Can Chicago Fire lure Bundesliga winger Jakub Błaszczykowski to MLS?

For many of the teams who haven’t participated in the latter stages of the MLS Cup Playoffs, the winter transfer speculation is already in full swing, as fans begin to wonder which trades will be made ahead of the 2018 campaign. Following Chicago Fire’s 4-0 Knockout Round defeat against New York Red Bulls at the end of October, they have already begun making enquiries about potential signings.

Chicago Fire concluded the regular season with a respectable third position in the Eastern Conference table, but despite also being the third-highest scoring team in MLS, their goal difference numbers took a hammering due to a leaky defence. Strengthening at the back will be a priority if the team is to push further for honours next year, but management are also looking at bringing in key attacking players.

One such attacking option is winger Jakub Błaszczykowski, with rumours initially surfacing in July and seemingly gathering pace. In November, there was further speculation in his home country, with the Polish international reportedly pondering his future options. Although one move apparently being considered is a return to his former club, Wisła Kraków, there appears to be a growing belief he is seriously considering Chicago Fire as his next destination; partly due to having family already living in the Windy City.

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However, such a move by Chicago Fire won’t be without inevitable difficulties. Błaszczykowski still has two years on his contract with current club, Wolfsburg, who have struggled to build any momentum in the Bundesliga so far this season. With more draws than either wins or defeats this term and sitting uncomfortably in mid-table, Bundesliga betting odds at 66/1 for a top-six finish have lengthened considerably, compared to the start of the campaign.

Wolfsburg could demand a transfer fee to release the 31-year-old from his contract, but after signing German midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger in March of 2017 from Manchester United, and with an option to extend his stay for another year, Chicago Fire have already shown they’re not afraid of splashing out on important signings. Błaszczykowski would undoubtedly be another important capture, if they can push it across the finishing line.

Something that could aid Chicago Fire in their pursuit of the Polish player, is his lack of action during the current Bundesliga campaign. Błaszczykowski has slipped down the Wolfsburg pecking order this season and also struggled with some injuries, making just five starts and two substitute appearances in the Bundesliga, plus two further appearances in the DFB Pokal. This is possibly a key factor contributing to the player pondering his future elsewhere.

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Undoubtedly the biggest hurdle facing the MLS club might be a desire to get a quick decision from the player. Ideally, they would want to have a move for Błaszczykowski done and dusted in the European winter transfer window, making him available for their 2018 preseason plans. Still a regular international with the Polish national team, their participation in the 2018 World Cup in Russia next summer could prove to be the deciding factor, at least in the mind of the player himself. He might feel his possibilities of featuring at the World Cup could be hampered, were he to accept an immediate offer from Chicago Fire, rather than stay in Europe and fight for his place at Wolfsburg for the remainder of the 2017/18 season. Much convincing and cajoling will be required on the part of the MLS club, if they’re to get their man any time soon. Otherwise, the speculation surrounding the future of Błaszczykowski looks set to continue for at least another couple of months.

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Gallery: Exclusive photos from Seattle Sounders’ 1-1 draw with Eintracht Frankfurt

Seattle Sounders drew 1-1 with Bundesliga side Eintracht Frankfurt on Saturday afternoon in an international friendly at CenturyLink Field.

With MLS currently on a two-week break due to the CONCACAF Gold Cup, Saturday’s friendly gave the Sounders squad the chance to ensure they maintain their match fitness. They don’t play again now until their home clash with DC United on July 19.

Eintracht Frankfurt are currently preparing for the upcoming 2017/18 Bundesliga campaign. They won their first preseason outing 15-0 against SV Heftrich on Tuesday before flying to the USA.

Their clash with the Sounders was their first proper test of the summer. While they still have games against San Jose and Columbus to come before heading back to Germany.

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US International Timmy Chandler played for the visitors in Saturday’s draw. He sent the cross in that lead to Branimir Hrgota’s opening goal in the 29th minute.

But Frankfurt’s lead was short lived as Clint Dempsey kept his hot streak going by netting on the stroke of halftime. Nicolas Lodeiro picked up the assist.

Check out exclusive photos below from Saturday’s game between Seattle Sounders and Eintracht Frankfurt, courtesy of MLSGB photographer Paul Kahl.

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Getting Stuck In: How good is MLS?

The Getting Stuck In column delves into some of the more intriguing aspects in US Soccer and MLS, shining a light on the stories regarding the league’s teams and its most-loved characters. This week Dave Lewis looks into just how good Major League Soccer is and how it compares to other divisions around the world…

Sitting in front of my laptop one morning I read a quote from the Don of MLS saying: “I do believe in 10 years’ time or less, people will think of us [MLS] like Serie A, La Liga, and hopefully the way they think about the Premier League.” Then I click on another site and read what Kaka had to say about the league, that it will be “one of the biggest leagues in the world in 5 to 10 years.” Holy crap! Are they high? Do they actually believe that or is it just lip service?

I have had the debate with my mate Eric for a while now: How does MLS stack up against other leagues in the world? We have had this heated discussion over and over again. I have an overinflated view of MLS and he has a deflated view. A few years back we saw publications ranking MLS anywhere from 30th in the world to 50th behind some weird league from an unknown country with too many consonants in its name. What killed me was that Eric nodded his head in agreement saying “that sounds about right.”

Well, Eric has started to come around. He now ranks MLS 12th and he is not the only one to see the light. Bleacher Report put out their rankings in 2014 saying MLS was the tenth best league in the world. Holy crap? MLS is a top ten league in the world? Can that be true? And how did they arrive at this lofty number?

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The four areas Bleacher Report focused on were: Goals per game, red cards per game, continental victories and point differential from first to last.

Say what? They lost me with goals per games played.

The randomness of what people deem important to grading a league is all over the map. I saw one site that used the quality of the food in stadiums as criteria. I am no genius but I can gather that a leathery hot dog at a stadium really shouldn’t be a point reducer.

When a buddy of mine from Southampton weighed in on the state of MLS, he doled out a harsh evaluation when he said that the level of play is that seen in the lower levels of the English Championship or the upper levels of League One. What? After I picked my jaw off the ground I realised I needed to use my own common sense and some loose scientific analysis to find out what level MLS is really at.

Before I dive into major analytics (translation: throwing darts at a board), there are a few disclaimer- type things I need to get off my chest. I am a huge EPL, Liverpool and MLS/Columbus Crew supporter. I have been to Anfield, Stamford Bridge, Highbury, Craven Cottage, many MLS stadiums and Hibernian in the Scottish Premier League. I have watched most of the leagues on television and have even caught a few games in the Bulgarian first division. Don’t ask why.

So here we go. My unbiased take on where MLS stands in the world right now.


 

Level 1

The EPL (England), Bundesliga (Germany), La Liga (Spain) & Serie A (Italy)

My take:

Ok, I would lose all credibility if I told you MLS was better than the established top four leagues in the world. The top teams play in the Champions League, have some of the best players in the world and are technically light years ahead of MLS. The TV money in these leagues, especially in the EPL, is ridiculous, with flocks of away supporters at each game – something MLS could never match with the hugeness of North America (the U.K. has the same square mileage as California). No need to go any further.

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MLS does well in:

Attendance. I found out that MLS is one of the highest-attended leagues in the world. MLS averages just under 22,000 fans per game, with the Seattle Sounders averaging more than my beloved Liverpool on a weekly basis. This makes MLS the seventh-most attended league in the world ahead of well-established and popular divisions like Ligue 1 and the Dutch Eredivisie. And MLS is catching up with Serie A – only 2,000 behind in average attendance. And one quick shot aimed at my Saints pal: The Championship average attendance hovers at a mere 17,000. Badabing!

Where an MLS team would finish:

Relegated.


 

Level 2:

Ligue 1 (France), Eredivisie (Netherlands), Primeira Liga (Portugal), Premier League (Russian), Super Lig (Turkey)

My take:

Ok, we are getting a little closer in class, but still have a way to go. Teams from this group have won the Champions League, whereas no team from MLS has won the much weaker CONCACAF Champions League, with Montreal’s trip to last year’s final the closest the league has come to success in that competition. There are plenty of young stars in the French and Dutch feeder leagues that get gobbled up by the big boys. MLS is starting to develop this reputation of being a development league (see Miazga to Chelsea), but they still need to shed the retirement league stigma.

MLS does well in:

Attacking football. Nobody has ever accused anyone in the Dutch League of deft defending. The same goes for MLS, with most of the money spent on attacking players like Sebastian Giovinco. Watch a Columbus Crew SC game with Kamara, Higuain and Finlay, or an LA Galaxy game with Dos Santos, Gerrard, Keane, Zardes and you will be fully entertained.

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Where an MLS team would finish:

Likely to be relegated but with a chance of staying up.


Group 3:

Brasileiro (Brazil), Primera ( Argentina), Pro League (Belgium), SuperLiga (Serbia), Premier League (Ukraine), Super League (Greece)

My take:

The South American teams are either debt-ridden, corrupt or both. In Brazil players fear for their lives, often don’t see a paychecks and are under constant media scrutiny. And that’s the good news. Players are sold like cattle, being shipped to leagues all over the planet. There are a lot of players from Argentina plying their trade in MLS so that shows how respected the league is down there. In fact, two of the greatest players in Crew history come from Argentina: 2008 MVP Guillermo Barros Schelotto and Federico Higuain. Mega teams like Boca Juniors are still really good, but they have slipped. MLS teams are catching up and would have no problems competing against the teams in the mid and lower end of the table in the smaller European leagues.

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MLS does well in:

Lifestyle. It’s not South America or Eastern Europe. “As soon as I came here, the first two weeks I was training, I didn’t want to go back,” New York Red Bulls Englishman Wright-Phillips once said. “A lot of people, they know that when you come to America you have a good lifestyle.” Enough said on that front.

Where an MLS team would finish:

Definitely staying up with an occasional mid-table finish.


Group 4:

Liga MX (Mexico), J-League (Japan), Scottish Premier League, Allsvenskan (Sweden), Super League (Switzerland)

My take:

This looks like where MLS belongs right now. They might struggle against a side like Celtic (not even sure about this) but they would be fine against the rest of the Scottish Premier League – maybe even dominating them. Plus, the league is a mess financially and averages an embarrassing 10,000 people a game. MLS may be slightly below the Mexican league, although debatable. It would definitely win titles in Japan – a lot. On second thought, not sure the Japanese league belong in this group. Gone!

MLS does well in:

Marketing. They now have nationally televised games on multiple days of the week. Most of the playoffs are televised nationally and all regular season games are available via internet and local broadcasts. The All-Star game is a hit, bringing the likes of Manchester United, Bayern Munich and many other top clubs to play in it. And they know how to market their players with a preseason media day this year that included access to some of the world’s greats: Pirlo, Gerrard, Keane, Villa, Dos Santos, Kaka. Yes, most are old, but not many leagues can boast that lineup of stars.

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Where an MLS team would finish:

Consistently finish in the top four, winning titles too.


A Leagues MLS needs to worry about:

China. MLS can’t compete with the kind of money being thrown around in Asia. China has better attendance right now and are buying top players in their prime (see Teixeira, Jackson and Ramires). The league could steal some of MLS’ thunder. But their model is not necessarily sustainable with so little emphasis on youth development. One to keep an eye on.


Summary:

According to my abacus, MLS is the 16th best league in the world. It’s not top ten or even close to being what Don Garber wants it to be just yet – but it’s climbing. It’s hovering around the Level 3 bracket with an eye toward Level 2. With the salary restrictions, there doesn’t seem to be enough flexibility in place to push for a Level 1 spot in the foreseeable future. But when players like Jordan Morris say no to the Bundesliga and yes to MLS, well, you never know.

Chelsea and Bayern to battle for Atletico Madrid superstar – report

Chelsea have reportedly joined Bayern Munich in the race for Antoine Griezmann but Atletico Madrid don’t intend to sell their prized asset, reports Spanish media outlet AS.

The Frenchman joined Atletico last summer from Real Sociedad for £24 million, signing a huge six year contract, and has been a revelation after netting 22 times in 37 league games.

Bayern were reported to have sent scouts to watch Griezmann in the Champions League last 16 game at Bayer Leverkusen, and have been impressed with what they see. The German giants are reportedly willing to match his huge €65 million release clause as they will eventually look to replace wingers Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben.

Chelsea also have the financial firepower to complete a deal but would need to sell a couple of players first to keep within the Financial Fair Play regulations.

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Atletico coach Diego Simone sees Griezmann as part of a new wave of talent they can’t afford to lose, including teammates Koke, Diego Godin and goalkeeper Jan Oblak. Chelsea have also been linked with Koke and Godin.

Griezmann is said to be happy in the Spanish capital after spending the last decade in Spain, though he could double his salary with a move to the Premier League or the Bundesliga.

If Chelsea or Bayern meet the release clause, Atletico are powerless to stop a deal from being completed. With the European Championships in France next season, Griezmann is likely to be part of his country’s attack so delivering strong performances on a weekly basis as he has this year is a must for the player.

Jose Mourinho is thought to be optimistic a deal can be struck, having negotiated deals with Atletico last summer over the signings of Diego Costa and Filipe Luis, who both joined Chelsea.

Could Antoine Griezmann leave Atletico Madrid this summer? Would a move to Chelsea make sense?

Former Chelsea star tips in-demand coach to manage in England

Former Chelsea midfield powerhouse, Michael Ballack, tips Jurgen Klopp to manage in England for ‘the foreseeable future,’ reported by Sport1de.com.

Klopp will leave Borussia Dortmund this summer after seven years at the club. He has guided the German club to Bundesliga titles twice and his side were runners-up to Bayern Munich in the 2013 Champions League final.

Ballack, former German captain, highlighted that Klopp speaks English and is successful due to his training techniques.

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Klopp has been linked with the Manchester City job despite Manuel Pellegrini remaining adamant he will be at the club next season.

It would be surprising to see Klopp managing any club without Champions League football, leaving City as the most likely option.

Klopp has not had a good season with Dortmund, who are slumped in seventh place and had been in the relegation zone for parts of the campaign.

Ballack has not commented on when Klopp will be managing in the Premier League. We could well see the German coach take some time out of the game before his next move is decided.

Will Klopp manage in England and when will it be?

Manchester City talks underway for £35m-rated former Chelsea star – report

Manchester City have started their summer transfer work as talks are ongoing with £35 million-rated playmaker Kevin De Bruyneaccording to talkSPORT.

The ex-Chelsea midfielder has attracted interest from top clubs all over Europe after an impressive season in the Bundesliga with Wolfsburg and it is looking likely that he is set for a big money move in the coming months.

The Belgian superstar has found the net ten times and notched 19 assists as he has helped Wolfsburg secure a Champions League place for next season.

Patrick De Koster, De Bruyne’s agent, told talkSPORT that City have confirmed their interest but they are not alone in their pursuit of the talented 23-year-old midfielder.

“Manchester City, Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain have made informal contact with me, but there have been no official offers,” De Koster said.

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“The situation has now changed with Wolfsburg qualifying for the Champions League next season, so wherever he plays next season it will be in the Champions League.”

De Koster hasn’t revealed too much on where De Bruyne will be playing next season, but insists it will be a Champions League club and the choice of club is with his client.

“If Wolfsburg decide to sell Kevin, then he will have a choice of clubs who can win their domestic league and challenge for the Champions League as well. The choice is his.”

City will be looking to rejig their squad this season after a difficult and frustrating campaign on all fronts and if they can secure De Bruyne it will be a step in the right direction to rebuild.

It looks as if Yaya Toure will be moving on amongst others but De Bruyne will face tough competition for a number-ten role with David Silva enjoying another successful season at the Etihad.

Would Kevin De Bruyne be a good signing for Manchester City? Is he what they need?

Former Spurs playmaker on his way to New York Red Bulls – report

Ghanaian midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng is the latest high profile name to be linked with a move to Major League Soccer this summer, with the New York Red Bulls reportedly closing in on his signature.

Boateng currently plays for Bundesliga side Schalke 04, and although he has one year left on his current deal, he is not set to return to the club next season and is exploring options with Turkish side Galatasaray and New York Red Bulls both interested, according to Italian transfer expert Gianluca Di Marzio.

The link to the Red Bulls was reaffirmed by Metro New York‘s Kristian Dyer yesterday as he reported that the club has placed a discovery claim on the playmaker.

That would suggest the Red Bulls are certainly keen on acquiring Boateng if the opportunity presents itself and the former Tottenham and AC Milan man could join in the summer if a deal is agreed.

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It’s not the first time Kevin-Prince Boateng’s name has been linked with MLS as his fiancee, American model Melissa Satta, claimed a move was a real possibility back in November.

At 28, Boateng has lots of football ahead of him and would be an excellent signing as the Red Bulls look to add a second designated player to the squad to join Bradley Wright-Phillips.

The Ghana international has played against the US Men’s National Team at the past two World Cup’s for the Black Stars and can operate anywhere across midfield, or in attack, giving the club a versatile option should they wish to sign him.

Would Kevin-Prince Boateng be a good signing for the New York Red Bulls?

Chelsea looking to beat Manchester City to £11m defender – report

Chelsea will look to beat Premier League rivals Manchester City to the signing of Augsburg left-back Abdul Rahman Baba, according to L’Equipe.

The 20-year-old Ghanaian international has made 28 appearances for Augsburg in the Bundesliga this season and has picked up four assists.

Chelsea are now hoping to beat City to the services of the pacey wing-back as Filipe Luis is looking likely to depart less than a year after joining the club, with a return to Atletico Madrid a real possibility.

Cesar Azpilicueta has established himself as the starting left-back at Stamford Bridge and has had an excellent season for the new Premier League champions.

But if Luis departs, a backup left-back will be needed, and Baba could be an ideal acquisition at such a young age.

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The Ghanaian has four years left on his current deal and would cost around £11 million as the Blues look to bolster their squad early this summer.

City have been linked with a move for the emerging star as they look for a new left-back too. Danny Rose has also been linked with a switch to the Etihad as Gael Clichy and Aleksandar Kolarov are deemed not good enough by Manuel Pellegrini.

Would Abdul Rahman Baba be a good signing for Chelsea? Do the Blues need another left-back?

Jurgen Klopp favourite for City job Dortmund exit set to be announced

Borussia Dortmund head coach Jurgen Klopp is looking set to quit the Bundesliga club more than three years before the end of his current contract, and he is now the favourite to take over at Manchester City.

Klopp has been with Dortmund since 2008 and has enjoyed incredible success with the German club over the past seven years, but this season has been disappointing and the club have called a press conference to address their coach’s pending exit at 12:30 BST (07:30 ET).

Dortmund currently sit in 10th place in the Bundesliga and there is a real danger that they won’t qualify for next season’s UEFA Champions League – a competition Klopp guided the team to the final of in 2013.

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Klopp reportedly wants some time away from football but he has already been backed as the favourite to take over from Manuel Pellegrini at Manchester City this summer.

Pellegrini is looking set to leave, and is the favourite to be axed next in the Premier League as the reigning champions are currently 12 points behind leaders Chelsea and are in danger of missing out on Champions League qualification themselves.

A major shake-up is expected to take place at City in the next few months and a new manager will likely be the first step.

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Klopp is now as low as 11/10 favourite to take over the City job from Pellegrini as his time in Germany looks to be coming to an end.

The Dortmund coach has also been linked with the Arsenal job in the past but moving to City this summer would surely see an end to those rumours.

Would Jurgen Klopp be the right man to bring success to Manchester City? Should he leave Dortmund?

Manchester United plotting £54m double Bayern Munich raid – report

Manchester United are monitoring Bayern Munich duo Bastian Schweinsteiger and Robert Lewandowski as Pep Guardiola ponders whether he requires the pair, according to the Daily Star.

Polish striker Lewandowski is valued at £44 million by transfermarkt.co.uk, while Schweinsteiger is believed to be available for around £10 million.

Louis Van Gaal has been linked with superstars across Europe as he prepares to dig deep into Manchester United’s finances in an attempt to be challenging on all fronts next season upon the club’s likely return to the Champions League.

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Lewandowski has 16 Bundesliga goals in 26 appearances this season and an impressive 185 goals in 340 club career appearances so far.

He joined Bayern on a free transfer last summer after leaving Borussia Dortmund at the end of his contract, and penned a five-year deal with the Bundesliga leaders so it would likely take a big offer to seal his services.

United have been heavily linked with signing a marquee goalscorer as they are reported to be looking to offload the misfiring Radamel Falcao and injury-prone Robin van Persie.

Schweinsteiger has a wealth of experience and could be a key addition to the United squad. He has won the Bundesliga a whopping seven times, as well as a Champions League and a World Cup.

A United move for the 30-year-old German could however be difficult, due to his poor relationship with Louis Van Gaal dating back to his time as Bayern Munich manager.

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Atletico Madrid are also reportedly interested in both players but United will hope the lure of Premier League football could be a factor.

It wouldn’t be the first time Guardiola has moved on world class players, as he did with Zlatan Ibrahimovic during his time at Barcelona.

The Bayern manager is ruthless when it comes to change at clubs and holds no sentiment with anyone. His side top the Bundesliga and are in the quarter-finals of the Champions League, but despite that, it appears he is looking to rejig his squad of superstars this summer.

Do Manchester United need Bastian Schweinsteiger and Robert Lewandowski? Should they make moves for both?