Sporting Kansas City re-signs Matt Besler, adds Ike Opara

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Livestrong Sporting Park has been a busy, busy place over the last two week, as the Sporting Kansas City deciders are twisting and tweaking the personnel knobs.

Some of it has been forced upon them, but still …

They had to wave bye-bye to Roger Espinoza, who has all but signed on the dotted line for English Premier League welterweight Wigan Athletic. And they made the tough call to release aging midfield screener Julio Cesar, who was effective in his role although surely limited.

Yesterday came the Benny Feilhaber slobber-knocker of a trade. You can read more about that one here and here. (Both are ProSoccerTalk links.)

Then dropped the important news Wednesday that center back Matt Besler has been re-signed. While Feilhaber is the more evocative (and in some circles flummoxing) figure, adding years onto Besler’s time around Livestrong Sporting Park may one day be seen as the bigger achievement of a hectic December of 2012.

Besler (pictured) was quality goods in 2011, gaining an All-Star berth, albeit with assistance from a curiously high degree of ballot stuffing. But the Best XI spot in 2012 was earned by steady and strong performance on the field, and Jurgen Klinsmann has recently mentioned Besler in the big lump of potential up-and-comers at the center back position.

Plus, he’s a hometown kid, which is always a check mark for fans. So the suits of SKC should feel free to pat themselves on the back for that one.

Now comes word that Sporting Kansas City has added Ike Opara from San Jose for a 2013 second-round draft pick (which will be No. 36 overall, not an area where future MLS stars are typically located.)

Opara has never found the magic dust of stardom that so many predicted when he was taken No. 3 overall in 2010. Injuries had something to do with his life in the slow lane of MLS progress. Still, 22 stars in three seasons at Buck Shaw say something went wrong along the way, something more than injury, in all likelihood.

But he doesn’t need to be a star at Livestrong – just reliable cover for Besler, Aurelien Collin and Lawrence Olum going into a busy year for SKC, one that will include a U.S. Open Cup defense and participation in the CONCACAF Champions League.

So it’s busy times around Livestrong, where the 2012 Eastern Conference champs seem in a big hurry to improve further in 2013.

French league terminates goal-line technology contract

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PARIS (AP) The French football league has terminated the contract with its goal-line technology provider after a series of glitches.

The LFP had already suspended the use of GoalControl, the German system that was deployed at the 2014 World Cup.

According to L’Equipe newspaper, the league will launch a tender in February to find a new provider of the technology that determines whether the ball crossed the line.

[ MORE: Bristol City 2-3 (3-5 agg.) Man City ]

In recent months, the French league had repeatedly expressed its discontent with GoalControl.

Goal-line technology entered soccer after a goal was wrongly disallowed at the 2010 World Cup.

FIFA is already focused on fast-tracking the next phase of technology – video assistant referees – for the World Cup in June.

Goal-line technology and VAR were provided by Hawk-Eye at the Confederations Cup last year.

Bristol City’s Johnson: “They certainly have heard of us now”

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The Premier League world may see Bristol City next season, but it seems its manager has the personality to arrive on the top flight whether or not his Robins earn promotion this season.

Johnson, 36, earned plenty of plaudits after leading his Championship club to the League Cup semifinals, famously defeated Manchester United in the quarters.

[ MORE: Bristol City 2-3 (3-5 agg.) Man City ]

Before that, Bristol beat Premier League sides Crystal Palace, Stoke City, and Watford. The Robins beat third tier Plymouth Argyle 5-0 in the first round.

Johnson was beaming after the Robins took Man City to the edge, closing to within a goal of extra time before Kevin De Bruyne‘s stoppage time number ended the tie 5-3 on aggregate.

“Absolutely I’m proud. It’s not just tonight but over the course of the season, particularly the cup run. It was a fantastic occasion, I’m sorry we couldn’t get the win but we played against the best side that I have ever seen live. They have so many good individuals.

“We kept going and it’s taken two injury-time goals to beat us. They certainly have [heard of us] now…everybody knows what we’re about. It’s been great.”

Bristol City is in the Championship’s fifth place, bidding for its first top flight campaign since 1980. Johnson should be a hot prospect to earn a shot in the Premier League should the Robins not make the jump.

League Cup semifinal preview: Arsenal vs. Chelsea

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  • Chelsea has won 4-of-7 League Cup matches vs. Arsenal
  • Arsenal leads all-time series 74W-58D-62L
  • Clubs have drawn four times this season

Hardware hopes are on the line when Chelsea hits the Emirates Stadium for a League Cup semifinal second leg with Arsenal on Wednesday.

The sides drew 0-0 at Stamford Bridge, giving Chelsea the advantage of knowing a scoring draw would do the trick and set up a date with Manchester City at Wembley on Feb. 25, though Arsenal has home field advantage in pursuit of a win.

[ MORE: Bristol City 2-3 (3-5 agg.) Man City ]

Henrikh Mkhitaryan may debut for Arsenal, though the club released an interesting note on Tuesday: He’ll wear No. 7 in most competitions, but will have to use a different number in the Europa League because Alexis Sanchez wore it to start the tournament.

Chelsea’s Antonio Conte won’t have Alvaro Morata (back) and Cesc Fabregas for the match, though Andreas Christensen will be available for selection.

The clubs are no strangers to each other in big non-PL spots, squaring off in this season’s Community Shield (Arsenal won in penalty kicks) and last season’s FA Cup Final (Arsenal won).

Nothing has separated the sides on the field aside from those penalty kicks at Wembley Stadium, as Arsenal and Chelsea have drawn 1-1, 0-0, 2-2, and 0-0 since August.

What they’re saying

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger on Henrikh Mkhitaryan“He can play in different positions, but personally I see him first in a wide position, but I’m thinking about him a possibility to play through the middle. You are certain in our job of nothing, that’s absolutely sure. But you believe and I believe he has the qualities to do well, is a team player and our game is based on team attitude and movement and I think he can absorb the quantity of movement in our team.”

Chelsea’s Conte on the lineup: “Every game is different, you change the quality of your opponent and you must be intelligent enough to understand if you should continue with the same players or make some changes.”

Javier Mascherano leaving Barcelona after 8 seasons

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says defender Javier Mascherano is leaving the club after eight seasons.

Barcelona says there will be a farewell ceremony on Wednesday with Mascherano, club president Josep Bartomeu and the rest of the squad.

[ MORE: Man City to buy $86m CB ]

The 33-year-old Argentina international will say goodbye to the fans before Thursday’s game against Espanyol at Camp Nou in the Copa del Rey. He is reportedly going to play in China.

Mascherano, who also played as a defensive midfielder, arrived in Barcelona in 2010 from Liverpool and helped the Catalan club win 18 titles. He has made 334 appearances with Barcelona, but recently hadn’t been playing much.

The club earlier this month signed Colombia international Yerry Mina to boost its defense.

More AP Spanish soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/LaLiga