Man City owner set to fund new MLS franchise in NYC?

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Brace yourselves. A soccer whirlwind could be about to hit New York City.

Rumors surrounding the possible ownership group of MLS’ 20th franchise have been circling all weekend, after MLS Commissioner Don Garber spoke recently of his hopes to have an announcement in “the next 4-6 weeks” on an expansion franchise in Queens, NYC.

Turns out Manchester City owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan is the leading candidate to fund and back the league’s next franchise, with his investment group reportedly in final negotiations for NYC 2.

Reports across various outlets overnight have the member of the Abu Dhabi royal family stumping up the cash for an expansion franchise, and reveals his plans to spend plenty more as he aims for a new franchise named “New York City” to match the success of his EPL side.

More: MLS set to announce plans for 20th franchise, New York City favorite

But if the wealth of Abu Dhabi does land in Queens — Flushing Meadows Park to be exact, as plans are “hopefully getting close“ according to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg — just how would MLS benefit?

First of all, the envious glare of world soccer would fixate on NYC. Without offense to the New York Red Bulls, Harrison, N.J. is not close to Manhattan, never will be and their fan base in Manhattan and Queens is nowhere near as large as it should be. MLS execs believe situating a team in Queens and NYC proper, will put bums on seats and bring in huge revenues via sponsorship, television and other avenues. The league, not just the NYC 2 franchise, would benefit hugely from that. Plus a city rival for the Red Bulls will be key.

Do I think it will work? Yes. 100 percent. Absolutely. But there are still plenty of stumbling blocks to get through yet. So let’s not get too ahead of ourselves.

More: Expansion updates from Garber in Twitter Q&A with fans

But focusing on Sheik Mansour, he has turned Manchester City’s fortunes around by pumping billions into the stadium, infrastructure, academy and most importantly of all, the playing staff. The lure that comes with owning a successful sports franchise has begun to resonate more in recent years, with financial and royal leaders from the Middle East backing horse racing, soccer and other sports with  huge financial clout.

Mansour will not stop until NYC 2 are successful off the field, have a global image that everyone admires and most importantly, have huge success on the soccer pitch.

The deal isn’t done yet. But with Garber announcing progress has been made and an announcement within the next six weeks.

Brace yourselves NYC. The city many refer to as “the capital of the world” is on the verge of getting the premiere soccer franchise fans (and MLS) have always dreamed of.

Albanian federation denounces “extremist acts” of their fans in Italy

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TIRANA, Albania (AP) Albania’s soccer federation has strongly denounced the incident that halted the World Cup Group G qualifier with Italy for nearly nine minutes on Friday.

During the match, which was won by Italy, 2-0, a group calling itself Illyrian Elite threw flares onto the pitch.

“Such totally extremist actions from the grouping Illyrian Elite have nothing to do with the excellent Albanian fans” who were distinguished in the EURO 2016 finals in France for their friendship and camaraderie in their festivities, the statement added.

The federation said an coach Gianni De Biasi also was “upset by the flares,” adding that during five years he has been in charge “I’ve seen something that’s never happened before.”

USMNT: 4 players, including Brooks, Lletget, released; Arriola added

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Hours after his side’s 6-0 thrashing of Honduras to resuscitate dreams of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, Bruce Arena announced on Saturday five changes to the U.S. national team roster ahead of Tuesday’s qualifier against Panama.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage | MLS ]

John Brooks (sinus infection), Sebastian Lletget (foot), Jordan Morris (knee) and Michael Orozco (knee) were all released back to their club teams, while Club Tijuana midfielder Paul Arriola was added to the squad.

[ MORE: USA 6-0 Honduras | Three things we learned | Player ratings ]

Brooks dealt with the sinus infection throughout USMNT camp this past week, as Morris did his knee injury which he picked up last weekend. Lletget left Friday’s win over Honduras in the 18th minute and will undergo further tests to determine the severity of his injury; he was seen leaving the stadium on crutches and wearing a walking boot.

The USMNT’s roster for Tuesday’s qualifier in Panama City, Panama, now stands at 23 players, and reads as follows:

Goalkeepers: David Bingham (San Jose Earthquakes), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)

Defenders: DaMarcus Beasley (Houston Dynamo), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca), Tim Ream (Fulham), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna), Walker Zimmerman (FC Dallas), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

Midfielders: Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Paul Arriola (Club Tijuana), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Jermaine Jones (LA Galaxy), Sacha Kljestan (New York Red Bulls), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund)

Forwards: Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)

Rapinoe won’t back down on social issues despite U.S. Soccer policy

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Megan Rapinoe recently earned her spot back in the U.S. Women’s National Team squad ahead of next month’s friendlies against Russia, but the veteran won’t remain silent when it comes to her stance on the social climate of America.

[ MORE: Looking back on USMNT’s big win over Honduras ]

The 31-year-old was scrutinized for joining NFL player Colin Kaepernick in 2016 when they knelt during their respective sporting events, along with dozens of other athletes across the United States.

While Rapinoe admits that the form of protest is up for discussion, she also states that social inequality issues in the U.S. go far beyond that.

“What has surprised me the most, especially post-election, is that people are still sort of arguing against it. It’s really obvious that we have very serious inequality in this country across many different spectrums,” Rapinoe told the Guardian. “Yes, we can talk about the form of protest, or the way it’s done, or this or that. But it’s still not really the conversation that I think we desperately need to have more of in this country.”

A few weeks back, U.S. Soccer announced that it now requires all players that represent the Stars and Stripes to stand when the national anthem is played, and Rapinoe has agreed to do such.

While her days of kneeling on the pitch are in the past, Rapinoe believes she wouldn’t do anything different because she was simply trying to spark discussion amongst the American people.

“I don’t think there’s any perfect way to protest. I think if there was something else being done, something else would have been said about it. I can’t look back and say that I would have done this different, this different or this different.

“I can sleep at night knowing that I genuinely tried to have a really important conversation, or at least tried to open it up. I think I came to it with an open mind, an open heart and tried to get as many people to talk about it as I could.”

Report: Chelsea planning Hazard, Courtois pay raises

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Eden Hazard has returned to his old self under Antonio Conte this season, and now Chelsea is hoping to lock down their star attacker.

[ MORE: Lukaku says decision has been made on Everton future ]

According to the Mirror, the Premier League leaders are planning on offering up a pay raise to Hazard, who has 11 league goals this season for the Blues.

Hazard signed a nearly $250,000 per week deal two seasons ago, but the Belgium international will likely rake in significantly more under the reported deal as Chelsea hopes to keep the 26-year-old away from Spanish giants Real Madrid and others.

The Mirror is also reporting that goalkeeper and Hazard’s Belgian teammate Thibaut Courtois is likely to be handed a raise is salary as well.

The shot-stopper is set be handed a deal roughly in the range of what Hazard is currently making after allowing just 21 goals in 28 PL matches this season.