Bundesliga giving more room to Bayern Munich

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It’s becoming increasingly difficult to see a race in the Bundlesliga.

Bayern Munich came into the weekend with an 11-point lead after being drawn at home last week by the defending champions Borussia Dortmund, and although they’ll finished the weekend’s 16th round with the same lead, slips by two of their potential challengers gave Munchen an even greater grip on the title.

In Dortmund, a 35th minute sending off of defender Marcel Schmelzer allowed Wolfsburg’s Diego to equalize from the spot. BVB was even, 1-1, but left to play the rest of the match with 10 men. Six minutes later, Naldo put Wolfsburg ahead, and although Jakub Blaszczykowski pulled Dortmund even near the hour mark, Bas Dost’s seventh league goal gave Wolfsburg the upset.

After the match, referee Wolfgang Stark conceded that upset should have never happened. Or, more readily, he conceded the game shouldn’t have played out the way it did, admitting that he erroneously sent off Schmelzer for a hand ball on the goal line when replays showed the ball hit his leg.

“I’ve looked at it again later and unfortunately it was an error of perception on my part,” Stark said.

“I’m sorry, that should not happen. The penalty and the red card were a mistake on my part. That’s annoying.”

Dortmund head coach Jurgen Klopp’s assessment was less forgiving.

“We were 1-0 ahead and Wolfsburg had no chance and then comes the game-winning move. It was a brutal decision.”

Another potential title dark horse, Schalke, was undone by their own red card, though when Jermaine Jones got himself sent off, the Miners were already down two. Vedad Ibisevic’s hat trick gave Stuttgart a 3-1 win and dropped Schalke to fifth place, winless in league since Oct. 11.

“Things are going wrong for us,” Schalke defender Benedikt Hoewedes said post-match. “We dropped an early goal. We were then the better team but lacked ideas after conceding the second goal.”

After Bayern Munich’s 2-0 win at Augsburg, Schalke is 16 points back of Munchen. Dortmund trails by 14. In between them and Bayern is second place Bayer Leverkusen, but even they are 11 points out.

All it takes is one bad Bayern run for Leverkusen to make up some of that distance, but there’s little hint Munchen’s going to allow that. After today’s win, they’re 13-1-2, have a +37 goal difference, and have only allow six goals. For there to be a race in the Bundesliga, Bayern will have to descend to a level of performance we’ve yet to see.

We discussed it earlier this year, but for the second time in three seasons, it appears Germany’s title race will be over before winter break. Two years ago, it was Dortmund lapping the field, and although Jurgen Klopp’s team regressed in the second half of the season, there was little drama in the title race. Bayern has been even more dominant than Dortmund was in 2010-11.

With all of Germany’s teams still alive in Champions and Europa League, there’s plenty of drama left in the season for a Bundesliga fan. In league, however, the only drama will be the fight for Champions League spots. Today, Schalke’s out of the top four, but most would assume Huub Stevens’ team will correct course and pass Eintracht Frankfurt at some point (even if Stevens isn’t around to see it). Bayer has shown enough quality to make a top four finish probable, while it would be a major upset if Dortmund, a team that’s shown so well in this year’s Champions League, fails to finish in the top four.

All that’s left in Germany is to play out those Champions League races and to see how good Bayern can be. They’re on pace to set records for points and goals allowed. They even have some room for regression in their current pace. But although we all can admire greatness, are those records enough to maintain interest in this Bundesliga season? Especially as teams start to drop out of European competition?

Ajax reunion at Palace as De Boer signs center back

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Crystal Palace has added much needed depth and youth to its corps of center backs with 20-year-old Ajax man Jairo Riedewald.

The left back in Ajax’s UEFA Europa League loss to Manchester United, Riedewald completed better than 92 percent of his passes in Eredivisie play. He also nabbed 2.2 interceptions per match.

[ MORE: Russia’s straw stadium ]

Fellow Palace center backs James Tompkins, Scott Dann, and Damien Delaney average age is 31.3.

Riedewald played for Palace boss Frank De Boer at Ajax. From Palace’s official site:

“He will be an excellent addition to our squad, Jairo is a young player but already has a lot of experience. I know he is looking forward to playing in the Premier League.”

Riedewald played the majority of his Eredivisie matches at center back, but has 18 appearances as a defensive midfielder and another 12 at left back.

He’s Palace’s second addition of this summer, the other being a loan of Ruben Loftus-Cheek from Chelsea.

Russian farmer’s straw stadium pokes fun at World Cup costs

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KRASNOYE, Russia (AP) Russia is desperate to control its spending on the 2018 World Cup, and a farmer might just have the answer – straw.

In a project straight out of the “Three Little Pigs” fairytale, Roman Ponomaryov has built a straw replica of the 43 billion ruble ($700 million) stadium in St. Petersburg which will host World Cup semifinals.

His arena made of 4,500 straw bales comes with tiered seating for 300 and flagpoles. It hosted its first tournament – for local teams only – last weekend using modified soccer rules.

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“It’s good to get people excited and create a sports atmosphere ahead of the World Cup,” Ponomaryov said in a recent interview.

The real St. Petersburg Stadium has drawn ire for its cost, corruption scandals, delays, and workers’ deaths.

Ponomaryov is a fan of the Zenit St. Petersburg club and says he modeled his straw stadium on Zenit’s new home in a gentle dig at the problems around the construction.

“It seemed pretty strange … how the cost of the stadium and its construction timeframe were increasing,” he said. Russia’s total World Cup budget is around $10.7 billion.

Zenit has accepted the straw stadium with good humor, offering Ponomaryov a ticket to a game at the real thing.

The harvest will keep him on the farm for the next few weeks, though, and he has in mind another project – organizing a Straw World Cup.

Spain’s sports court opens disciplinary procedure vs. Villar

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Spain’s administrative court for sport has initiated disciplinary procedures against Spanish Football Federation president Angel Maria Villar after he was arrested and jailed in a corruption probe.

The opening of the disciplinary procedure on Monday clears the way for Spain’s sports authority, the Higher Council of Sport, to rule whether it will temporarily suspend Villar when they meet on Tuesday at 7 p.m. local time (1700 GMT).

The court’s decision had been expected since Thursday, when the Higher Council of Sport asked the court to act against Villar following his arrest.

Villar, his son Gorka, federation vice president Juan Padron, and Ramon Hernandez, the secretary of the regional football federation of Tenerife, were arrested last Tuesday when police raided the national federation’s headquarters and other properties.

The four were arrested on charges of improper management, misappropriation of funds, corruption and falsifying documents.

National Court judge Santiago Pedraz ordered last week that the Villars and Padron remain in jail without bail after questioning them. Hernandez’s bail was set at 100,000 euros ($116,000).

The elder Villar is FIFA’s senior vice president and also a vice president of UEFA. He’s been president of the Spanish federation since 1988.

Judge Pedraz said the 67-year-old Villar is suspected of misappropriating private and public funds received by the federation “at least since 2009.”

MLS rejected $4 billion deal which wanted promotion/relegation

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Major League Soccer has confirmed it brushed aside a $4 billion TV deal which insisted on promotion and relegation coming into place in North America’s top-flight.

A report from the Sports Business Journal stated that the owner of NASL side Miami FC Riccardo Silva gave a presentation to the league and owners on June 26, offering a 10-year deal for the domestic and international TV rights from 2023 with one clause: promotion and relegation had to become commonplace in MLS.

Of course, Silva, who founded the media company MP & Silva who put in the bid, would love for there to be promotion and relegation in MLS as his team cannot currently rise above the second-tier NASL.

Jeff Carlisle from ESPN has the following statement from Dan Courtemanche, MLS executive vice president of communications.

“As was stated to Mr. Silva both in person and in a subsequent letter, Major League Soccer is prohibited contractually from engaging in discussions about our media rights with other distributors. We are not in a position, nor are we interested, in engaging with Mr. Silva on his proposal.”

“It is also important to note that since its inception, MLS, like the other North American leagues, has dealt directly with its domestic broadcast partners, rather than through agents and brokers. This ensures that the league and its partners can structure an agreement that addresses all elements, such as scheduling, marketing and digital distribution, that are required for a successful partnership.”

This deal would quadruple the current annual TV deal MLS has with Fox, ESPN and Univision, but it has been stated that no new deal can be discussed until at least 2021.

With cities across the U.S. and Canada lining up to pay the $150 million MLS expansion fee, league commission Don Garber has stated multiple times that promotion and relegation is not needed in the U.S. Soccer pyramid.

With USL and NASL now both second-tier, the only way they can become a top-tier franchise is by buying into MLS with two markets set to be selected later this year from 12 current expansion bids, plus David Beckham’s franchise in Miami still pushing ahead with plans to join the league.