MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 06:  Christine Sinclair of Canada reels away after scoring the second goal against USA during the Women's Football Semi Final match between Canada and USA, on Day 10 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at Old Trafford on August 6, 2012 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Stanley Chou/Getty Images)

How close was Portland Thorn Christine Sinclair to being PSG’s Christine Sinclair?

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PORTLAND, Ore. — Christine Sinclair’s first practice with Thorns FC drew the biggest media crown of Portland’s young preseason, but the Canadian international’s place with her hometown team would have been vacant had the stars not aligned last fall. Had they not, the player who many consider the world’s best would be playing in Paris.

“I was actually within a couple of days of signing in France,” Sinclair said, asked about the temptation of accepting a lucrative offer from a Feminine Division club. The 29-year-old attacker later confirmed Paris Saint-Germain nearly signed her last fall.

U.S. internationals Megan Rapinoe and Tobin Heath have accepted lucrative, short-term offers to spend the spring in France. Their deals with Lyon and PSG (respectively) run into June, when they’ll join their NWSL teams.

Sinclair’s deal would have been a permanent one, and if it wasn’t for her desire to take time off after the London Olympics, the 29-year-old star would be in Paris now.

“That was back in September, October,” Sinclair explained. “There were rumors of a league forming in the U.S. I had sort of given myself the fall off from the Olympics last year knowing that would have been my last break before World Cup [preparation] and the next Olympic prep starts. So I decided to hold off and hope the league would form here, and I’m so glad I did.”

Though now it seems natural for the former University of Portland star and still Rose City resident to have been allocated to the Thorns, at the time Sinclair turned away from PSG, Portland Timber involvement in a new league was still uncertain. The NWSL didn’t officially announce its founding until November.

Had Sinclair not wanted some time off, or if the U.S. and Canadian federations delayed in spreading word among its players, she would have signed in Paris. Only “a couple of days” from signing, travel arrangements were already being considered.

For a PSG club anxious to bridge the gap between themselves and Lyon, Sinclair’s capture would have been a major coup. Both French clubs are trying to increase their profiles in the U.S. and North America, but for PSG to finally lure one of the world’s best players would have sent a major message to Lyon and the rest of Europe.

Still only 29, Sinclair ranks third in career international goals, her 145 putting her 13 behind Mia Hamm (and nine behind Abby Wambach). Her goals per game rate the best among the list’s top five players.

She may not have made the final three for last year’s FIFA Player of the Year, but among players and coaches, there may be no more respected player than Christine Sinclair.

“Unbelievable,” is how Thorns FC head coach Cindy Parlow Cone described Sinclair’s talents. “I think she’s probably still the most underrated player. Everybody’s saying how good she is. I still think she’s underrated.”

“She’s good at everything. She can score goals with both feet, any surface of her feet. She can score with her head.

“I think one of the things she’s really great at that people often look past (is) she’s probably one of the best passers, especially final passers, in the game.”

With that skill set, Sinclair may have been able to sign with any team in the world. And her deal with Paris Saint-Germain would have no doubt rewarded her for moving to an aspiring club

But as with a few other NWSL stars, Sinclair has elected to take a financial hit and stay closer to home. Even if her leap was closer than most’s.

FA bans Leeds owner Massimo Cellino 18 months

LEEDS, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 13:  Massimo Cellino President and Director of Leeds United during the Sky Bet Championship match between Leeds United and Fulham at Elland Road on December 13, 2014 in Leeds, England. (Photo by Clint Hughes/Getty Images)
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Leeds United may be making a push to return to the Premier League, but they’ll have to do so without their owner.

Massimo Cellino, who took over Leeds in February of 2014, has been banned for 18 months by the English FA for his involvement in the sale of Ross McCormack to Fulham later that summer. He was also fined $315,000 and required to complete a course outlining the duties and restrictions for owners in the English league.

During McCormack’s sale, a significant payment was apparently paid to unlicensed agent Barry Hughes, facilitated by McCormack’s official licensed agent Derek Day, who was also banned for 18 months, although 11 of those are suspended, leaving him sidelined for seven months should no other infractions arise.

This likely will only serve to accelerate the current potential sale of Leeds to Andrea Radrizzani, with both sides having publicly acknowledged discussions are ongoing.

Leeds is currently in fourth in the Championship table, having won five of their last six matches. McCormack, meanwhile, scoring a whopping 42 goals in 100 appearances over two years before making a big-money move to Aston Villa this past summer, where he has slumped at Villa Park, owning just two goals over 13 Championship appearances this season and losing his place in the team. To be fair, he struggled in his early days at Fulham as well, scoring just twice in his first 15 matches before exploding in his second season at Craven Cottage with 21 league goals.

Europa League roundup: Manchester United through, Southampton bounced

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 08:  Josh Sims of Southampton is chased by Shir Tzedek of Hapoel Be'er Sheva during the UEFA Europa League Group K match between Southampton FC and Hapoel Be'er-Sheva FC at St Mary's Stadium on December 8, 2016 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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The Europa League group stage finished up Thursday and a pair of Premier League teams are through, along with other big-name clubs.

Manchester United secured its spot in the knockout stage by beating Ukranian side Zorya 2-0 on goals from Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Paul Pogba looked incisive as well, feeding Zlatan on the second goal. They finish second in Group A after Fenerbahce beat Feyenoord on a wonderful overhead kick from bike specialist Moussa Sow, giving the Turkish club the group’s top spot.

Southampton, however, suffered a double blow as they needed a win or a 0-0 draw against Israeli side Hapoel Be’er Sheva, but were dumped from the competition with a wild 1-1 draw after Maor Bar Buzaglo scored with 11 minutes remaining to send the Israeli club through. In addition, the Saints may have lost striker Charlie Austin for some time after he went down with what looked to be a dislocated shoulder, as trainers appeared to pop it back in as Austin lay on the pitch, before he came off in clear pain.

[ RECAP: Southampton dumped out of Europa League with draw ]

Group B finished with a tight margin. Cypriot club Apoel Nicosia defeated bigger brothers Olympiacos 2-0 with one early and one late. That sent Apoel clean through at the top of the club, while the Greeks took second. Olympiacos finished level with Young Boys on eight points, but the Greek club went through thanks to a win and a draw against their Swiss groupmates.

Group C ended even tighter as St. Etienne completed a stunning comeback, down 2-0 in the first half on the road at Anderlecht before coming from behind to win 3-2 with all three goals coming in a 12-minute span in the second half. That gave the French side the group win with 12 points, while the Belgians came in second with 11. FC Mainz won 2-0 over Qabala but finished third with nine points.

AZ Alkmaar’s wire to wire 3-2 win over Group D winners Zenit St. Petersburg saw them advance despite Maccabi Tel Aviv’s victory, while Celta Vigo overtook Standard Liege to move on through Group G thanks to a 2-0 win over Panathanaikos. The Spaniards came into the day tied with Standard Liege on points, and the three points saw them through, while the Belgians were bounced after managing just a draw against group leaders Ajax.

Group F is the only question mark, as Genk and Sassuolo were meant to play, but the match was postponed due to signifncant fog cutting sight to essentially nothing at Mapei Stadium in Italy. Athletic Bilbao, meanwhile, sits atop the group, but a 1-1 draw Thursday with Rapid Wien means Genk is still able to take over the top spot from the Spaniards with a draw or win.

Red Bull Salzburg caught FC Krasnodar on points thanks to a win over group leaders Schalke plus a Krasnodar loss to Nice, but it wasn’t enough thanks to the head-to-head tiebreaker, so Schalke and Krasnodar move through in Group I.

Finally, Villarreal secured a place in the knockout stages thanks to a late 2-1 win over 10-man Steaua Bucharesti. Manu Trigueros scored the winner in the 88th minute, pushing them clean into second behind Turkish club Osmanlispor who won the group with a 2-0 win over FC Zurich thanks to two late goals.

SCORELINES

Zorya 0-2 Manchester United
Southampton 1-1 Hapoel Be’er Sheva
Feyenoord 0-1 Fenerbahce
Astra Giurgiu 0-0 Roma
AZ Alkmaar 3-2 Zenit St. Petersburg
Standard Liege 1-1 Ajax
Inter Milan 2-1 Sparta Prague
Red Bull Salzburg 2-0 Schalke
Villareal 2-1 Steaua Bucharesti
Qarabag 1-2 Fiorentina
Sporting Braga 2-4 Shakhtar Donetsk
Anderlecht 2-3 Saint Etienne
Mainz 2-0 Gabala
Panathinaikos 0-2 Celta Vigo
Viktoria Plzen 3-2 Austria Wien
Konyaspor 0-1 Gent
PAOK 2-0 Liberec
Apoel Nicosia 2-0 Olympiacos
Young Boys 3-0 Astana
Osmanlispor 2-0 FC Zurich
Nice 2-1 Krasnodar
Sassuolo vs. Genk (postponed until Friday)

The draw for the Round of 32 will take place on Monday, December 12th.

ROUND OF 32:

Group winners: Fenerbahce, Apoel Nicosia, St. Etienne, Zenit St. Petersburg, Roma, Athletic Bilbao/Genk, Ajax, Shakhtar Donetsk, Schalke, Fiorentina, Sparta Prague, Osmanlispor.

Runners Up: Manchester United, Olympiacos, Anderlecht, Anderlecht, Astra Giurgiu, Athletic Bilbao/Genk, Celta Vigo, KAA Gent, Krasnodar, PAOK, Hapoel Be’er Sheva, Villareal.

Dropping down from Champions League: Ludogorets, Besiktas, Borussia Monchengladbach, FC Rostov, Tottenham Hotspur, Legia Warsaw, FC Copenhagen, Lyon.

Southampton 1-1 Hapoel Be’er Sheva: Saints dumped out of Europe

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 08:  Virgil van Dijk of Southampton outjumps goalkeeper David Goresh of Hapoel Be'er Sheva during the UEFA Europa League Group K match between Southampton FC and Hapoel Be'er-Sheva FC at St Mary's Stadium on December 8, 2016 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
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SOUTHAMPTON — In their final Group K game, all Southampton needed was a win or a 0-0 draw to advance to the UEFA Europa League knockout stage.

[ MORE: Europa League standings

They got neither as Maor Buzaglo’s goal 12 minutes from time put Be’er Sheva 1-0 up and despite Virgil can Dijk’s stoppage time equalizer Saints were dumped out of Europe.

Claude Puel‘s side were distraught at the final whistle as they had not qualified from Group K on virtue of the total number of away goals scored between the teams in question.

The European dream was over for the Saints, as Maya Yoshida put a header just wide in the 93rd minute which would’ve sent them through. Instead, the Saints go marching out of Europe.

[ MORE: Austin suffers bad injury ] 

Early on Saints won a corner on the left and a looping ball was met by Charlie Austin but his tame header was straight at David Goresh in Be’er Sheva’s goal. Be’er Sheva had a good chance early on as Mihaly Korhut got the better of Josh Sims and drilled a low shot in which Fraser Forster parried away.

Be’er Sheva continued to look the more comfortable and former Portsmouth player Ben Sahar ran at goal and had to be stopped by Cedric Soares before getting his shot away.

Sims had a header saved by Goresh but on the break the Israeli champions always looked dangerous.

At the other end Nathan Redmon forced Goresh into a fine diving save but from the resulting corner Austin headed wide at the back post and is he fell he injured himself. The English striker was in agony in the floor as it looked like he dislocated his shoulder.

Be’er Sheva had a good chance at the start of the second half as a bad giveaway in midfield let in Sahar but his effort was blocked by last man Maya Yoshida. At the other end Virgil can Dijk was found from a set piece but his shot was deflected over and then Ryan Bertrand‘s cross was cleared wide by Shir Tzedek as substitute Shane Long was about to tap home.

With the Israeli side taking more risks as the game wore on, Saints continued to get chances on the break with substitute Dusan Tadic having a goalbound shot headed off the line.

As the game wore on the nerves hit Saints hard and Romeu gave the ball away in the 79th minute and Be’er Sheva dealt the hammer blow.

Substitute Yuvai Shavtai played it in to Buzaglo and he struck a low shot in off the far post and in to make it 1-0 and Saints now needing two goals to advance. You could hear a pin drop among the home fans at St Mary’s as the Be’er Sheva fans went wild.

Late on Van Dijk scored a deflected effort right at the start of injury time to make it 1-1 and Saints needed just one more goal to advance at Be’er Sheva’s expense. However, their big chance came and went as James Ward-Prowse‘s perfect cross to the back post which Yoshida somehow headed inches wide.

Game. Set. Match.

Report: Argentinian national team flew same plane as Chapecoense crash

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 30: A detailed view of the Chapecoense badge during a minutes silence ahead of the EFL Cup quarter final match between Arsenal and Southampton at the Emirates Stadium on November 30, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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According to a report by Brazilian Folha de São Paulo, a flight bearing the Argentinian national team was dangerously close to crashing in the same manner that saw much of the Brazilian club team Chapecoense tragically perish just a week ago.

The report states that the national team, including Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, and other star players on November 11th, was traveling on its way home from the 3-0 loss to Brazil aboard the exact same plane that crashed on November 28th, and was 18 minutes from running out of fuel before landing in Buenos Aires.

The British Aerospace 146 aircraft has a maximum fuel capacity for a flight of four hours and 22 minutes, and the trip from Belo Horizonte to Buenos Aires took four hours and four minutes, according to the report citing flight logs.

Information disemminating from the November 28th crash shows the aircraft did not reach its destination due to a loss of fuel.

According to an editorial written by Airways Magazine editor in chief Enrique Perrella following the Chapecoense crash, it is a common occurrence in South America for pilots to routinely stretch the maximum flight distances for aircrafts, and to take fuel amounts dangerously close to actual flight time without much pushback.

Many flight governing bodies around the world state minimum fuel requirements to be enough fuel for flight time plus distance to an alternate landing location plus an extra 45 minutes.

The Airways editorial states, citing the flight plan for the November 28th crash, that the pilot for the plane carrying Chapecoense was also the owner of the airline, causing a blatant conflict of interest. In the hope of stretching his aircraft to save on fuel costs, he apparently registered enough fuel on his flight plan for the exact amount of flight time from Santa Cruz to Medellin – four hours and 22 minutes.

When the plane was asked to sit in a holding pattern above the airport to allow another flight with mechanical problems to land, they ran out of fuel and crashed just a few miles from the destination.

Should all this information prove to be accurate, not only was the accident clearly preventable, but it could have happened more than once, and clearly a change in culture is needed.