CONCACAF Champions League Draw: Because groups should be inspired by squagels

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CONCACAF held its group stage draw for this year’s Champions League, hammering home a harsh truth: This format is really happening.

Four-team groups? Oh, no. Not for you. You liked it? It’s the standard format for this kinda thing? Well, suck it, loyal CCL fan that’s keeping this tournament alive, and get ready for …

Three-team groups! That’s right. Three. Not four. It’s the squagel of groups! (Link features strong language.)

I alluded to this when talking about the horribly written LOST episode that is African World Cup qualifying, but when you cut down on the number of games and only let the top team go through, you’re begging for randomness to happen. And if we’ve learned anything from the U.S. Open Cup, nothing says legitimate, respected championship like inexplicable randomness.

There are fewer travel dates, there more teams are in group stage (all teams are in group stage), and each team is guaranteed a second home game (against at least one prominent team), so there are positives. The negatives? Other than inviting more aberrational results, shortening the principle part of the tournament, and doing so with a sneaking suspicion that reducing cross-hemisphere flights was a concern (and in fairness, things like that are a legitimate concern), there are no negatives.

There’s still going to be a tournament, a winner, and all the bragging rights that go with it. I really shouldn’t be such a curmudgeon.

Five Major League Soccer teams are in group stage. Toronto gets another shot at Santos in Group 1. Real Salt Lake got a relatively sweet draw in Group 2. Houston’s not quite as lucky, but Group 3 could have been worse. Seattle should be fine in Group 4, while who knows with LA Galaxy. Group 5 looks easy, but we shouldn’t overestimate this Galaxy team.

Group 1: Santos Laguna (Mexico), Toronto FC (Canada), Aguila (El Salvador)

Group 2: Herediano (Costa Rica), Real Salt Lake (United States), Tauro (Panama)

Group 3: Olimpia (Honduras), Houston Dynamo (United States), FAS (El Salvador)

Group 4: Seattle Sounders (United States), Marathon (Honduras), [Caribbean qualifier]

Group 5: LA Galaxy (United States), Isidro Metapan (El Salvador), [Caribbean qualifier]

Group 6: Tigres (Mexico), Alajuelense (Costa Rica), Real Esteli (Nicaragua)

Group 7: Chorrillo (Panama), Monterrey (Mexico), Municipal (Guatemala)

Group 8: Xelaju (Guatemala), Guadalajara (Mexico), [Caribbean qualifer]

Wigan player races off for son’s birth after scoring 2 goals

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WIGAN, England (AP) It was better than a hat trick.

A player for English soccer team Wigan had a night to remember when he scored his second goal before dashing off the field and to the local hospital, where his girlfriend was in labor.

[ MORE: Chelsea advances to UCL Round of 16 after win over Qarabag ]

A picture of Ryan Colclough holding his new-born baby, Harley, while still in his soccer uniform was shared on social media by Wigan chairman David Sharpe.

Colclough said his father, sitting in the stands on Tuesday for Wigan’s 3-0 win over Doncaster in the second division, “gave me the action that the waters had broken,” but he didn’t want to come off until the ball was out of play.

“My head was a little bit battered, but I went and scored, looked at the manager and he said we’ll bring you off now,” Colclough said Wednesday of his 58th-minute goal, which he celebrated by pretending to rock a baby. “I came off and was straight down the tunnel, grabbed my keys and my phone, and went to hospital.”

Colclough had visited the midwife that day, and was told the baby was unlikely to arrive for “another couple of days.”

Lille suspends coach Marcelo Bielsa

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LILLE, France (AP) French club Lille has provisionally suspended coach Marcelo Bielsa following a string of poor results in the top tier.

[ MORE: Basel stuns Man United late to keep UCL hopes alive ]

The northern side said in a statement that Bielsa has been suspended “as part of a procedure started by the club.” Lille did not elaborate.

Bielsa joined Lille this season but has failed to make the club competitive again, with the team second to last after 13 matches.

The 2 Robbies podcast: PL sides in the UCL, Pulis sacking and more

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In today’s Euro Pod Edition, the Robbies breakdown the latest Champions League action. Man United lose at Basel, Chelsea cruise at Qarabag, Spurs impress against Dortmund, Man City continue to win, Liverpool surrender a 3-goal lead against Sevilla. Plus, the guys weigh in on the Oumar Niasse ban for diving and the Tony Pulis sacking.

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

All of the The 2 Robbies content can be accessed by clicking on this link:

[ Click here for The 2 Robbies archive ]

Listen to the latest pod by clicking play below.

Follow them on Twitter @The2Robbies

Europa League preview: Arsenal looks to wrap up Group H and more

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While several teams have already booked their place in the knockout phase, the Europa League reaches its penultimate round on Thursday with many big matches in hand.

[ MORE: Yannick Bolasie finally returns to Everton training ]

Of the two Premier League sides in the competition, only one will advance to the Round of 32, as Arsenal have all but assured themselves of the top spot in Group H. The Gunners can do so tomorrow with a win over Koln or a Red Star Belgrade defeat.

The other end of the spectrum features Everton, who has already been eliminated from reaching the next round after acquiring just one point in its first four matches.

European giants AC Milan can lock up a spot in the knockout phase on Thursday despite the club’s ongoing struggles in Serie A, while fellow Italian side Atalanta can move a step closer to the Round of 32 in Group E along with Lyon.

Here’s the full rundown of Thursday’s UEL matches.

Astana vs. Villareal — 11 a.m. ET
Konyaspor vs. Marseille — 1 p.m. ET
Rosenborg vs. Real Sociedad¬†— 1 p.m. ET
Lazio vs. Vitesse¬†— 1 p.m. ET
Viktoria Plzen vs. Steaua Bucuresti¬†— 1 p.m. ET
Lokomotiv vs. Copenhagen¬†— 1 p.m. ET
Zenit vs. Vardar¬†— 1 p.m. ET
Red Bull Salzburg vs. Vitoria¬†— 1 p.m. ET
Athletic Bilbao vs. Hertha Berlin¬†— 1 p.m. ET
BATE vs. Red Star Belgrade¬†— 1 p.m. ET
Ostersund vs. Zorya¬†— 1 p.m. ET
Koln vs. Arsenal¬†— 1 p.m. ET
Nice vs. Zulte Waregem — 1 p.m. ET
Lugano vs. Beer-Sheva¬†— 1 p.m. ET
Ludogorets vs. Istanbul¬†— 3:05 p.m. ET
Braga vs. Hoffenheim¬†— 3:05 p.m. ET
AEK vs. Rijeka¬†— 3:05 p.m. ET
AC Milan vs. Austria Wien¬†— 3:05 p.m. ET
Lyon vs. Apollon¬†— 3:05 p.m. ET
Maccabi Tel Aviv vs. Slavia Praha¬†— 3:05 p.m. ET
Sheriff vs. Zlin¬†— 3:05 p.m. ET
Partizan vs. Young Boys¬†— 3:05 p.m. ET
Skenderbeu vs. Dynamo Kyiv¬†— 3:05 p.m. ET
Everton vs. Atalanta — 3:05 p.m. ET