What is a worthy attendance for U.S.-Canada in January?

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I saw some worry wafting last week out of Houston, where tickets for the Jan. 29 U.S.-Canada contest at BBVA Compass Stadium, kicking off the U.S. national team’s big year, are not exactly checking the box for “hot item.”

Glenn Davis, the veteran broadcaster/ blogger/ reporter out of Houston, said early last week that about 8,000 tickets had been sold. So the alarm bells went off and the usual discussion points over soccer and ticket sales – prices, school night, relative roster strength, perceived mistakes in marketing the game, etc. – were dragged out and given the once-over.

This is always an area vulnerable to local soccer community worry, especially as competition for World Cup qualifiers and other premium international soccer events gets heavier. I get that.

But let’s sprinkle some critical context into the discussion. In a nutshell, it’s this:

These U.S. national team matches in January are rarely big sellers.

The domestic soccer market is fairly sophisticated, which means potential buyers understand that bigger and better dates are ahead.  In 2013, that means World Cup qualifiers (Aren’t those always a hoot!), Gold Cup matches and a likely friendly against three-time World Cup champion Germany. Thus, a friendly in January featuring Jurgen Klinsmann’s “B” team is unlikely to be a fantastic draw no matter where you put it.

Similar early-year U.S. matches over the last 10 years have averaged about 13,000 and change. My guess: next week’s contest in Houston will top that, although perhaps not by a large margin. And that’s fine.

(For that average I just mentioned, I excluded early-year friendlies in 2007 and 2008 against Mexico. Those, I believe we can all agree, are a whole different jar of salsa. One of those contests, by the way, was in Houston, where it attracted 70,000-plus.)

If the U.S.-Canada contest at BBVA approaches the number of tickets sold for a United States contest two years ago in January against Chile (18,580), U.S. Soccer and the Houston community can fly the flag of success on this one. Celebrate, I say! ‘Ritas and Tex-Mex for all!

By the way, I love Canada and Canadians and Steve Nash and a whole bunch of other Canuck-related this and that. But Canada as opposition does lack a little fizz. Bless Dwayne De Rosario’s heart, but our northern neighbors are already out of World Cup consideration, having failed to escape the semifinal round.

Last time these teams hooked up in a January friendlies, in San Diego in 2006 and in Fort Lauderdale back in 2003, neither match reached 7,000 in attendance. Houston already has that beat.

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