Course correction: MLS finds its feet on disciplinary matters

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Good on Major League Soccer and its disciplinary committee for finally gaining some ground in the battle to eliminate the dirtier stuff.

Four more suspensions were announced Tuesday as the disciplinary committee is now finding its feet, administering justice and sending messages more aggressively.

It’s a long overdue course correction (assuming the league stays this new course) in finding a better place along the technical–physical continuum. We always heard that Major League Soccer was a “physical” league; I always said that it didn’t necessarily need to be that way, that MLS needed to more assertively guide things in a better direction.

MLS always had power of enforcement. So players who rely on the doctrine of “tackle by collision,” or those prone to stunts of flying kung fu feet and elbows, are on notice. Instead of leaning heavily on holding, hitting and obstructing, defenders will need to do a little more, you know, “defending.”

And the league’s agitator forwards might need to calm down a bit, too.

Even the best referees make mistakes. They certainly can’t see everything. So this new push for retroactive justice is a great step – even if overdue.

The fear before, I believe, was that retroactive action was tantamount stripping authority from match officials, effectively undercutting them. But that’s way wrong.

In fact, it’s exactly the opposite.

Retroactive action actually empowers match officials. It lights a path, showing a direction the league wants to go, with less ambiguity. It provides referees the authority to take stricter action on match day. Because the other way – when the league too frequently declined retroactive action – sent the wrong message.

Effectively, league inaction was granting tacit approval to the dangerous stuff and the silly shenanigans. These things were always there on the video; the league just chose look the other way, wrongly fearful of stripping authority from referees. (Or possibly afraid to incur the wrath of powerful owners.)

Thus, the league set the tone. If MLS was a “physical league,” an association of too much hurly-burly, better suited for big defenders than skillful playmakers, the league was granting sanction.

MLS always said U.S. Soccer, not the league, controlled referees and assignments. And that’s technically correct. But the opportunity always existed to do exactly what is being done now, to send messages that the injurious, the reckless and the ridiculous simply will not be tolerated – even if the perpetrators manage to sneak it by the man in the middle on game day.

(UPDATE: I just spoke to Nelson Rodriguez, MLS executive vice president of competition and game operations; I’ll have a little more on this later, and on one tackle that didn’t warrant a suspension in the committee’s eyes, despite some public outcry.)

Report: FIFA president Infantino in hot water

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The more things at FIFA change, the more they stay the same.

According to a bombshell report from The Guardian, FIFA president Gianni Infantino was under investigation by the FIFA Ethics Committee before the president disbanded the committee in May. The report states that Infantino spent around $1.16 million on his election campaign, despite declaring publicly he had only spent around $583,000 on flights around the world to meet with national FA presidents.

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The report claims Infantino was also being investigated by then committee chairman Cornel Borbely over whether he influenced the election of a new president in the Confederation of African Federations, or CAF.

FIFA rules state that presidential candidates must declare campaign expenditures publicly.

The latest bad press on FIFA follows the arrest of Spanish Football Federation president and UEFA vice president Angel Maria Villar and his son among other national and regional officials on charges of corruption and improper management.

Villar appeared in court on Thursday, and a judge denied he and his son bail.

Transfer Rumor Wrap: Liverpool rejects Barca bid for Coutinho, Roma offer for Mahrez turned down

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Liverpool isn’t planning on cashing in on one of the Premier League’s stars this summer.

Jurgen Klopp and Co. gave Barcelona a resolute “no” after Barcelona submitted a transfer bid of more than $93 million for Philippe Coutinho. Coutinho signed a new five-year contract with the club in January.

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“The main thing I think about is how we can make the next step with the players we had last season,” Klopp told reporters in Hong Kong earlier this week. “The good news is that actually we didn’t lose – and we will not lose – a player we want to keep this summer. That’s the best news actually and then we’ll see who can bring into the squad.”

Coutinho signed for Liverpool in 2013 but had a breakout year in 2015-2016, earning the PFA Young Player of the Year. Last year Coutinho became an even more consistent goal-scorer and playmaker, scoring 13 goals with seven assists in 34 Premier League appearances.

Keeping Coutinho is of supreme importance for Liverpool, which is back in the UEFA Champions League for the first time since the 2014-2015 season.

(more…)

La Liga releases schedule: First El Clasico coming in December

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It’s Christmas in July for fans of La Liga Friday as the Spanish league published its schedule for the upcoming season.

Defending champions Real Madrid travel to Deportivo La Caruña on August 20, the opening match of the season while its rival Barcelona hosts Real Betis.

As it’s La Liga, the first date most fans searched for was the first El Clasico of the season, and the biennial battles between Real Madrid and Barcelona will take place on December 20 and May 6, with Real Madrid hosting the first match.

The first match comes just ahead of the Spanish winter break, while the second match comes at a busy period at the end of the season, where both teams will be hoping to still be competing in the UEFA Champions League.

Other interesting matches to keep an eye on in the first few weeks of the season include Real Madrid hosting Valencia in week two, the Barcelona derby between Barca and Espanyol in week three and Atletico Madrid taking on Sevilla in week six.

Here’s a look at this year’s La Liga schedule.

Conte: Costa “situation was very clear” in January

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At this point, there is no doubt Diego Costa‘s future lies away from London and Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte broke his silence on the Brazilian-born Spain international striker, saying he’s been ready to move on from Costa since January, when Costa and Conte had a disagreement following a big-money offer from Chinese club Tianjin Quanjian during the winter transfer window.

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“I don’t like to talk about players who are not here but the only thing I can tell you [is that] in January, the Costa situation was very clear, for the club for him and his agent,” Conte told reporters Friday. “For me the situation is closed.”

It’s an amazing turn of events after Costa scored 20 Premier League goals in Chelsea’s title-winning 2016-2017 season, including 14 goals through the end of December. But after falling out with Jose Mourinho a year earlier, the same issue happened again under Conte, with Costa proving much less effective down the stretch.

But Conte and Costa were able to put their differences aside on the field, photographed multiple times hugging after wins, as well as after winning the title.

Costa is reportedly now agitating for a move back to his former club Atletico Madrid, but the Spanish club’s transfer ban until the next window complicates matters. In a World Cup year, would Costa be willing to sit out half a season just to leave Chelsea?

If Costa’s time in the Premier League is up, he’ll go down as one of the league’s best pound-for-pound goalscorers. He scored 52 goals in 89 Premier League appearances, with seven more cup goals in his three-year spell at Chelsea.

And if he is gone, defenders across the Premier League will sure be happy to wave goodbye.