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Should Europa League winners be awarded a spot in the Champions League?

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Should the winners of the Europa League be awarded a spot in the following season’s Champions League?

That is the question that UEFA, Europe’s soccer governing body, will likely answer in the affirmative on Friday. The decision will be made following months of discussions between the European Club Association (ECA) and UEFA officials. The reason for the potential switch, which would be implemented beginning in 2015, comes down to the fact that the Europa League garners far less income and media attention than its big brother.

This is not the first time officials have tried to raise the Europa League’s profile. In 2009, UEFA decided to change the name of the tournament from UEFA Cup to its current title. Another measure designed to increase interest in Europe’s second tournament was to send teams that finish third in the Champions League group stage into the Europa League. Arguably, that measure has succeeded as this year’s final between Chelsea and Benfica, both of whom arrived via the Champions League, produced significant exposure.

The new rule would mean that if a club wins the Europa League and is outside of the top four spots typically allocated for Champions League places, that club will be given a berth to the Champions League meaning five teams from that country would feature in Europe’s biggest tournament.

This would be a significant departure from the current rules that limit a country to four participants. By implementing such a rule UEFA would avoid what happened to Tottenham in 2011-12 where Chelsea won the Champions League but because the Blues finished 5th in the Premier League, 4th place Spurs were demoted to the Europa League.

Here are the pertinent details:

  • From 2015/16, winners of the Europa League and the Champions League will both qualify for the following season’s Champions League.
  • A maximum of five clubs per league can make the Champions League, but only under special circumstances (i.e. when a club wins the Champions League or Europa League but finishes outside the top four in the domestic league)
  • If the Champions League or Europa League winners finish inside the top four of their domestic league, runners-up will not qualify.
  • Europa League winners will enter into the group phase of the Champions League, effectively ahead of the fourth place finisher of the domestic league.

The rule change should have a dramatic effect.

First, the added prize will make clubs take the Europa League more seriously. This will be especially true for clubs playing in the Champions League who finish third in the group phase and drop down to the Europa League.

Second, it will encourage greater participation in the Europa League. For example, the new rule will erase the possibility that clubs qualifying for the Europa League via the fair play rule will deny the opportunity (as was Liverpool’s position this season).

Third, the ruling gives smaller clubs more hope at making the Champions League. For example, if the ruling were to be implemented next season, Swansea and Wigan would both have a chance at making it into Europe’s biggest tournament. Following up on this line of thought, the new rule also raises the importance of domestic tournaments like the League Cup and FA Cup, as they provide an alternative pathway to the Champions League.

What are your thoughts?

Morgan, USWNT cruise past Costa Rica 5-0 behind early flurry of goals

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The U.S. Women got off to a flying start in Olympic qualification Group A play by torching Costa Rica 5-0, including goals from Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd, and Crystal Dunn.

Morgan led the way with a double, including one in the opening 12 seconds – only six passes off the opening kick – that set the record for quickest goal in U.S. Soccer history. Lloyd and Dunn both struck in the opening 15 minutes to make it 3-0 before Costa Rica even had time to blink. Lloyd’s came on a penalty after Dunn was felled for the captain’s 83rd international goal, and then the latter bagged one of her own minutes later on a rebound off a shot by Morgan.

[ VIDEO: Alex Morgan caps off a 12-second, six-pass goal ]

The visitors were able to make it Morgan scored her second after the hour mark to cap the goal tally. Jill Ellis completed her trio of substitutions after the fourth goal and the U.S. saw the game out easily.

The fifth came late on a cross from Tobin Heath that fell to Christen Press in the box. With her back to the goal, the 27-year-old produced a simply stunning first touch, back-heeling the ball down before whipping around the opposite direction to lose her defender and firing home the fifth goal.

With the final whistle, the United States improved their record against Costa Rica to a perfect 13-0. The U.S. will play Mexico next on Saturday before finishing out Group A play against Puerto Rico on Monday, February 15.

VIDEO: Alex Morgan scores goal against Costa Rica in 12 seconds

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The United States got off to a historically roaring start in Olympic qualifying. Taking on Costa Rica in Frisco, Texas to begin Group A play, Alex Morgan opened the scoring in just 12 seconds, taking just six passes to complete the masterpiece.

According to the USWNT twitter account, the goal is the fastest in U.S. Soccer history.

According to CONCACAF, the goal is also the quickest in CONCACAF Olympic qualifying, breaking Abby Wambach’s of 35 seconds in a 14-0 domination of the Dominican Republic in 2012.

[ WATCH LIVE: USWNT vs Costa Rica live online on NBC Sports Live Extra ]

The United States scored three goals in the first 15 minutes against Costa Rica tonight. They will take on Mexico and Puerto Rico across the next five days.

Watch Live: USWNT vs Costa Rica in Olympic qualifying

SAN DIEGO, CA - JANUARY 23:  (L-R) Carli Lloyd #10 of the United States is congratulated by teammate Alex Morgan #13 after a goal against Ireland at Qualcomm Stadium on January 23, 2016 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)
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The United States women are set to begin Group A play in Olympic qualification, taking on 36th ranked Costa Rica at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas at 8:30 a.m. ET.

The game takes place after a 17-day camp at the national training camp in Carson, California.

[ WATCH LIVE: USWNT vs Costa Rica live online on NBC Sports Live Extra ]

Other teams in the group include Mexico and Puerto Rico. The Mexicans dominated Puerto Rico 6-0 in the first game.

LINEUP

United States: Solo; Krieger, Johnston, Sauerbrunn, Klingenberg; Brian, Horan, Dunn, Lloyd, Heath; Morgan.

Columbus, NYCFC release new kits to mixed results

NYCFC
New York City FC
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Two Major League Soccer clubs have put their kits out there for the 2016 season. They’ve received a mediocre welcome at best.

Columbus was the first, and their kit makes a bold statement moving away from the traditional yellow and black that so often adorns their regular shirts. Instead, the kit incorporates the Columbus flag onto it. The release has seen quite a negative reaction on social media.

The kit was unveiled at the Columbus City Hall on Wednesday, featuring the traditional adidas stripes, although instead of the usual placement on the shoulders, the stripes come down the side of the torso. Recently, adidas has the tendency to copy general jersey patterns across its multiple properties, so look for this design with other clubs in the near future.

The negative reaction to the Columbus release isn’t terribly surprising considering fans often enjoy sticking to tradition, and backlash is common when clubs deviate from the norm. As an additional hurdle, the color contrast between red and yellow is somewhat stark, lending to the difficult reception. Add in the bright pastel blue shorts and…yikes.

While the club didn’t describe how they will utilize this kit during the season, it’s likely to be the primary (at least for now) as the club release says the kit portfolio also includes last year’s black kit, which is traditionally the away kit.

NYCFC’s release of their secondary kit was more positive, receiving a mixed response on social media.

As you can see, adidas again copied their general outline with the stripes down the side of the torso. However, the German clothing manufacturer did much better with the general design of these kits than the Columbus ones. I will give a bit of personal opinion here: I absolutely love these kits. The ripple effect accentuates the crest with a near-3D effect, and the colors mesh perfectly which serves to assuage the eye from being overwhelmed by a busy design. If there’s any criticism, it’s that without an outline, the Etihad logo tends to get in the way a bit, but that’s nitpicking. Well done NYCFC. Columbus…I’ll leave that one to you all.