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MLS, USL announce Reserve League, USL PRO integration

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A winter of rumor produced its end product on Wednesday when Major League Soccer and United Soccer Leagues established what MLS is calling “a groundbreaking, multi-year partnership,” one that will address the problem of Reserve League relevance that’s plagued the program since it was reintroduced in 2011.

Starting with the 2013 season, each Major League Soccer team can form partnership with an affiliate USL PRO club. That affiliation will see at least four players placed in the third division on a “long-term loan.” While MLS clubs are not required to enter into a partnership, those that do will forgo participation in the 2013 Reserve League.

United Soccer Leagues operate USL PRO, the 13-team league the functions as the third-tier of the U.S. Soccer pyramid. USL also operates the Premier Development League,W-League,Super-20 League and Super Y-League.

The Sporting News’ Brian Straus reports four teams are expected to form affiliations this season, agreements which “will be customized to meet the needs of the respective teams.” Twelve other Reserve League teams will play home-and-home series with a USL PRO partner, while two more reserve league teams will play USL PRO’s Antigua franchise once each.

All interleague games will count in each competitions’ standings.

One Major League Soccer team will not participate in the deal and will only field a team in the Reserve League. Specific affiliations and pairings are expected to be announced later this week.

“This partnership represents the first step in a long-term alliance between MLS and USL PRO to connect domestic professional soccer through a system that benefits player development, competition and the overall business of our sport ,” MLS Executive Vice President of Player Relations & Competition Todd Durbin said Wednesday in a statement released by the league.  “Over the past several years, USL PRO has made great strides in restructuring their league in a manner that serves to complement the objectives of MLS.  This is a win-win for all involved, and it demonstrates our strong commitment to growing North American professional soccer at all levels.”

For Major League Soccer, the agreement should enhance competition for players participating in the Reserve League. Whereas before players would play a lightly-regarded 10-game schedule, now prospects can play in a more competitive environment, be that through a full third division schedule or with the enhanced competition of the home-and-homes (which can only be seen as a starting point for what will happen in the future).

For USL PRO (and the United Soccer Leagues), they get a credibility-boosting affiliation as well as a pipeline to player talent that would have previously languished in the reserve league. They also get a valuable business relationship with the Major League Soccer, one that should lead to a better on-field product.

Expect to see more from us on this deal in the coming days. For now, the news is the revamp of the MLS Reserve League, a change that forms a first of its kind link between the top and third divisions.

Shakhtar Donetsk 2-2 Sevilla: Gameiro, Vitolo give two-time champs an edge

Shakhtar Donetsk’s Facundo Ferreyra, left, competes for the ball with Sevilla’s Mariano during semifinal first leg of the Europa League soccer match, between FC Shakhtar Donetsk and Sevilla at Arena Lviv stadium in Lviv, western Ukraine, Thursday, April  28, 2016. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky
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Vitolo scored a goal then drew a penalty, and Kevin Gameiro converted the chance as Sevilla picked up a pair of road goals in a 2-2 draw with Shakhtar Donetsk on Thursday in the first leg of the clubs’ UEFA Europa League semifinal.

Marlos had a goal and an assist for Shakhtar Donetsk, with Taras Stepanenko scoring Shakhtar’s other goal.

Sevilla has won the last two tournaments, and hosts Thursday’s second leg with an advantage toward reaching a third.

[ MORE: Watch full Premier League match replays ]

Gameiro set up that oh-so-pivotal road goal in the first 6 minutes, sliding the ball to Vitolo for his left-footed finish between the legs of Andriy Pyatov.

But the Ukranians weren’t slow to respond, and Shakhtar netted twice before halftime. First Marlos scored a left-footed of his own from Yaroslav Rakitskiy in the 21st minute, and then Marlos turned provider for Stepanenko’s headed finish in the 35th.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Villarreal strikes late to take first leg on Liverpool in Europa League semis

during the UEFA Europa League semi final first leg match between Villarreal CF and Liverpool at Estadio El Madrigal on April 28, 2016 in Villarreal, Spain.
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Denis Suarez found Adrian Lopez in the third minute of stoppage time to lift Villarreal to a 1-0 home win over Liverpool in Thursday’s first leg of their UEFA Europa League semifinal.

There wasn’t much enjoyable about the match for either side until late, but Liverpool looked set to head to Anfield in search of a win. Now they’ll need more.

[ MORE: Watch full Premier League match replays ]

The timing was off early for Mexican attacker Jonathan dos Santos and Congolese striker Cedric Bakambu, and Simon Mignolet made a couple collections to get into the flow of the match.

Liverpool answered with a dangerous chance in the fifth minute, but Joe Allen‘s only alley was a pass directly to keeper Sergio Asenjo.

Roberto Soldado knifed a bouncing shot wide of the far post in the 11th minute, and would later curl a shot around Kolo Toure that didn’t finish its dramatic bend inside the field of play.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

The Yellow Submarine had the best of possession, but the Reds were stout in defense with the exception of some slips on the wet turf.

Roberto Firmino was the most dangerous Liverpool attacker, saved off the woodwork just over an hour into the match.

There wasn’t much threat coming from either camp before Mignolet made a terrific save on Bakambu in the 87th minute.

And Alberto Moreno sprung a near 60-yard run past the Villarreal back line, but couldn’t put his left-footed blast on net

Liverpool: Tribunal rules record payment due to Burnley in Ings case

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 26: Danny Ings of Liverpool fends off Alan Hutton of Aston Villa during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Aston Villa at Anfield on September 26, 2015 in Liverpool, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Ben Hoskins/Getty Images)
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The Premier League has a new compensation record, as Burnley has received close to $12 million for Liverpool’s signing of Danny Ings after a tribunal’s ruling.

Ings, 23, was a transfer rumor mill mainstay but stayed through his contract at Turf Moor, earning the right to go anywhere on a free transfer.

[ MORE: Agbonlahor quits as Villa captain ]

But clubs have to pay compensation when signing players who are under the age of 24, and Burnley will get money from Liverpool.

From the BBC:

Burnley chief executive David Baldwin said: “This is an unprecedented record payment for training compensation and not a transfer fee.

“As the initial fee decided by the committee represents almost double the previous record for a tribunal, this fully justifies our decision to press ahead with what we felt was a fair reflection of the part Burnley played in Danny’s development.”

The Clarets will also receive 20 percent of any sell-on fees should Ings move to another club, and Bournemouth stands to make a small percentage as well. The Cherries sold Ings to Burnley in 2011.

Agbonlahor quits as captain of relegated Aston Villa

Leicester City v Aston Villa - Premier League
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
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BIRMINGHAM, England (AP) Gabby Agbonlahor has quit as Aston Villa captain and apologized for his off-field conduct.

The forward was pictured in a newspaper with what look like nitrous oxide – or laughing gas – canisters on the same night that Aston Villa’s relegation was confirmed after losing to Manchester United this month.

Villa announced that Agbonlahor’s suspension from the club has been lifted, while he has been fined.

[ MORE: Alli’s season is over ]

Agbonlahor wrote on his Instagram account: “I am stepping down as club captain with immediate effect, as I do not deserve to carry out such a role anymore … it hurts to have lost it.”

Agbonlahor is Villa’s longest serving current player and their record English Premier League goal-scorer, having netted 73 times since his debut in 2006.