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Why Major League Soccer should not play this weekend

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There was a time when I partially defended MLS for playing through FIFA dates. Scheduling was just such a bugger for the league. Capping the gushers of financial losses was a priority, and prudent event scheduling was among the safeguards against larger losses still.

But we’re past that now. Or should be.

Major League Soccer has expanded the season window, which means they can and have provided some relief here and there during FIFA weekends, like the one coming up. The United States is one of many national teams in action this weekend and early next week.

So why is there a full schedule of MLS matches this weekend? The inertia on this matter is getting harder to accept.

The next matches for prominent leagues in Europe and Mexico? March 30. But eight Major League Soccer contests kick off Saturday or Sunday, smack between the pair of World Cup qualifier dates.

These MLS contests count! Some team will miss the playoffs in 2013 by a point or two, or miss out on higher seeding by a razor-thin margin. (If one of Houston’s draws at home last year had become a three-point victory, for example, MLS Cup 2012 would have been in Houston, not Los Angeles. And how different that match might have looked, eh?)

It’s just not right for MLS to position itself on one hand as a wanna-be top league around the world – but on the other hand plow stubbornly through competitive matches as clubs do without their valuable difference makers, the men away on international duty. Besides not being fair to ticket buyers and being a drag on quality (which ultimately affects everything), it just doesn’t feel right.

The problem, of course, is that going dark on more weekends means adding more of pesky mid-week matches. (Or expanding the playing window further still. But starting in March and ending in December looks like plenty to most of us, including Houston Dynamo GM Chris Canetti, who told me this weekend he thinks the nine-month window is stretched too far already.)

Too many MLS markets still have trouble selling mid-week matches. It’s changing. It gets a little better every year, and some markets manage pretty well now.

But MLS hasn’t reached the point just yet where enough fans in enough markets will fight through enough icky obstacles to make mid-week matches, or where enough hard-cores will make MLS matches a priority, whether it’s on Saturday night or some less-ideal time frame.

The other issues that once kept MLS from avoiding FIFA windows no longer apply. For instance, stadium availability was once a bugger, as so many teams shared a facility, almost always as second-fiddle or lower. Now all but four clubs exercise ultimate control over stadium dates, and even that foursome has favorable negotiating status.

Here’s where the pressure is building on this thing:

source: AP

As more high-quality talent migrates into MLS, more players will come up missing on these FIFA dates. So we’re not just talking about a few American stars.

L.A. plays Colorado this weekend, but will do so without its two best individuals, Irish international Robbie Keane (pictured) and U.S. center back Omar Gonzalez. Either one of them could have made a case for league MVP in 2012 – and yet the Galaxy is left without them. (OK, OK, I know there aren’t too many fans beyond Southern California crying for the two-time defending champs …)

And important Western Conference match will be fought between FC Dallas and Real Salt Lake. Only Dallas will be missing three internationals, including its starting goalkeeper and 2012 leading scorer; RSL will be without five international call-ups, including the team’s leading scorer, its goalkeeper and its heart and soul, Kyle Beckerman.

Suddenly, a pretty good match feels a little deflated. And that’s what MLS wants?

Mourinho to Man United: Key players to be sold? Locker room unrest, transfer gossip

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The papers are having a field day with the Jose Mourinho to Manchester United whispers.

[ VIDEO: Ferrell – “I got Mourinho fired”

Several different outlets are reporting numerous pieces of gossip about Mourinho, 53, taking over at United this summer and now seems like a good time to round it all up and have a look at what is out there.

[ VIDEO: Arsenal-Leicester preview

Here it goes…

[ REPORT: Mourinho tells friends he’s going to United


First up, the wages.

Okay, Louis Van Gaal, 64, still has a contract with the Red Devils through the 2016-17 season but many believe that barring a miraculous finish to the current campaign the Dutchman will be let go this summer. If that’s the case — and with United six points off the top four it certainly seems like another season of disappointment will play out — then El Confidencial is reporting that Mourinho will be handed a contract worth $20 million a year. That may seem like a lot, but actually it would be $9 million less a year than Manchester City is paying Pep Guardiola to be their boss. Interesting.

Juicy nugget number two: The Daily Mail states that Mourinho has already instructed executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward to sell Juan Mata and Marouane Fellaini. The midfield duo aren’t in Mourinho’s plans with the Portuguese coach selling Mata to United during his time in charge of Chelsea, while he doesn’t appear to be a fan of Belgian midfielder Fellaini either.

No. 3: The Daily Star reports that Mourinho will be handed $420 million to spend on new players and totally rebuild the under-performing squad. The same report claims Mourinho has his eye on Neymar, Edinson Cavani, Thomas Muller, Paul Pogba and Raphael Varane to help restore United to past glories and add to his tally of three Premier League titles during five full seasons with Chelsea.

And finally, and perhaps not unsurprisingly, the Sun reports that United’s locker room is split over whether Mourinho arriving would be a good thing. Well, yeah, with a massive cull on the horizon if he does arrive, it’s not too difficult to understand that the general feeling among the players will be one of trepidation. However, the main issue seems to be where No. 2 Ryan Giggs will fit into Mourinho’s plans if he does get the job.

Again, take these reports with a pinch of salt but it’s certainly interesting to keep your ear to the ground and listen to all of the tidbits circling about Mourinho’s potential arrival at Old Trafford.

VIDEO: Preview of the huge Arsenal vs. Leicester City title clash

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On Sunday Arsenal host Leicester City at the Emirates Stadium (Watch live, 7 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) with the Foxes on top of the Premier League as the most romantic story in recent PL history continues to play out.

After all, they will clash on Valentine’s Day.

[ MORE: Foxes title biggest shock ever? ]

Claudio Ranieri‘s team — lead by the goals and general brilliance of Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez — will extend their lead over Arsenal for the title to eight points with a win and all the pressure is on the Gunners.

Leicester has won three-straight PL games with a hugely comfortable 3-1 win at Manchester City last-time out showcasing their growing title credentials.

[ MORE: Arsenal sign influential Leicester scout ahead of title tilt ] 

As for the Gunners, they beat Bournemouth last weekend to stay well in the title hunt and Wenger’s men know they must win on Sunday to claw back the gap on Leicester to two points with 12 games remaining.

Ill be at the Emirates this weekend to provide live coverage, reaction and analysis, but for now click play on the video above to hear the main storylines heading into this clash between two contenders for the Premier League title.

After fan protests Liverpool’s American owners apologize, halt ticket price hike

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Following thousands of Liverpool fans walking out in protest in the 77th minute of their 2-2 draw with Sunderland at Anfield last weekend, owners Fenway Sports Group have halted plans to increase ticket prices for next season.

[ VIDEO: Ferrell – “I got Mourinho fired”

Owner John W. Henry, Chairman Tom Werner and President Mike Gordon have issued a detailed and apologetic open letter to fans of Liverpool, in which they “apologize for the distress caused by our ticket pricing plan for the 2016-17 season” and also confirm prices will be frozen for the next two campaigns.

Henry and FSG stated they felt “troubled by the perception we don’t care about our supporters, that we are greedy, and that we are attempting to extract personal profits at the club’s expense.”

[ MORE: Report – Mourinho tells friend he will take over at United

They pointed to the fact that FSG has put up the $170 million needed to build the new Main Stand at Anfield which will be completed for the 2016-17 season, while they also admit they got parts of the ticket pricing wrong.

Admitting to their mistake has left a warm feeling with most Liverpool fans as their numerous protests over the fact that some tickets would cost £77 ($111) next season were heard loud and clear by the owners.

Here is a link to the letter from FSG in full, while below is a detailed outline of the new pricing policy put in place by the owners under the heading “Message Received.”

It certainly has been.


After an intense period of consultation with LFC management we have decided to make major revisions to our ticketing structure for 2016-17:

  • Removal of game categorisation – regardless of the opposition fans will pay the same price for matchday tickets.
  • The pricing of tickets will be readjusted to result in zero revenue growth from GA ticketing on a like-for-like basis.
  • Though individual ticket prices may move marginally from this season, we are freezing our 2016-17 GA ticket revenue at the 2015-16 level exclusive of newly-added seats in the new Main Stand.
  • The price of our highest general admission ticket will be frozen at the 2015-16 level – £59.
  • The price of our highest season ticket will be frozen at the 2015-16 level – £869. The lowest price reducing a further £25 from the 2015-16 level to £685, as well as all other tiers being frozen or reduced.
  • £9 GA seats will be offered for each and every Premier League match, an allocation of more than 10,000 tickets across the season.

We would hasten to add that the other initiatives announced last week in the 2016-17 plan will remain:

  • 17-21 young adult concession – 20,000 tickets across the Premier League season available at a 50 per cent reduction for young people.

  • 1,000 tickets to Premier League matches across the season will be given away free of charge to Liverpool schoolchildren based on merit, as recommended by their teachers.

Spanish playmaker Bojan signs new long-term contract at Stoke City

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Bojan Krkic will be a Potter for plenty of years to come.

On Thursday Stoke City announced that Bojan, 25, has signed a contract extension keeping him at the Britannia Stadium for another four-and-a-half years.

[ MORE: New-look Stoke to progress

Since arriving from Spanish giants Barcelona at the start of the 2014-15 season the playmaker has been a revelation in the Premier League.

Despite suffering a serious knee injury midway through his debut season in England, Bojan has battled back this campaign and has scored five times in 23 outings for the Potters.

Speaking to the club website, Bojan revealed his delight in signing the contract extension that will see him stay with Stoke until the summer of 2020.

“I am very happy and motivated. Stoke City gave me the opportunity to play in the most competitive league in the world, the Premier League, and I have only words of gratitude for their trust and for the way they have treated me since the first day I arrived to England,” Bojan said. “Mark Hughes convinced me to come to Stoke, he has helped me and showed his trust in me from the beginning, he followed closely the recovery process from my injury and there is no doubt I have signed an extension of my contract thanks to him.”

With Mark Hughes’ side battling for a top six finish, being knocked out agonizingly on penalty kicks by Liverpool in the League Cup semifinal and still in the FA Cup, it’s been another stellar season for Stoke as their progress continues.

Bojan’s presence has been central to attracting top names to join him at Stoke, with the likes of Xherdan Shaqiri, Ibrahim Afellay and Mark Arnautovic all part of a new-look attack which in-turn has provided a much more attractive team to watch on the pitch.

Amid interest from plenty of other teams around the Premier League and Europe, Stoke have kept hold of their main creative hub and fans will be delighted to see the Barca academy product progress with the Potters over an extended period of time.