35% 9.09% 5.91% 6.45%
Aaron Long 2.34% 5.05% 1.97% 3.12%

[ MORE: Berhalter slams USMNT after Canada defeat — what now? ]

This time last year, the 30-year-old was a member of one of the league’s stingiest defensive units as a member of Sporting Kansas City. Following a contract dispute with Sporting, Opara was traded to Minnesota in exchange for $900,000 of targeted allocation money, plus an additional $100,000 after Minnesota qualified for the playoffs for the first time since joining MLS.

New Premier League schedule for December, January released

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It is time to update your calendars for December and January, including Boxing Day and the frantically busy holiday period, with schedule changes announced for the 2019-20 Premier League season.

[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]

Due to games being selected for UK broadcasters, the dates and times of several encounters have been changed with European action also impacting when PL games are now played.

Below is a look at the new dates and times for PL games in December and January, with the changes for February and beyond forthcoming.

Tuesday, December 3

2:30 p.m. ET: Crystal Palace v. Bournemouth
3:15 p.m. ET: Burnley v. Man City

Wednesday, December 4

2:30 p.m. ET: Chelsea v. Aston Villa
2:30 p.m. ET: Leicester City v. Watford
2:30 p.m. ET: Man United v. Spurs
2:30 p.m. ET: Southampton v. Norwich City
2:30 p.m. ET: Wolves v. West Ham
3:15 p.m. ET: Liverpool v. Everton

Thursday, December 5

2:30 p.m. ET: Sheffield United v. Newcastle
3:15 p.m. ET: Arsenal v. Brighton

Saturday, December 7

7:30 a.m. ET: Everton v. Chelsea
12:30 p.m. ET: Man City v. Man United

Sunday, December 8

9 a.m. ET: Aston Villa v. Leicester City
9 a.m. ET: Newcastle v Southampton*
9 a.m. ET: Norwich City v Sheffield United*
16:30 Brighton v Wolves (Sky Sports)
*After Sheff Utd v Newcastle moved to 5 Dec

Monday, December 9

3 p.m. ET: West Ham v. Arsenal

Saturday, December 14

7:30 a.m. ET: Liverpool v. Watford
12:30 p.m. ET: Southampton v. West Ham

Sunday, December 15

9 a.m. ET: Man United v. Everton
9 a.m. ET: Wolves v. Spurs*
11:30 a.m. ET: Arsenal v. Man City
*Due to Wolves’ participation in UEFA Europa League

Monday, December 16

3 p.m. ET: Crystal Palace v. Brighton

Saturday, December 21

7:30 a.m. ET: Everton v. Arsenal
12:30 p.m. ET: Man City v. Leicester City

Sunday, December 22

9 a.m. ET: Watford v Man United
11:30 a.m.ET: Spurs v. Chelsea

Thursday, December 26

17:30 a.m. ET: Spurs v. Brighton
10 a.m. ET: AFC Bournemouth v. Arsenal
10 a.m. ET: Aston Villa v. Norwich
10 a.m. ET: Chelsea v. Southampton
10 a.m. ET: Crystal Palace v. West Ham
10 a.m. ET: Everton v. Burnley
10 a.m. ET: Sheffield United v. Watford
12:30 p.m. ET: Man Utd v. Newcastle
3 p.m. ET: Leicester City v. Liverpool

Friday, December 27

2:45 p.m. ET: Wolves v. Man City

Saturday, December 28

7:30 a.m. ET: Brighton v. Bournemouth
12:30 p.m. ET: Norwich v. Spurs
12:30 p.m. ET: West Ham v Leicester City*
12:45 p.m. ET: Burnley v Man United
*After Leicester v Liverpool moved to 20:00 on 26 Dec

Sunday, December 29

9 a.m. ET: Arsenal v Chelsea
11:30 a.m.ET: Liverpool v Wolves
1 p.m. ET: Man City v Sheffield United*
*After Wolves v Man City moved to 27 Dec

Wednesday, January 1

7:30 a.m. ET: Brighton v Chelsea
7:30 a.m. ET: Burnley v Aston Villa
10 a.m. ET: Newcastle v Leicester City
10 a.m. ET: Southampton v Spurs
10 a.m. ET: Watford v Wolves
11:30 a.m. ET: Man City v Everton
11:30 a.m. ET: Norwich City v Crystal Palace
11:30 a.m. ET: West Ham v Bournemouth
3 p.m. ET: Arsenal v Man United

Thursday, January 2

3 p.m. ET Liverpool v Sheffield United

Friday, January 10

3 p.m. ET: Sheffield United v West Ham

Saturday, January 11

7:30 a.m. ET: Crystal Palace v Arsenal
12:30 p.m. ET: Spurs v Liverpool

Sunday, January 12

9 a.m. ET: Bournemouth v Watford
11:30 a.m. ET: Aston Villa v Man City

Saturday, January 18

7:30 a.m. ET: Watford v Spurs
12:30 p.m. ET: Newcastle v Chelsea

Sunday, January 19

9 a.m. ET:  Burnley v Leicester City
11:30 a.m. ET: Liverpool v Man United

Tuesday, January 21

2:30 p.m. ET: Bournemouth v Brighton*
2:30 p.m. ET: Aston Villa v Watford*
2:30 p.m. ET: Crystal Palace v Southampton**
2:30 p.m. ET: Everton v Newcastle*
2:30 p.m. ET: Sheffield United v Man City
3:15 p.m. ET: Chelsea v Arsenal
*Change from 2:45 p.m. ET kickoff
**Club agreement

Wednesday, January 22

2:30 p.m. ET: Leicester City v West Ham
2:30 p.m. ET: Spurs v Norwich*
3:15 p.m. ET: Man United v Burnley
*Change from 2:45 p.m. ET kick-off

Wednesday, January 23

3 p.m. ET: Wolves v Liverpool

Barcelona wants El Clasico at Camp Nou despite Catalan protests

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde says his team wants to play El Clasico against Real Madrid at home despite a planned separatist rally in the Catalan capital on the same day.

[ MORE: Spurs’ Son happy South Korea “unscathed” in North Korea qualifier ]

The Spanish soccer league wants the Oct. 26 game to be moved from Barcelona to Madrid because of security concerns, with the return match automatically switched from Madrid to Barcelona.

Valverde said Thursday he and his players prefer to keep the schedule unchanged and show everyone that the game can take place safely despite the current problems in Catalonia.

The region has seen violent protests for the last few days with police clashing with protesters angered by a Supreme Court decision to sentence nine separatist leaders to prison. Separatist groups have called for supporters to rally in Barcelona on the day of the match.

[ MORE: Top Premier League storylines: Week 9 ]

There is also discussion about postponing the game instead of switching it to Madrid, but that could potentially cause a scheduling conflict with other competitions.

The Spanish soccer federation said the clubs have until Monday to respond to the league’s request to change venues.

The league runs the top two tiers of Spanish soccer, while the federation controls regulations and fixtures for professional and amateur games.

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

Top Premier League storylines: Week 9

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Week 9 of the 2019-20 Premier League season is upon us, back from the international break and fast approaching the start of the busiest period of the season in just over a month’s time.

[ MORE: Spurs’ Son happy South Korea “unscathed” in North Korea qualifier ]

Here’s what to keep an eye on this weekend…

Liverpool’s perfect start on the line at Old Trafford 

For all of Man United’s struggles since Sir Alex Ferguson‘s departure in 2013, Liverpool have only beaten the Red Devils three out of 12 PL meetings (four draws), including a solitary victory at Old Trafford back in March 2014. The major difference between those Liverpool teams and the current edition is, of course, the Reds’ current title-storming pace. Jurgen Klopp‘s side will put its 100-percent record on the line on Sunday. Any other team will believe they can walk into present-day Old Trafford and leave with a victory, but it’s always that much trickier anytime it’s a derby the nature of Liverpool and Man United.

Man City in desperate need of sharp turnaround

Last time out, Man City suffered a thorough home defeat at the hands of Wolverhampton Wanderers, dropping them eight points off the pace of Liverpool just eight games into the season. At the risk of forgetting recent history (as in, less than a year ago), things are quickly trending toward Liverpool running away from the pack, including the two-time defending champions. City didn’t lose their first game until Dec. 8 last season. Pep Guardiola‘s side has already lost twice this season, which they avoided doing until Dec. 22 a year ago.

When will Spurs right the ship? (Will they?)

Not even five months removed from appearing in the Champions League final, Tottenham are in a full-on crisis. Mauricio Pochettino appears to have lost the dressing room, largely because chairman Daniel Levy denied a number of outgoing transfers to players currently performing well below par — those facts are probably very closely linked with one another. Losing 3-0 away to Brighton & Hove Albion, as they did last time out, only served to highlight the glaring problems at Spurs. Anything but a victory over 20th-place Watford would be a disaster of an even higher order.

Would Silva survive another dismal defeat?

Marco Silva‘s employment as Everton manager looks more and more tenuous every time his Toffees leave the field of play. Following four straight defeats to Bournemouth, Sheffield United, Man City and Burnley, how much longer will owner Farhad Moshiri give the Portuguese to turn results around?

Ozil: ‘I was scared about my wife,’ but Kolasinac ‘was really, really brave’

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Three months after the terrifying incident, Arsenal midfielder Mesut Ozil has opened up about the evening that he, alongside his wife and teammate Sead Kolasinac, was targeted by knife-wielding carjackers on the streets of London.

[ MORE: Spurs’ Son happy South Korea “unscathed” in North Korea qualifier ]

Ozil says that above all else he was scared for the safety of his wife, Amine, and recognizes how brave and heroic the actions of Kolasinac were that day. If not for Kolasinac’s instant reaction to jump out of the car and go after the attackers, Ozil fears they would have entered the car through the passenger door, where his wife was sitting — quotes from the Athletic (subscription required):

“Sead’s reaction was really, really brave because he attacked one of the attackers. The second one was in front of my car on his moped so I couldn’t drive.

“We were newly wed and I was scared about my wife. I was scared about Sead. I wasn’t thinking about myself. I was worried they were going to open my wife’s door and they tried, so I reached across her to keep it closed.

“Nothing happened to us, that’s the most important thing. We were worried these guys had been targeting us, but the police said they found them and, a few hours earlier, they tried to robbed other people nearby in a similar way.”

Since the incident, Kolasinac has returned as a first-team regular (when healthy), while Ozil has remained just on the outside of Unai Emery‘s squad. The 31-year-old German international has made just one Premier League appearance this season, now more than a month ago, on Sept. 15. Though there has been much speculation over his future, Ozil insists he only sees himself remaining an Arsenal player for the foreseeable future.

“I have a contract until the summer of 2021 and I will be staying until then. When I signed the new deal, I thought about it very carefully and said it was one of the most important decisions of my footballing career.

“I didn’t want to stay for just one or two more years, I wanted to commit my future to Arsenal and the club wanted me to do the same. You can go through difficult times, like this, but that is no reason to run away.”