8/18/17  EPL Week 2, German, Spanish, Italian Leagues Previews-Start Sat, Indy 11 at NY Cosmos Sat, CHS Girls Pack the House Night Tonite

The German Bundesliga, Spanish La Liga and Italian Serie A all get underway this weekend (see season previews in World below). I will have the DVR rolling Sat am on Fox Sports 1 at 9:30 am for Wolfsburg vs Dortmund with US young star Christian Pulisic slated to start after scoring a goal vs Bayern Munich in the German Supercup.  Real Madrid disposed of Barca Wed 3-1 on aggregate to win the Spanish Super Cup though Real’s Christiano Renaldo lost his appeal and will serve a 5 game suspension for pushing a ref. The 2nd yellow for diving in the box was a HORRIBLE call but Renaldo has to know he can’t touch the ref – even though is was a weak little push. Should be an interesting season as always in La Liga.  By the way to watch La Liga and Serie A and France Legue 1 your best bet is beIN Sport for Sat/Sun afternoon games, the German Bundelisga is of course on Fox Sports 1 & 2 and Fox Soccer and sometimes on GoalTV. (See full TV game schedule below – this is where I give you a cheat-sheet on the games on TV, where and when they are on and I try to bold the big games)

So the EPL got off to a hot start last weekend and Arsenal scored 2 goals in the last few minutes to shock Leicester City and Man U looked like a real contender with the addition of a solid #6 DM Matic to that midfield freeing up Pogba to create.  Some big games this weekend include Liverpool fresh off their impressive 2-1 Champ League win hosting Crystal Palace Sat at 10 am again without Coutino. On NBCSN has Man U at Swansea at 7:30 am Sat and New Castle United at 8:30 am Sunday hosting Huddlesfield Town, a surprising 3-0 opening weekend winner with former US Player David Wagner as Manager. The bigger games of course have Stoke City and US international Stoke City hosting Arsenal (without Sanchez again) on Sat at 12:30 pm on NBC and Tottenham hosting Chelsea (recovering from their openning day embarrasment) at 11 am on Sun on NBCSN, and Monday afternoon’s big Everton vs Man City match-up again on NBCSN at 3 pm.

Sad to see Cinncinatti FC lost a heartbreaker 3-2 in the US Open Cup vs the NY Red Bulls on Tues night. The Orange and Blue clad Cincy had a 2-0 lead early on but gave up 3 unanswered ending the dream of a non MLS team in the US Open Finals.  The NY Red Bulls will travel to Sporting KC in the finals Sept 20 9 pm on ESPN2.

Locally behind two goals from Griffin Dorsey and another from Timmy Mehl, No. 7 Indiana beats No. 9 Louisville, 3-2 at an exhibition match at Grand Park on Thurs evening.  Indiana U will return to the Indy area when they travel to Butler on Wed, Oct 18.  The Indy 11 will play at the NY Cosmos this Sat night at 7:30 on beIN Sport and myindyTV before returning home for Student night ($5 tix for college students) next Sat vs Jax.

The Carmel High Schools girls ranked 26th in the US will be hosting Pack the House Night tonite at home vs Geurin Catholic.  JV starts at 5 pm and Varsity at 7 pm admission is just $5!  Plenty of former Carmel FC players on the rosters!  Good luck to those Carmel FC teams traveling to Pikefest this weekend!

GAMES ON TV  

Fri, Aug 18

2:30 pm Fox Sport 1                         Bayern Munich vs Bayern Leverkusen

7 pm Fox Sport1          Portland Timbers vs NY Red Bulls

Sat, Aug 19     German Bundesliga/La Liga/Serie A Start

7:30 am NBCSN            Swansea vs Man United

9:30 am Fox Sport 1 Wolfsburg vs Dortmund (Pulisic)

9:30 am FS2                    Hoffenheim vs Werder Bremen

10 am NBCSN                 Liverpool vs Crystal Palace

12 noon beIN Sport  Juve vs Cagliari

12:30 pm              NBC        Stoke City (Cameron) vs Arsenal

12:30 pm FS1                Schalke vs RB Leipzig

3:30 pm Lifetime       North Carolina vs Washington Spirit (Women’s League)

7:30 pm bein Sport My Indy TV  NY Cosmos vs Indy 11

Sun, Aug 20

8:30 am NBCSN            New Castle United (Yedlin) vs Huddlesfield Town

9:30 am FS1                    Freiburg vs Frankfurt

11 am NBCSN         Tottenham vs Chelsea

12noon FS1                     Borussia M’Gladbach (Johnson) vs Koln

2:15 pm beIN Sport  Barcelona vs Real Betis

4 pm  beIN Sport?     Deportivo vs Real Madrid

9:30 pm FS1                   Seattle vs Min United

Mon, Aug 21

3 pm NBCSN          Man City vs Everton

Wed, Aug 23

2:45 pm FS1         Liverpool vs Hoffenheim 2-1 (Champions League)

Fri, Aug 25

2:30 pm FS2                   Koln vs Hamburger (Bobby Wood)

7 pm ESPN                                               NY Red Bulls vs NYCFC

Sat, Aug 26                    

7:30 am NBCSN            Bournemouth  vs Man City

9:30 am Fox Sport 2 B Leverkusen vs Hoffenheim

9:30 am FS2                    Bayern Munich vs Werder Bremen

10 am NBCSN                 ???

12:30 pm NBC      Man United vs Leicester City

12:30 pm FS1       Borrusia Dortmund (Pulisic) vs Hertha BSC 

4 pm Lifetime               Seattle Riegn vs Portland Thorns (Women’s League)

7:30 pm My Indy TV  Indy 11 vs Jax Armada

Sun, Aug 27

8:30 am NBCSN   Chelsea vs Everton  

9:30 am FS1                    RB Leipzig vs Freiburg

11 am NBCSN         Liverpool vs Arsenal

12noon  FS2                   Hanover vs Schalke

4:30 pm ESPN                Montreal vs Toronto

Thurs, Aug 31       World Cup Qualifying Break

2:45 pm FS2                   Bulgaria vs Sweden

2:45 pm FS1                   Portugal vs Faro Islands

2:45 pm Fox soccer+                       Belgium vs Gibraltar

2:45 pm Watch ESPN                       France vs Netherlands

6:30 pm beIN Sport  Chile vs Paraguay

Fri, Sept 1              World Cup Qualifying

2:45 pm FS1                   Czech Republic vs Germany

2:45 pm FS2                   Denmark vs Poland

7 pm ESPN      USA vs Costa Rica

9:30 pm Fox Sport2  Mexico vs Panama

Tues, Sept 5          World Cup Qualifying

5:30 pm beIN Sport Hondoras vs USA

Tues, Sept 19

7:30 pm Fox Sport 1  USA Ladies team vs New Zealand (at Cincy tix Avail)

Full MLS Schedule

Indy 11 TV Schedule

EPL 2017 Schedule

Local

CHS Girls host Pack the House Night – this Friday night 8/18 JV 5 pm and V at 7 pm vs Guerin Catholic

High School Girls – Carmel in Sectional of Death in 3A – Indy Star

Nice story from last year – featuring Carmel High Coach – Frank Dixon

WORLD

Euro Weekend in the Big Leagues

Serie A Preview Philly Times

Bundesliga Preview ESPNFC

La Liga Spanish Preview ESPNFC

Serie A Preview ESPNFC – Horncastle

Real Madrid well ahead of Barca as Laliga kicksoff

Suerez out 1 month for Barca

EPL

How Jose found perfect midfield partner for Man United’s Pogba – Matic

Real trying 1 last time to grab DeGea from Man U

US

Indy makes first cut of 44 Cities to Host World Cup in 2026

US Defensive Depth to be tested  Matt Doyle  MLS.com

John Brooks to Miss 3 month after injury

Pulisic not considering any transfers until after World Cup at earliest Jeff Carlisle ESPNFC

Pulisic happy at Dortmund not looking to move ESPNFC

US Players in Germany

US Who’s Hot, Who’s Not

US 18 YO Youth player Weston McKennie starts for Germany’s Schalke

Register to Win FREE USA Women vs New Zealand Tickets in Cincy

US Ladies National Team hosting New Zealand on Tues Night 7:30 pm Sept 19 at Nippert Stadium in Cinncinatti. 

GOALIES

Saves of Week 1 – English Premier League

MLS Save of the Week

Goalie Motivational Video 3 min

MLS

FC Cincy had Red Bulls on the Ropes in US Open Cup – Brian Straus SI

Game Highlights FC Cincy vs Red Bulls Tues – 3-2 loss

MLS Power Rankings

MLS Weekend that was

Colorado fires Pablo Mastroeni as coach – Matt Doyle MLS.com

Indy 11

NY Cosmos Preview

Indy 11 lose at Miami FC 3-1

College Night – $5 admission Aug 26 vs Jax Armada

New Indy 11 TV Schedule for Fall

 Armchair Analyst: Defensive depth set to be tested – again – for USMNT

August 17, 20171:18PM EDT

Matthew DoyleSenior WriterHere is the little bit of good news: DeAndre Yedlin is back in training for Newcastle United. He missed the newly promoted EPL team’s first game of the season with a hamstring injury picked up at the end of last month, and there was legit worry it would keep him out until the beginning of September.The very beginning of September, of course, is when the next pair of World Cup qualifiers will be played for the USMNT. On September 1 they host Costa Rica at Red Bull Arena, and on September 5 they’ll go down to Honduras to face los Catrachos. They are big games.Now, there is no guarantee that Yedlin will be back. He’s probably not going to play this weekend for Newcastle, and he’s likely to be less than 90 minutes fit next weekend. But the possibility of him being available to Bruce Arena for one or both of next month’s WCQs, either as a starter as a sub, is now on the table in a way it didn’t seem to be a week ago.This is, as I said at the top, good news. Yedlin is the unquestioned first choice at RB, and while there is depth behind him – Graham Zusi has been reliable, Eric Lichaj is an experienced pro, and Timmy Chandler is playing well for Frankfurt (though that’s a tune we’ve heard whistled one too many times – none is anywhere close to Yedlin as a two-way presence. Elsewhere, the news is not so good. John Brooks was subbed off 37 minutes into his Wolfsburg debut after tearing tendons in his right thigh. Brooks, like Yedlin, is a write-his-name-in-pen starter for the US. Unlike Yedlin, his injury is not short-term:

So now, two weeks before the games kick off, Bruce Arena has to figure out a big, glaring roster issue. As I see it he has three options to pair in with Geoff Cameron (guaranteed starter, so long as he’s healthy) in the middle of the back four in place of Brooks:

Matt Besler (44 caps): The 30-year-old is probably the favorite to get the job, provided he stays healthy. Besler’s had another excellent season for Sporting, and marshals what is by far the league’s best defense – they’ve conceded just 19 times through 24 games. He’s also got plenty of experience playing in these types of pressure-filled games, be they in qualifying or the World Cup itself.Besler played a key role in this summer’s Gold Cup triumph as well, starting five games in central defense. That included a 2-0 shutout of Costa Rica in the semifinals.

Tim Ream (25 caps): Back in March, when the US faced a similar injury crisis following Brooks’ injury in the 6-0 home win over Honduras, Arena decided to go with Ream as the fill-in for the next game.

That turned into a 1-1 draw at Panama, and choosing Ream over Besler was understandable given that Ream was fully fit and sharp (Fulham were in the middle of their season while Besler’s year was just beginning). Ream struggled a little bit on the day – nobody for the USMNT was good in Panama City save for Christian Pulisic – but I don’t think starting him was the wrong call.It wouldn’t be the wrong call here, either, as Ream’s started the Championship season in fine form for the Cottagers. They’ve allowed just two goals in three games with him at left center back for the full 270 minutes thus far, and he’ll have two more to play before camp starts. Rust shouldn’t be much of an issue even if it’s not precisely mid-season for Fulham. Bear in mind that Arena seems to trust Ream more than Jurgen Klinsmann did. But at the same time, bear in mind Ream’s history of struggling against CONCACAF opponents.

Omar Gonzalez (45 caps): Gonzalez is also dinged up – he picked up a knock in a Copa MX game about a week ago and hasn’t dressed for Pachuca since (I haven’t been able to track down exactly what the injury is, or how long he’ll be out, but he’s not listed on the most recent injury reports). Omar partnered Besler for the majority of the Gold Cup, starting six of seven games and adding a couple of goals. He’s more of a threat to score off of set pieces than either of the guys above him on this list, and he and Arena go back a decade. They’ve won a lot of stuff together.But Omar’s not a natural left center back. He’s very right-footed, which limits his ability to spread the field and play out of the back, which could invite some pretty dangerous pressure from the Ticos and/or Catrachos. Given that and his injury situation, this is probably a long-shot solution.

  • Best Guess:It’ll be Besler paired with Cameron for the first game in a reprise of what we saw in the 2014 World Cup. I actually like this pairing quite a bit, as Besler’s natural tendency to drop (and his sweeper-like ability to read the game from those situations) melds nicely with Cameron’s more aggressive, front-foot defending. And both guys can pass the hell out of the ball, which matters quite a bit as possession has become a weapon under Arena. For the second game, at Honduras, I suspect there’ll be a certain amount of squad rotation. That could include central defense or – if they play well enough against Costa Rica – maybe not.

One more thing: Presumed starting LB Jorge Villafaña has yet to play for Santos Laguna during the Apertura. Like Besler and Gonzalez he was a starter for the US in the Gold Cup win, but he seems to have lost his club role to 18-year-old Gerardo Arteaga.This is not insignificant. Villafaña has been legitimately good for the US, and Arena didn’t hesitate to throw him into the fire back in March against Honduras despite the fact that Villafaña had, at that point, just 90 league minutes since the end of September. It is nonetheless far from an ideal situation.If Arena decides Villafaña can’t go, the presumed LB fill-ins:

  • DaMarcus Beasley(125 caps): Once more unto the breach, dear friends…
  • Justin Morrow(3 caps): I thought he was better than adequate in the Gold Cup.
  • Fabian Johnson(56 caps): Arena has been determined to use him as a midfielder thus far, but there’s no question he can play LB in games like these.
  • Lichaj(13 caps): Wasn’t great at the Gold Cup, has started the Championship season on the bench and is a natural right-footer, but has played quite a bit of LB over the years.
  • Ream: This feels like a break-in-case-of-emergency solution.

My best guess is that we’ll see Villafaña start against Costa Rica regardless of whether he’s played for Santos between now and then, and then we’ll get one more grind-it-out-on-the-road Beasley performance at Honduras.

Dempsey, Morrow push for starting spots vs. Costa Rica, Brooks injured

World Cup qualifying resumes in just over two weeks, so there are not many chances left to impress U.S. head coach Bruce Arena ahead of the critical clash against Costa Rica on Sept. 1.

Heating up:

Clint Dempsey, FW, Seattle Sounders (MLS)

Why he’s here: Dempsey’s goal in Seattle’s 1-0 win over Sporting Kansas City was his sixth in five games with the Sounders, giving him 50 goals with the team.What this means: After being used as a super sub during the Gold Cup, Arena has to decide whether Dempsey starts against the Ticos. The Texan has scored in each of his last four official matches against Costa Rica, and combined with his current form it would stand to reason that Arena moves Dempsey into a starting role for the upcoming qualifier.

 

Tim Ream, DF, Fulham (EFL Championship)

Why he’s here: Ream began the 2017-18 season in England on the right foot, with another excellent outing in the Cottagers’ 1-1 draw at Reading, earning EFL Team of the Week honors.What this means: This has to be a relief for Arena to see Ream start the season so well, especially with fellow center-backs John Brooks and Omar Gonzalez sustaining injuries. At this rate, Ream is a pretty solid lock to start against Costa Rica.

Justin Morrow, DF, Toronto FC (MLS)

Why he’s here: Morrow was one of the driving forces behind Toronto FC’s sparkling second half in the 4-1 win over Portland, scoring a pair of goals.What this means: Morrow is making the battle at left-back very interesting. Arena has preferred Jorge

Villafana thus far, but Morrow’s recent play and Villafana’s lack of playing time at Santos Laguna (see below) will make for some healthy competition.

Timothy Chandler, DF, Eintracht Frankfurt (Bundesliga)

Why he’s here: Chandler put in a 90-minute shift and scored the opening goal in a 3-0 cup win over fourth-division TuS Erndtebrueck in which Eintracht Frankfurt played with 10 men for the final 70 minutes.What this means: Chandler’s good start and DeAndre Yedlin’s hamstring injury could well pave the way for the 27-year-old to get a call. Whether he starts is another matter. Chandler has struggled against CONCACAF opponents, so he may well find himself on the bench watching Graham Zusi start against the Ticos.

 Cooling off:

John Brooks, DF, Wolfsburg (Bundesliga)

Why he’s here: As mentioned above, just 37 minutes into his first competitive match with new club Wolfsburg, Brooks was forced off with a thigh injury.What this means: With his status for the Bundesliga opener this weekend already in doubt, it might make more sense for Arena to let Brooks rest over the international break. With the season just a week old, this has to be incredibly frustrating for Brooks, who battled injuries last campaign as well.

Gyasi Zardes, FW, Los Angeles Galaxy (MLS)

Why he’s here: Zardes’ scoring struggles continued in Saturday’s 2-0 loss to New York City FC, as he failed to convert a number of clear-cut chances.What this means: Now goalless in 15 games this season, Zardes is all out of sorts. He is a favorite of Arena’s and played in the Gold Cup final as a substitute, but it is hard seeing Zardes getting a call from his former club coach. There are too many others in the forward pool — Jozy Altidore, Bobby Wood, Dom Dwyer — who are in better form right now.

Julian Green, FW, Stuttgart (Bundesliga)

Why he’s here: Green was named to the matchday 18 but did not play in Stuttgart’s cup tie with Energie Cottbus, which Stuttgart won on penalties.What this means: This is an inauspicious start to 2017-18 for Green. The former Bayern Munich man is already a long way from returning to the national team, and judging by his appearances off the bench during the summer friendlies, he is likely to remain in the role of substitute with the newly-promoted side. He’ll need to make the most of any minutes coming his way this fall.

Jorge Villafana, DF, Santos Laguna (Liga MX)

Why he’s here: Villafana was unused substitute in Santos Laguna’s 3-2 home loss to Veracruz.What this means: Villafana has yet to play for Santos since returning from Gold Cup duty on Aug. 1. The left-back fell out of favor late last season and things look to have continued into the current Mexican Apertura. Still, Villafana played well at the Gold Cup and should retain his starting spot, but he should also be aware that the Justin Morrows and Greg Garzas of the world covet his place.Arch Bell covers CONCACAF for ESPN FC. 

Borussia Dortmund’s Christian Pulisic rejects Liverpool rumours

U.S. international Christian Pulisic has said he is happy at Borussia Dortmund amid renewed rumours he could join Liverpool.Following his breakthrough season at Dortmund, Pulisic has once again been linked with Liverpool, who made an attempt to sign the winger last year. However, Pulisic — who signed a new contract in January — has said he has no intention of leaving the Westfalenstadion at this stage.Asked about the Liverpool speculation, the 18-year-old told Sport Bild: “Yes, I have read that as well. What can I say? I’m focused on the start of the season.”I’ll lay it on the line for you: I am not thinking about changing clubs. After all, I only signed a new deal through to 2020 in January. I am very happy at Dortmund.”Pulisic played in 43 competitive games for Dortmund last season, scoring five goals and providing 13 assists.He has enjoyed even greater success for United States, scoring seven goals in 15 appearances, with five of those strikes coming in World Cup qualifiers.”Football might not be the biggest sport in America, but the popularity of our soccer keeps growing,” he said. “It would be fantastic if I could contribute my part to inspire kids to play football.”Meanwhile, Dortmund attacker Andre Schurrle is set for a month-long spell on the sidelines.BVB announced on Wednesday that the Germany international “sustained a muscle tear in his thigh and because of this injury will need to rest for four weeks.”Going into the new Bundesliga season, Schurrle’s injury limits coach Peter Bosz’s options in attack even more.Dortmund are already without suspended winger Ousmane Dembele and Germany international Marco Reus, while Emre Mor, whose transfer to Inter has collapsed for now, could compete for a place in BVB’s attack with €20 million signing Maximilian Philipp and Pulisic.Schurrle became Dortmund’s record signing when joining from Wolfsburg for a reported transfer fee of €30m last summer. However, he endured a disappointing first year at the Westfalenstadion with only two goals and three assists in 15 Bundesliga games.Stephan Uersfld is the Germany correspondent for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @uersfeld. 

USMNT IN GERMANY SEASON PREVIEW

MNT Aug 18, 2017

Kicking off this weekend, the German Bundesliga campaign promises another inviting opportunity for a number of U.S. players looking to further cement places with their clubs and in the MNT setup ahead of the 2018 FIFA World Cup.Here’s an outlook for six U.S. internationals as they begin their Bundesliga seasons:

CHRISTIAN PULISIC

Set to turn 19 next month, Christian Pulisic comes off an incredible first full season with Borussia Dortmund where he racked up five goals and nine assists in 43 competitive matches. Along with the personal stats, the youngster became just the second U.S. MNT player to win the DFB-Pokal when BVB dispatched reigning champions Bayern Munich on penalty kicks. WATCH: Pulisic Opens 2017-18 Account in German Super Cup

Now under the direction of Dutch manager Peter Bosz, Pulisic has already opened his account jn the new campaign, tallying the opening goal in BVB’s German Super Cup clash against Bayern Munich on Aug. 5. Pulisic should help the club as it looks to challenge Bayern at the top of the Bundesliga this season, make further progress in the UEFA Champions League and defend its German Cup crown.

FABIAN JOHNSON  

The longest-tenured current U.S. MNT player in Germany, Fabian Johnson is set to remain in the Bundesliga for the foreseeable future thanks to the contract extension he signed which will keep him with Borussia Mönchengladbach through 2020. That renewal came in May on the heels of a lengthy injury layoff that saw the midfielder miss nine matches down the stretch for the Foals and also forced him out of the USA’s important World Cup Qualifiers in March.

Though Johnson returned to play as a substitute in the club’s final two matches of the season, ‘Gladbach missed him dearly and the club finished mid-table, four points out of qualification for a spot in the Europa League. Now with a clean bill of health, Johnson and ‘Gladbach aim to finish back in the top six this season.

BOBBY WOOD

BOBBY WOODS

Having moved from Second Division side Union Berlin to the storied club Hamburg SV before the start of the last campaign, Bobby Wood’s first season in the Bundesliga was a bit of a roller coaster. Individually, Wood led the Die Rothosen in scoring, tallying nine goals across all competitions. Collectively, Hamburg struggled mightily throughout the season and avoided the Bundesliga relegation playoff on the final day of the season with a dramatic win that allowed HSV to remain the only club to have been in the Bundesliga since it was founded in 1963.

Now set for his second season in the Germany’s top division and with a new contract in hand, Wood will be expected to continue being the workhorse and bagging goals up top. If he maintains the same scoring pace as the last two seasons, Hamburg will be a good bet to finish higher up the table come May.

JOHN BROOKs –injured 3 months?

U.S. MNT defender John Brooks made a huge splash this summer when he secured a $22.5 million move from Hertha Berlin to VfL Wolfsburg, setting a new record transfer figure for a U.S. player. Unfortunately, Brooks will have to wait to make an impact with his new club after going down with a thigh injury just 37 minutes into his debut during last Saturday’s 1-0 DFB-Pokal win at Eintracht Nordstedt.Scheduled to be out the next three months, Wolfsburg and the MNT will have to manage without services in the interim and will look forward to his return later in the year.

TIMMY CHANDLER

Timmy Chandler’s 32 league appearances set a personal best last season as he helped Eintracht Frankfurt to an 11th place finish. Chandler will hope to keep up that consistency for Die Adler this year and has already started on the right foot, scoring the opening goal in Frankfurt’s 3-0 DFB-Pokal win against Erndtebrück last Saturday.

More strong performances for his club will also keep Chandler in the conversation for the U.S. MNT’s right back position, along with DeAndre Yedlin, Graham Zusi and Eric Lichaj. 

JULIAN GREEN

A long apprenticeship without much playing time at Bayern Munich led to forward Julian Green’s midseason transfer to Second Division side Stuttgart in January. Entrenched in a fight for the league title as well as promotion, Green was limited to 10 appearances with Die Roten as the club won the championship and bounced back up to the top flight.Competing for and earning minutes will go a long way towards putting Green back in the picture for the U.S. MNT, as memories of his strike against Belgium in the Round of 16 of the 2014 FIFA World Cup leave fans yearning for more.

Red Bulls Finally Break Through to Reach U.S. Open Cup Final

BRIAN STRAUSWednesday August 16th, 2017

FC Cincinnati is a great story. But so is Bradley Wright-Phillips.The son of an English legend who had to set out for soccer’s new world to make his own name, Wright-Phillips added another chapter to his remarkable tale Tuesday night in the Queen City. Facing a two-goal deficit and the prospect of yet another infuriating setback in single-elimination play, the New York Red Bulls halved FCC’s lead in the 75th minute and then rode Wright-Phillips’ two goals to a stirring, 3-2 overtime win over the upstart USL club in the U.S. Open Cup semifinals.As a result, New York will visit Sporting Kansas City in the 104th USOC final on September 20. Sporting outlasted the San Jose Earthquakes on penalty kicks last week. It will be the hard-luck Red Bulls’ second trip to the tournament title game and just their third major final in 22 years. They’ve never won one. No MLS club has had more misfortune in cup competition than New York, but Wright-Phillips gave his team the chance to ease some of that pain Tuesday.Everything was set up for more Metro disappointment. But despite past hardship, New York was the antagonist in the story playing out at sold-out Nippert Stadium. They were the wealthy, big-city club facing off against the smaller, plucky second-year Cinderella yearning to make history of its own. Cincinnati coach Alan Koch called his team ‘FC Disneyland,’ and the moniker was appropriate for a team whose Open Cup run he accurately described as “truly magical.”Since MLS kicked off in 1996, only two lower-league teams reached an Open Cup final. And FCC was only 15 minutes away from being the third. It had won five tournament games by shutout, beating Ohio rival Columbus Crew, rising Eastern power Chicago Fire and then NASL leader Miami FC in the quarterfinals. Home crowds were loud and massive—Tuesday night’s figure of 33,250 set a non-final Open Cup record—and as the run continued, FCC’s MLS expansion bid garnered additional momentum and attention. U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati and MLS commissioner Don Garber were in attendance Tuesday.Even the Red Bulls took notice.“A second-division team in the semifinal of the Open Cup—that’s awesome,” New York captain Sacha Kljestan said. “This is so huge for soccer in our country, big for the club and big for the fans too. This is what the Open Cup is all about.”Indeed, it’s about upsets and fairy tales. But when the underdog wins there’s a favorite that falls and for New York, the Open Cup and MLS playoffs have been about that side of the story far too many times. Only the LA Galaxy have qualified for the MLS postseason more frequently, but the Red Bulls have done nothing with their ample opportunities. There was the 2008 trip to the MLS Cup final, where they were defeated by a superior Columbus Crew squad, and then a whole lot of disappointment, early endings and losses to lower seeds. The only Open Cup final appearance came back in ’03.“There’s going to be more energy [at Nippert] than maybe we felt all year, and a team that’s playing in the most important game in many of their lives,” Red Bulls coach Jesse Marsch told the New York Post. “To be fair, it’s an important game in many of our guys’ lives, so it sets up to be a great match and a fun match and one that we’re going to take very seriously and we know is very important.”The Red Bulls entered Tuesday’s semifinal knowing there was a raucous crowd and a team of destiny on the other side, not to mention their own miserable history behind them. And midway through the second half, it appeared New York would be buried by it. FCC was missing suspended striker Djiby Fall, who’d scored every one of the club’s USOC goals. But the hosts still took a 31st-minute lead through midfielder Corben Bone and then went ahead by two when hometown hero and club captain Austin Berry headed home a corner kick.Marsch had weapons at his disposal, however, that FCC couldn’t match. As the hosts tired, New York brought Gonzalo Verón and Derrick Etienne off the bench. Verón scored from close range in the 75th and then Wright-Phillips went to work.The forward’s comments had caused a bit of a stir before the game, but they were spot on. Favorites are supposed to win. Sometimes they don’t, and that’s what makes cup play so exciting. But the Red Bulls felt they were due.“It’s the furthest we’ve been [in the Open Cup] and no disrespect to Cincinnati—we have to turn up in that game and be ready for the atmosphere—but we should win that game,’’ Wright-Phillips told the Post. “Don’t mistake this for being cocky, but with the quality we’ve got, if we lose this it’ll be on us. We would be the only people to blame for that.”Wright-Phillips put his forehead where his mouth was, tying the game on a 78th-minute header, hitting the crossbar in the 90th and then notching the game-winner in the 101st off a cross from Sal Zizzo (the other New York substitute).On this night, destiny was no match for depth, and the Red Bulls finally avoided folding before a final.They’ll meet a Sporting side that’s used to the big stage. Kansas City has won two MLS Cups and two Open Cups and will be playing in its fourth major final in the past six seasons. On the road, the Red Bulls will be slight underdogs. But Tuesday’s late comeback, not to mention Wright-Phillips’ clutch and confidence, may be a sign their knockout mojo is growing. It’ll be New York’s chance to make history next month.

RECAP | Indy Eleven Drops Away Contest to Miami FC

“Boys in Blue” fall 3-1 in goalkeeper Jon Busch’s 500th professional appearance

Published Aug 12, 2017

INDIANAPOLIS (August 12, 2017) – On goalkeeper Jon Busch’s 500th appearance in all competitions, Indy Eleven fell 3-0 to the Spring Season champs Miami FC in their third game of the Fall Season.An exciting first half that featured “Buschy” making three important saves, it was “Indiana’s Team” that created the first chance of the night. Earning a corner, midfielder Don Smart jogged over to take and swung in a fantastic ball to the dead middle of the six-yard box. Defender Colin Falvey was first to meet the cross, but his header went flying over the bar. The first save of the night for Busch came just minutes later when Stefano Pinho was in perfect position to direct a header on goal only to see the veteran leap towards the top corner and collect with both hands.As the half wore on, defender Nemanja Vukovic found himself set up perfectly with a free kick just outside the box and looked to replicate his curling free kick goal against FC Edmonton last week. Instead, “Vuko” rifled one around the wall and towards Miami FC ‘keeper Daniel Vega’s far post only to see the effort scale inches wide of goal. Three minutes later, Miami FC had their best opportunity of the first half through the attacker Poku. Sprinting down the right side, the former New York City FC man slid a ball into the middle of the area for his teammate Jamie Chavez but found the pass just behind the forward and Indy was able to clear.At the half, Indy held strong and though unable to capitalize on chances in the box still kept their shape defensively and the deadlock continued.A completely different second 45 minutes began quickly for the hosts as Miami FC got themselves on the board after just five minutes. With Jamie Chavez streaking down the flank, the forward got a cross away for Stefano Pinho to get on the end of and his point-blank header on the break beat Busch for the first of the evening.However, Indy would come close to an equalizer just two minutes later as forward David Goldsmith was able to create an opportunity for himself. Twisting his way through the Miami defense, the Butler product saw the ball roll into his path only for a heavy effort to be nailed right down the pipe at Vega. The hosts continued to flash their attack as Indy sought their first of the match, and midfielder Dylan Mares was able to capitalize on an opportunity right at the hour mark. Similar to Goldsmith’s run moments earlier, Mares weaved his way through the defense before hitting a bullet at goal from just outside the box that Busch had no shot at. Despite the two-goal deficit, again the “Boys in White” threatened in attack. Midfielder Don Smart, who is nearing his 100thappearance for Indy Eleven, intercepted a pass in Miami territory and squared it for Zayed. With Vega just barely getting back in position, the forward could only clip the bar as the chance went begging.  In the 70th minute, Miami FC found their third goal of the evening as Stefano Pinho completed his brace. Defender Hunter Freeman marauded into Indy Eleven territory and whipped up a pass into the six-yard box that Pinho was able to get his forehead to, again heading past Busch who could only watch.“Indiana’s Team” would not go quietly, however, and in the 88th minute, they were able to earn a goal for the forward Zayed. Active in attack all game long, midfielder Ben Speas was able to skip around a pair of defenders and get a cross into the area for Zayed. The Irishman’s direct header found the top corner to pull one back, but Miami FC took home all three points and Indy left empty-handed.Next up, Indy Eleven travels to New York to face the Cosmos on Saturday, August 19 before returning home to IUPUI’s Michael A. Carroll Stadium to host Jacksonville Armada FC on Saturday, August 26 at 7:30 P.M. ET. Tickets for the game – and all remaining 5+ NASL matches at “The Mike” in 2017 – can be purchased for as little as $11 online at www.IndyEleven.com or by phone at 317-685-1100.
NASL Fall Season   Miami FC 3 : 1 Indy Eleven
Saturday, August 12, 2017  FIU Stadium – Miami, FL

Scoring Summary:
MIA – Stefano Pinho (Jamie Chavez) 48’
MIA – Dylan Mares (Jamie Chavez) 60’
MIA – Stefano Pinho (Hunter Freeman) 70’
IND – Eamon Zayed (Ben Speas) 88’

Discipline Summary:
IND – Colin Falvey 50’
MIA – Michael Lahoud 53’
IND – Gerardo Torrado 63’
IND – Brad Ring 82’

Indy Eleven lineup (4-5-1, L–>R):  Jon Busch (GK); Nemanja Vukovic, Daniel Keller, Colin Falvey © (Kwame Watson-Siriboe 65’), Marco Franco; Ben Speas, Brad Ring, Gerardo Torrado (Tanner Thompson 77’), Craig Henderson (David Goldsmith 32’), Don Smart; Eamon Zayed

IND bench: Keith Cardona (GK); Sinisa Ubiparipovic, Adrian Ables

 

Miami FC lineup (4-3-3, L->R): Daniel Vega (GK); Blake Smith, Tyler Ruthven, Rhett Bernstein, Hunter Freeman; Dylan Mares (Calvin Rezende 74’), Richie Ryan, Michael Lahoud ©; Jaime Chavez, Kwadwo Poku (Ariel Martinez 77’), Stefano Pinho (Michel 90+1’)MIA bench: Ryan Herman, Jonathan Borrajo, Jonny Steele, Gabriel Farfan

EUROPEAN LEAGUE PREVIEWS :

Bundesliga preview: Can Bayern stay ahead of a crowded chasing pack?

Wins in the Confederations Cup and the U-21 Euros have shown that German football continues to get an awful lot of things right, especially when it comes to player development. But the Bundesliga has not been able to fully withstand the powerful wave of Premier League and Paris Saint-Germain money that has been sweeping the continent and has brought the relative lack of investment in the top flight — €483 million, gross — in new personnel into sharp focus.It has divided Germans into realists and traditionalists. The latter bemoan the “immoral,” destabilising pull of increased liquidity in the market on players, and they fear that the estrangement between the game and its followers is becoming ever greater. The other camp believe that German clubs — even FC Bayern — are in danger of getting left behind unless they’ll be able to spend similar sums as their international rivals in years to come.This fundamental divide also explains why the Bavarians’ stranglehold on the league has not (yet) dampened excitement for the competition within Germany. The majority of rival fans prefer the existing order — a high permeability from Bayern and Borussia Dortmund downwards — as the lesser of two evils. They’re simply not willing to sacrifice their clubs’ democratic ownership model for investor-led competitiveness.

Key storylines

VAR is finally here: After a season-long offline trial, video evidence will come into play in earnest at 8:30 p.m. on Friday night, when Bayern Munich take on Bayer Leverkusen in the curtain raiser at the Allianz Arena. The new technology will undoubtedly eliminate some refereeing mistakes but the prospect of increased justice does not excite everyone.Some supporters are concerned that inevitable delays between the ball the hitting the net and the referee pointing to the centre-circle will rob them of the football’s most joyful, intense moment: the unbridled celebration of the game’s objective being achieved. Other doubts concern a lack of transparency.Since not all clubs agreed that contentious scenes should be played back for the benefit for the spectators, stadium screens will (for the time being) stay dark while TV viewers and the video referee watch the replayed footage. It’s not an ideal situation as much of the VAR’s success will depend on the extent the public, both at home and in the stands, are exposed to the decision-making process.If the watchers of the watchmen work in secrecy, the effect will be distrust rather than more equitable refereeing.Can Schalke 04 finally rebound? After last year’s false restart under Markus Weinzierl, sporting director Christian Heidel gets a second crack at re-awakening the comatose giant that is Schalke 04. A lack of European engagements has hurt the bottom line, leading to some frugal spending — French attacker Amine Harit, signed for €8m from Nantes, was the only significant outlay — but also offers a chance for new coach Dominico Tedesco to bring his tactical ideas to bear.The 31-year-old, Schalke’s youngest-ever manager, was bought out of his contract at second division Erzgebirge Aue after merely two months in charge. Back in March, the German-Italian was still coaching Hoffenheim’s U-19s. Yet Heidel is convinced Tedesco will emerge as the next managerial wunderkind of the Bundesliga in due course.The departure of Sead Kolasinac and a brewing controversy over the demotion of captain Benedikt Höwedes, who lost his armband to keeper Ralf Fahrmann, might somewhat limit the scope of the Royal Blues’ revival but the club look well poised to make at least the first steps towards re-establishing themselves among the Bundesliga elite.The fight against commercialism continues: Fans of newly-promoted Hannover 96 will only support their team in silence this season. The so-called “cheering boycott” was declared after a meeting of ultra groups last Friday night, in protest against club boss Martin Kind’s efforts to abolish the Bundesliga’s 50+1 rule and open the door to investors.While German FA president Dr. Reinhard Grindel offered an olive branch to ultras on Monday, professing an end to collective punishment for riots and proscribed activities inside the grounds, the power struggle between fans and clubs/authorities is set to continue. Many organised groups consider it their duty to stand up against what they perceive as the game’s rampant commercialisation. The question of “who owns football?” will be hotly debated.

Marquee signings

James Rodriguez (MF, loan, Real Madrid) at Bayern is easily the most glamorous arrival. The Colombia international attacking midfielder, reportedly Carlo Ancelotti’s dream player, won’t be in action for another few weeks, however. Bayern’s other signings are rather low-key: in Corentin Tolisso (Lyon), Niklas Süle and Sebastian Rudy (both Hoffenheim), the German champions have bought players they’re hoping to turn into stars.

Meanwhile Dortmund have continued their strategy of investing in potential: German youth internationals Maximilian Philipp (Freiburg) and Mahmoud Dahoud (Gladbach) should make for great additions. Further down the food-chain, the €17m price tag of new Wolfsburg recruit, defender John-Anthony Brooks, reflects the former Hertha defender’s rapid progress over the past season.

Big departures

Bayern jettisoned Douglas Costa (Juventus, loan with option to buy) after the Brazil international winger had agitated a little too forcefully for improved wages. The lure of China’s riches proved irresistible to French striker Anthony Modeste (Tianjin Quanjian) and Bayer 04 Leverkusen sold two stars in Hakan Calhanoglu (Milan) and Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez(West Ham) to adjust the wage-bill for a season without European football.  Barcelona target Ousmane Dembele is, as things stand, still at Dortmund but might well become the most-expensive Bundesliga player ever sold over the course of the next week.

Who will win the league?

Bayern’s disastrous pre-season form hinted at real weakness in the months to come but even a slightly chaotic, vulnerable Bayern, coached by a man who is increasingly viewed with suspicion in the Sabener Strasse boardroom, should once again prove too strong. Dortmund’s squad (especially if they can fend off Barcelona’s advances) should make them at least credible contenders but all-action pressing game of new manager Peter Bosz could well take some time to become fully operational.  Leipzig and Hoffenheim might have a hard time adjusting to a two-game-per-week schedule, which could clear the path for a third, surprise challenger in Schalke 04.

 Battle at the bottom

Hamburger SV have suffered their customary horror start to the season, crashing out of the DFB Pokal at third-division VfL Osnabrück with a 3-1 defeat last weekend. Whether the northerners will find more stability in the league is doubtful, if recent history is an indication, but on paper, new boys Hannover 96 should have much bigger problems. SC Freiburg, despite their sensational seventh-place finish last season, will be in danger to succumb to the pull of gravity, as are FC Augsburg.Raphael Honigstein is ESPN FC’s German football expert. Follow: @honigstein

 La Liga preview: Can rampant Real keep Barcelona and Atletico at bay?

Real Madrid’s quest to maintain supremacy over Barca in Spain looks likely this season but then again, you never know what to expect. Graham Hunter previews the 2017-18 La Liga season.

Key storylines

With all due respect to Neymar’s quest to persuade us that his move to Paris has more to do with ambition than finance — good luck with that one, kid — the three biggest storylines in world football all reside in Spain.They are the narratives of Leo Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Zinedine Zidane. A year ago, admittedly, everyone was salivating over the Pep Guardiola vs. Jose Mourinho story, Part II. This season it’ll be the real thing: whichever of them finishes higher in the Premier League will be champion. But in the interim, they’ve been firmly shoved off centre stage by Zidane.He starts this season, only his second full term in charge, at Madrid as Spanish, European and world champion. As a coach, whether assistant or head, he has won three Champions League medals in the past four years and in doing so, he has become the only manager to win back-to-back Champions League titlesThree additional things stand out about the “Zizou” story since assuming control at the Bernabeu. Firstly his team’s football is immense fun to watch. Front foot, daring, never-say-die stuff. Secondly, he gives off clear signs that he’s loving his work. He radiates confidence, enjoyment and a bewilderment at how this job looked like a thankless task for so many of his predecessors. Finally, it has been near impossible for any coach to manage both upwards and downwards at Madrid over the past couple of decades. (Downwards meaning the squad, upwards meaning the president.)

Zidane seems effortless but can he continue along this trophy-laden path?

One of the key factors in that answer is, of course, Cristiano Ronaldo. It’s hard not to imagine him winning the Ballon d’Or again in January but can he repeat that massive, muscular burst of prolific goal scoring just at the crucial time this term?Ronaldo is an advert for the “less is more” claim. Less dribbling, less movement, less pressing, less running. But more rest, more often playing like a centre-forward, more goals and more trophies.Will age gnaw at him or reduce him? Can he rest as much as last season when there’s no James Rodriguez or Alvaro Morata to pick up the slack? Can he feasibly keep on racking up trophies and achievements. It’s an irresistible storyline that inevitably, leads to Messi.Newly re-committed to Barça (although yet to sign his deal), Messi is a guy who always, always responds to the stimuli of the gauntlet being thrown at him. Neymar’s absence hands more responsibility to the greatest player in history but not just to score more goals: He now has to adapt correctly to a differently equipped forward line.More, although there is clear mutual respect between Messi and Ronaldo, it has always been sufficient to galvanize the Argentina international when CR7 appears to be subjugating him.Finally, Messi yearns for the World Cup. He must power his nation through a treacherous final qualification stretch and he must find out whether the best way to get himself to Russia ready to win the trophy that matters so much to him is to conserve energy and attitude domestically, or play flat-out and hope to carry devastating form all the way from the stadia of La Liga to victory in Moscow next July.

 Marquee signings

At the time of writing, the likelihood of either Madrid or Barcelona securing their targets — Kylian Mbappe, Ousmane Dembele or Philippe Coutinho — remains in question. So while these “marquee” signings may be overtaken in profile and dwarfed in price, these are the key moves so far.Vitolo, MF/FW, Sevilla to Atletico Madrid: This represents the age-old tactic of harming a direct rival while reinforcing yourself. Even before highlighting the attacking midfielder’s football ability there’s such a thing as a “fit” when a guy joins a club. Atleti’s fans want derring-do; they want passion, effort, commitment and fun.The degree to which Sevilla’s fans took Vitolo to their heart, and now mourn his loss, tells you this is a pure-bred Atleti signing.How does he cope with a few months “back home” playing for Las Palmas before Atleti’s transfer ban ends? Can he help inspire Diego Simeone’s team to a trophy between January and May? Vitolo’s a vital story.Nelson Semedo, DF, Benfica to Barcelona: Two things should happen as a result of the Portugal right-back arriving at the Camp Nou. Sergi Roberto, a technically gifted and intelligent midfielder, should be restored to his more natural position. Secondly, the lack of outright pace that dogged Barça last season in this position, as they struggled to come to terms with the loss of Dani Alves, can be addressed.

Semedo might be raw in terms of elite experience but he’s an exciting, daring footballer and brings competitive aggression too.Luis Muriel, FW, Sampdoria to Sevilla: Anyone who can successfully make his way in Colombian and Italian football with a “Boy Named Sue” weight around his neck deserves respect. OK, OK, it’s Luis Muriel not Muriel Luis. Notwithstanding that Johnny Cash joke, there’s another burden for the new boy. Sevilla arguably have the best transfer market record in modern football history but it’s not all been plain sailing.Muriel beats their two previous most costly signings: Alvaro Negredo and Arouna Koné. Negredo was a stonking hit, splurging goals, while Kone’s appearance and goal record stank. The Colombia international, who is fast, agile and can play off any of the three front positions, needs to aim at Negredo’s achievements and look to dwarf those of the Ivorian flop.

 Big departures

Call me an old softie (although it had better be behind my back!) but I’d hate to see the loss of Diego Alves to La Liga go unheralded. Of course he’ll always stand out for having saved more penalties in the history of this competition than anyone else. His record was absolutely eerie. In fact, in all competitions while in Spain, he saved 26 more spot-kicks than were scored against him.But it goes further than that. Twice, while Valencia were being battered by Chelsea at the Mestalla and Barcelona at Camp Nou, I saw him produce a stream of saves that frankly, stand in the top goalkeeping performances of defiance I’ve ever witnessed. And finally, I met him a few times and the Brazil international proved to be friendly, articulate and a great representative for our sport. He’ll be missed.Ruben Castro, who left Betis for football in China, was also something of a phenomenon. Far from prolific until the age of 29, indeed bouncing north, south, east and west around Spain on various loans, he then hit 135 goals for Betis from the age of 29 until 36. Really, he was an excuse to watch an Betis game because he knew no situation where the odds were too great for him to expect to score and win.There are things worth saying about both Pepe and Morata, who have left Madrid for Turkey and England respectively, but I guess candidate No. 3 has to be Neymar. Without question he brought effervescent creativity and wit to La Liga. What’s a little sad is that this competition didn’t see his maturity, nor did it see him properly protected on the pitch.Right now he’s saying that he feels liberated and is enjoying a new lease of life. Let’s go back to that in, say, January, when there have a been a couple of cold damp months and two or three lie ahead and the fixture list offers the next three away games at Angers, Dijon and Troyes.

 Who will win the league?

ut simply, only Real Madrid can stop Madrid. Right now, with Barcelona not only in decline but split by factions clawing at each other, Zidane’s team has enough skill, hunger, mentality and experience to repeat their triumph of last season.However, there are caveats. I disagree that it’s competent to shed 31 goals (Rodriguez and Morata) and not replace that with a proven scorer or scorers. Good luck, Borja Mayoral: you’re a welcome return to La Liga, but should one of Madrid’s front line have an injury-plagued season then Los Blancos‘ current ability to produce jack-in-the-box wins in tough fixtures may wilt. Moreover, teams that compete in the Club World Cup usually carry a hangover into January. It didn’t happen to Madrid last season, but it’s a hurdle they face again.Barcelona, if they were reinforced well between now and the closing of the transfer market, carry the threat of being stung into a reaction. It’s not impossible that they lift the title, but the Camp Nou is an unhappy camp right now, which, as ever, leaves Atleti as dark horses because while Sevilla look exciting, they don’t have enough depth to win the title.

Simeone’s troops looked as if they needed not only reinforcements but a decent summer’s rest. The latter is in the bag; the former will come at Christmas. Given how he plays, Gabi has passed the most powerful stage of his career and that will be Atleti’s Achilles heel unless Augusto, such a loss last term, hits the ground running.

 Battle at the bottom

This season threatens to offer us six or seven teams who will face relegation uncertainty right until the end of La Liga 2017-18.Girona were top scorers in winning promotion and will debut in the top division this season. They’re an outright marvellous story given the predicament they were in when coach Pablo Machín took over and have Manchester City as a friend in deed, but they need to prove they can score. Preseason has shown that unless Olarenwaju Kayode does arrive from Pep Guardiola’s squad and is pretty prolific, then Girona have problems.Getafe squeaked up via the playoffs. It’s easy to point at them and say that the thing that kept them up for so many years previously, the fact that teams didn’t like playing at the soul-less Coliseum Alfonso Perez and let performances there dip, needs to be re-confirmed. But Getafe don’t yet look like a squad that will be free of sleepless nights between now and May.Making the Madrid derbies they’ll play vs. Leganes all the more attractive. How on earth Asier Garitano kept them up is still enough to make you scratch your head but those last four or five games when everyone at and around the club completely believed in their safety: that was special. Keeping prying eyes away from Alexander Szymanowski until the market closes looks vital.Levante, Depor, Alaves, Eibar: you’ve much to prove but for the moment, you’re not in my top three suspects list.Enjoy the season. Football is great. Particularly in Spain.Graham Hunter covers Spain for ESPN FC and Sky Sports. Author of “Barca: The Making of the Greatest Team in the World.” Twitter: @BumperGraham.

 Five teams to watch out for as Italy’s Serie A kicks off

Updated: AUGUST 15, 2017 — 3:01 AM EDT

by Daniella Matar, The Associated Press

MILAN (AP) — Five teams to keep an eye on in the Italian league this season, which starts this weekend:

Juventus

Following another Serie A-Italian Cup double, Juventus has had to deal with infighting and the departures of Leonardo Bonucci and Dani Alves.Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri, however, has again bought shrewdly in the offseason.Douglas Costa brings Champions League experience from his time at Bayern Munich, while Federico Bernardeschi is one of Italy’s top young players. Those two wingers will link up with Paulo Dybala, just behind Gonzalo Higuain.Juventus is favored to maintain its grip on the Serie A title but could be distracted by its desire to win the Champions League, especially in veteran goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon’s final season. The team lost in the Champions League final last season for the second time in three years.

AC Milan

After three years without any appearances in European soccer, AC Milan is looking to regain its place among the game’s elite.The Chinese-led consortium that purchased Milan from Silvio Berlusconi for $800 million in April has infused the club with cash and splashed out more than 200 million euros ($234 million) in the offseason.The top four teams in Serie A will now qualify for the Champions League, making it a bit easier for Milan to get back into the top tournament.

Besides signing Italy defender Leonardo Bonucci, Milan also brought in forward Andre Silva (FC Porto); midfielders Ricardo Rodriguez (Wolfsburg), Franck Kessie (Atalanta), Andrea Conti (Atalanta), Hakan Calhanoglu (Bayer Leverkusen) and Lucas Biglia (Lazio); and defender Mateo Musacchio (Villarreal).With teenage goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma agreeing to extend his contract until 2021, Milan could be in position to challenge for its first Serie A title since 2011.

Inter Milan

Inter Milan not only lost out on a spot in the Europa League to AC Milan, but it has also been forced to watch as its city rival signed several star players.Inter’s signings have been more low key but it has brought in defender Dalbert from Nice and Borja Valero from Fiorentina. The creative midfielder is likely to provide even more opportunities for Inter forward Mauro Icardi.Inter coach Luciano Spalletti should provide some much-needed stability to a club after a tumultuous campaign last season that included four managerial changes.Inter’s preparations last year were complicated by the departure of coach Roberto Mancini two weeks before the start of the season.

Napoli

Napoli’s attacking flair saw the team score 94 Serie A goals last season on its way to setting a club record for points. But while it arguably played the best soccer in Italy, it finished only third.There is the feeling that this could be the year for Napoli, which has improved season after season and has managed to keep its team together.Dries Mertens and Lorenzo Insigne have signed new contracts, Arkadiusz Milik will have a full pre-season and be fully recovered from the knee injury which sidelined him for four months last year, and MarekHamsik is only three goals away from breaking Diego Maradona’s scoring record for the club.That means coach Maurizio Sarri will have a group of talented players who are hungry for success, high in confidence (after a great season finish) and well drilled in his system.

Roma

Roma will be playing without Francesco Totti for the first time in 25 years.Sporting director Monchi has been busy in the transfer market since replacing Walter Sabatini, but has signed no big names.However, Roma has recruited defenders who can pass well and feed speedy wingers to set up center forward Edin Dzeko, who led the Italian league with 29 goals last season.While the club has failed to replace Mohamed Salah, who left for Liverpool, it now has more strength in depth.It remains to be seenhow coach Eusebio Di Francesco will make the step up to a top team and deal with the pressure of the Champions League for the first time.Di Francesco, who played for Roma, arrived from Sassuolo. He guided that team from Serie B in 2013 to a sixth-place finish and Europa League qualification in 2016.

Serie A preview: Is Juventus’ title run set to end? Can Milan challenge again?

Serie A is back from its summer holidays this weekend. James Horncastle looks ahead to what could be the most open season in years:

Key storylines

Milan’s spending

Before Paris Saint-Germain signed Neymar, the biggest story of the summer was how Milan were spending at a rate not seen since Roman Abramovich became Chelsea owner in 2003. The scale of the investment — €215.5m — and its targeted nature has lent credibility to the project even though doubts remain about exactly how much of the money is president Li Yonghong’s and whether Milan’s business plan is compliant with Financial Fair Play. Still not done in the transfer market, the standout pieces of business will remain the signing of Leonardo Bonucci from Juventus and the contract extension for goalkeeping wunderkind Gianluigi Donnarumma. A sleeping giant is rousing from its slumber.

Buffon’s final year

This section could have been devoted to VAR going online in a country where it is so badly needed but, as an old romantic who blubbered through Francesco Totti’s retirement from Roma, I will dedicate it instead to Gigi Buffon and his swansong season. The 39-year-old plans on retiring after the World Cup in Russia, Italy’s qualification for which depends a lot on September’s trip to Spain. But if Juve do make it third time lucky and wins the Champions League in Kiev, he will also honour a promise made to president Andrea Agnelli and pull on his gloves again for the UEFA Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup.

Another Champions League spot

For the first time in six seasons Serie A will have four Champions League spots up for grabs. Juventus aside, that owes more to politicking than merit and Agnelli is already worried that, if the other Italian sides don’t start pulling their weight, Ligue 1 will do what the Bundesliga did in 2011 and take it off them. Until then, greater access promises to be a game-changer for Italian football. Inter and Milan’s decline has in part come because they have been starved of Champions League revenue although, even had four-team qualification been in place over the last six years, they wouldn’t have always qualified. But the stakes are higher this year.

 Marquee signings

Leonardo Bonucci: Juventus to AC Milan, £37.8 million

Bonucci has made no secret of wanting to “do for Milan what [Andrea] Pirlo did for Juventus.” Six years ago the midfielder’s move was the hinge on which the balance of power swung in Italy and Bonucci now hopes to do the same in the opposite direction. The consequence of his fallout with Max Allegri is similar to the manager’s marginalisation of Pirlo in 2011, in that it strengthens a rival. Juventus and Bonucci could have got a lot more if he had left for Manchester City or Chelsea. Instead, Milan have got themselves one of the best centre-backs in the world for a steal of a price.

Douglas Costa: Bayern Munich to Juventus, £5.4m (loan)

Juventus’ switch to 4-2-3-1 in January helped propel the team to a second Champions League final in three years but, during the second half in Cardiff, it became abundantly clear they didn’t have a squad built for it. Costa and Federico Bernardeschi have been signed to make the system a more natural fit and Gonzalo Higuain must be licking his lips at having both of them and Paulo Dybala behind him. “Wherever I go, I quickly become a striker’s best friend,” Costa told La Gazzetta dello Sport. “It happened with Luiz Adriano in Ukraine and Robert Lewandowski at Bayern. You’ll see. Higuain and I will get on well.”

Borja Valero: Fiorentina to Inter, £4.95m

Probably the bargain of the window, Borja is the midfield general Inter have lacked, at least in a tactical sense, since the 2014 departure of Esteban Cambiasso. Manager Luciano Spalletti wanted him at Roma last season and not just for his ability to play between the lines and knit teams together; Borja makes the players around him better and is a leader. He was nicknamed “the mayor” in Florence and Inter have badly needed a player of his ability and character.

 Big departures

Dani Alves: Juventus to Paris Saint-Germain, free

Not allowed to express himself as much as he would have liked, Alves decided after just a year that Italian football wasn’t for him. The Brazilian full-back’s decision to double his money and act as an incentive to Neymar surprised and disappointed Juventus and, as with the Bonucci situation, the departure has left them in a bind. Alves was the club’s major difference maker in the knockout stages of the Champions League last season and brought a risk-taking swagger to their play. He will be a big miss even if both parties didn’t end on the best of terms.

Joe Hart: Torino to West Ham, end of loan

Hart’s popularity off the pitch, as well as the novelty of an Englishman playing for a club as romantic as Torino, ultimately wrote cheques off the pitch that his body couldn’t cash on it. Torino owner Urbano Cairo probably drove him to the airport, in part because he sincerely liked Hart, but also because he knew the club could do better with new signing Salvatore Sirigu.

Antonio Cassano: Hellas Verona to retirement (for now, at least)

Asked in June why a top-flight club should take a punt on him after a year out of the game, Antonio Cassano boasted: “Because I’m still the best there is in Italy.” Hellas rolled the dice and reunited him with his old strike partner Giampaolo Pazzini, giving fans of a certain age pangs of nostalgia. Shortly after, though, Cassano quit training camp and announced his retirement. He then had second thoughts, went back on the decision and returned to training, only to re-quit and retire a few days later. Talk about one of the game’s biggest wasted talents.

 Who will win the league?

Juventus’ rivals are sniffing blood but the champions have sold multiple big-name players in other years — most notably 2015 — and still won the title. They remain favourites but, if the crown slips, Napoli look best placed to take it from them. Unlike last year, they’ve kept their best players and just need to pick up where they left off.Naturally Milan are being billed as contenders but it remains to be seen if an entire new team can come together quickly enough to join the title race. Inter have had a fantastic preseason and, after underperforming last year, are perhaps not being taken as seriously as a Luciano Spalletti team should be. Spalletti already looks to have knocked them into shape and they’re close to completing an already-talented squad with some astute, if low profile signings.Meanwhile, Roma may have changed too much to contend, although the hope is Eusebio di Francesco will make the same leap in his coaching development as Allegri and Maurizio Sarri did when they went from Cagliari and Empoli to Milan and Napoli respectively. Fresh from winning the Super Cup, Simone Inzaghi’s Lazio also don’t look like fading away despite losing Lucas Biglia, and in all probability, Keita Balde Diao.

 Battle at the bottom

The most pessimistic fans are, quite rightly, those of Fiorentina, although it’s unlikely they will be drawn into the relegation battle under Stefano Pioli. Almost all of the club’s best players wanted to leave this summer and ended up getting their way, but there look to be some hidden gems — Rafik Zekhnini and Nikola Milenkovic — in their transfer window in addition to the better-known Giovanni Simeone, who is expected to arrive from Genoa.Sassuolo are a minor concern now Di Francesco has departed for Roma, but at least Domenico Berardi is sticking around for another year. Sampdoria’s mini-Monaco model, which has seen Milan Skriniar, Luis Muriel, Bruno Fernandes and, likely, Patrik Schick all leave, places a lot of trust in the recruitment of Riccardo Pecini as well as the coaching of Marco Giampaolo. But they should still stay up.Whether second season syndrome afflicts Cagliari will be a storyline to follow and it’ll be interesting to see if Genoa are able to quit their dangerous liaisons with relegation. Crotone seemed to have Serie A all figured out toward the end of last year but the limited material at Davide Nicola’s disposal was, in part, what made their escape so great.Of the promoted clubs, Hellas have a goalscorer in Pazzini while SPAL, back in the top flight after 49 years, have been able to keep many of those who who got them up, including their goalkeeping star Alex Meret. This has been more of a challenge for debutantes Benevento, who will be aware of how that proved Pescara’s downfall last season.James covers the Italian Serie A and European football for ESPN FC Follow him on Twitter @JamesHorncastle.

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