With MLS expansion done for now, where the league priorities should land

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Now that Manchester City, the Yankees and Major League Soccer have cooked up a mighty tasty expansion stew – let’s call this recipe “Ol’ No. 20” – the league can pivot its improvement efforts. But where to?

We’ll leave further expansion off the table for now, since MLS seems inclined to aim efforts elsewhere.

We have five suggestions for the “elsewhere.” It no particular order (because in many ways they are all tied together), this is where MLS priorities should be:

Stability for Chivas USA: And by “stability,” we mean getting that lost puppy dog of an organization in line, whether that’s in Southern California or elsewhere, and regardless of ownership.

The choices over Chivas USA are complicated by financial considerations, mostly about where the money will go in a sale versus where it would go if the club were to shut down, with an expansion team soon sprouting elsewhere.

Either way, Chivas USA is clearly a drain on league resources and energy. And not to put too fine a point on it, but games inside a nearly empty Home Depot Center are a recurring black eye.

The stadium situation in D.C.: We’ve plowed this ground so much before that there’s very little fertile soil remaining. Seriously, what else is there to say here?

We’ll sum up: United has spent all 18 seasons at RFK Stadium (pictured), a facility well past its time in both the physical structure and ability to provide proper revenue streams. The team loses oodles of money playing there. When was it that Garber first called this situation “untenable?” Two years ago? More?

It’s so tough to keep up on this one; it’s been atop the “to-do” list for so long.

Stadium situation in New England:  This one is quite different, because the MLS bummer near Boston is really about image rather than financial considerations. The Revolution is owned by the Kraft Family, which also owns the NFL’s Patriots, and because the teams share a facility the league is not dropping money into the Back Bay the way it is in D.C.

Still, status quo doesn’t do anything for anybody. The facility is ill fitting and it will never help the league move forward.

Getting the Krafts to spend money on a new facility won’t be easy – but it needs to happen sooner or later. And the sooner the better, obviously.

Maximizing the coming TV contracts: Remember, the deals with ESPN, NBC and Univision all expire at the conclusion of the 2014 season. That “deadline” was a big driver behind getting No. 20 passing and trapping by the 2015 season, the first season  to be covered under the new contracts.

So, whatever armament and ammo the league possesses needs to be strategically directed. More stars? Enhanced and integrated sponsorships? Optimum media awareness in local markets? Enhanced fan engagement in local markets? Strategic digital growth? Asset bundling along with other TV rights?

Adding more Designated Players: This isn’t about increasing the number of big stars and bright talent permitted by league laws, but rather about getting more teams further invested in the DP sweepstakes. As Garber told ESPN FC recently: “The clubs are realizing that a DP doesn’t have to be of the ilk of David Beckham, Thierry Henry and Robbie Keane. There are players that are really accomplished that perhaps can make an impact on and off the field at lower salaries, but still be an investment outside the salary budget.”

The better players don’t just sell tickets; they enhance the collective quality, and that’s always a good thing.

FIFA seeking sponsors for video replays at World Cup

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LONDON (AP) Video replays will be used at the World Cup for the first time and talks are underway with potential sponsor branding to appear when the technology is used, a FIFA executive said on Monday.

Soccer’s rule-making panel met Monday to assess recent trials ahead of video assistant referees (VAR) being officially approved by FIFA later this season for use in Russia in June and July.

“Definitely VAR will happen,” FIFA chief commercial officer Philippe Le Floc’h told The Associated Press. “It’s great to have technology in football because this is also a fair(ness) thing.”

Referees were assisted for the first time by high-tech aids at a World Cup in 2014 when goal-line technology was used. That system sees a message instantly flash on referees’ watches saying only whether the ball crossed the line.

Video review is used when there is a “clear and obvious error” involving goals, penalty awards, red cards, and mistaken identity.

Replays could lead to delays in games in Russia as different angles are reviewed, presenting an opportunity for FIFA to brand up the segment on the global broadcast feed.

“We are talking to various technological companies who are very interested with what we are doing on the technology side of things,” Floc’h said on board the World Cup trophy tour plane during a stop at London Stansted Airport.

The final decision on allowing replays to become part of the rules of the game falls to the International Football Association Board on March 3 when its annual meeting is held at FIFA.

Video review has been expected at the World Cup because FIFA controls half the votes in IFAB’s decision. The other voters are the four British soccer federations.

Monday’s meeting brought together IFAB technical experts, FIFA refereeing officials, and researchers from the University of Leuven in Belgium, who have studied use of video review in 804 games across more than 20 competitions.

“The discussions we had today do not indicate that further experiments need to be conducted,” said Johannes Holzmueller, FIFA’s lead official for technological innovation.

Watch Live: Swansea City vs. Liverpool

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Swansea City’s bid to slow down steamrolling Liverpool begins at 3 p.m. ET Monday at the Liberty Stadium (Watch live on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

The rampaging Reds are coming off a 4-3 win that ended Manchester City’s unbeaten Premier League season, and will hope to avoid a let down against desperate Swans.

The Welsh hosts are six points adrift in the race for Premier League safety, and look set for a 5-4-1 with Jordan Ayew the only forward. Wilfried Bony and Oliver McBurnie are on the bench along with attack-minded Luciano Narsingh.

LINEUPS

Swansea City: Fabianski, Naughton, Van der Hoorn, Fernandez, Mawson, Olsson, Ki, Fer, Clucas, Dyer, Ayew. Subs: Nordfeldt, Bartley, Roque Mesa, Carroll, Narsingh, McBurnie, Bony.

Liverpool: Karius, Gomez, Matip, Van Dijk, Robertson, Can, Wijnaldum, Salah, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Mane, Firmino. Subs: Mignolet, Milner, Klavan, Lallana, Ings, Solanke, Alexander-Arnold.

Kevin De Bruyne commits to Man City through 2022-23

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Kevin De Bruyne is one of the best players in the world, and he’s committing his prime to the club which has taken him to the next level.

[ MORE: How will Arsenal, Man Utd line up? ]

Manchester City announced a new deal for the Belgian wizard, keeping him at the Etihad Stadium through 2023.

De Bruyne, 26, has posted 31 goals and 38 assists for Pep Guardiola‘s men since returning to England from the Bundesliga, and appreciates being given a lot more money. From ManCity.com:

“As I’ve said previously, my intention has always been to stay here at City, where I’ve felt at home from day one. Not only are we winning – we are playing great football. It’s a pleasure to be a part of and I’m really excited about what we can achieve in the coming years.”

De Bruyne is in the discussion for a Ballon d’Or finalist spot this year, along with Lionel Messi, Neymar, Gareth Bale, Harry Kane, and others (Hot take: This does seem to be year Ronaldo possibly knocked off, barring a remarkable run in the Champions League or World Cup).

After the swap: Alexis, Mkhi-infused XIs for Man Utd, Arsenal

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The deal is done: Henrikh Mkhitaryan has moved to Arsenal with Alexis Sanchez going the other way in a monumental January move.

[ MORE: Transfer rumor roundup ]

How will it look for each side once the shape’s settled?

Arsenal

When Henrikh Mkhitaryan was at his very best — for Borussia Dortmund in 2014-15 — he was deployed as a left or right wing. He contributed 23 goals and 32 assists in 52 matches during his final season at the Westfalenstadion, and predictably saw those numbers drop as Jose Mourinho consistently moved him toward an attacking center midfield role.

He’ll get the chance to go out wide again at the Emirates Stadium, though perhaps not always to the extreme flanks. Expect Alexandre Lacazette‘s numbers to explode with this move.

Arsene Wenger used a 4-3-3 to batter Crystal Palace 4-1 at the weekend, with Ozil on the right wing and Alex Iwobi on the left. The club still needs better at center defensive mid while Aaron Ramsey is out, so that will likely keep the lineup similar until he returns (at a minimum):

Cech

Bellerin — Mustafi — Koscielny — Montreal

Elneny (Ramsey, eventually)

Xhaka — Wilshere

Ozil — Lacazette — Mkhitaryan

By the way, a lot of Arsenal supporters aren’t feeling great about this (understatement alert):

Manchester United

Alexis Sanchez prefers left wing, too, and Mourinho has a trio of in-form players who like that side of the field. Anthony Martial is red hot but plays wider than Jesse Lingard, and it seems one of them will take the slot of Juan Mata to the right of Paul Pogba in a 4-1-4-1. Marcus Rashford could also see the far right positioning.

But against top competition — continued apologies to Burnley — it’s usually a 4-2-3-1 for Mourinho with Pogba dropping next to Nemanja Matic a little deeper in the formation. Lingard has been getting the run as CAM here, usually to the detriment of Juan Mata. With Alexis as the clear-cut left wing in this formation, it causes real combat for the two other slots between Mata, Lingard, Rashford, and Martial.

So while it’s likely we’d see something like this in a big game for Manchester United…

De Gea

Young — Jones — Smalling — Valencia

Matic — Pogba

Martial — Lingard —  Sanchez

Lukaku

… We’d love to see something more like this:

De Gea

Young — Jones — Smalling — Valencia

Matic — Herrera

Pogba

Martial — Lukaku — Sanchez

How do you think Wenger and Mou will run ’em out?