CONCACAF Champions League schedule announced for five MLS teams

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Sides from Major League Soccer and Liga MX are about to lock horns once more.

Get excited.

With just over a month until the CONCACAF Champions League group stages begin — yes, you heard that right — the schedule for the five MLS sides in CCL action this year have been announced.

And plenty of focus will be on the all-MLS ties between the San Jose Earthquakes and Montreal Impact.

That tie is in fact the opener on August 7, as the Impact host San Jose at Stade Saputo. With the Earthquakes staying put in Canada for an extended period, as they play against Vancouver in MLS action three days later.

Like I said, get excited.

In seasons gone by, MLS fans have often sneered upon CCL matches. For a variety of reasons the continental cup competition hasn’t quite captured the imagination of US and Canadian fans. For the most part. We all remember Real Salt Lake’s fairytale run to the final back in 2010.

But with so many MLS teams involved this year, hopefully that tide of optimism will return. Major League Soccer should definitely focus on success in CCL before thinking about entering competitions such as the Copa Libertadores.

Some people think MLS should jump straight into South America’s premiere club competition. But until MLS conquers the CONCACAF Champions League, those plans should be placed well and truly on the back burner.

So here they are, check out the schedule and plan your CCL trips accordingly.

Sporting Kansas City

  • 8/7 at Real Estelí FC; 10 pm ET, Estadio Independcia, Estelí, Nicaragua
  • 8/27 at CD Olimpia; 10 pm ET, Estadio Tiburcio Carias Andino, Tegucigalpa, Honduras
  • 9/17 vs. Real Estelí FC; 8 pm ET, Sporting Park
  • 10/23 vs. CD Olimpia; 8 pm ET, Sporting Park

Houston Dynamo

  • 8/20 at W Connection; 8 pm ET, in Trinidad and Tobago
  • 8/27 vs. Árabe Unido; 8 pm ET, BBVA Compass Stadium
  • 9/25 vs. W Connection; 8 pm ET, BBVA Compass Stadium
  • 10/24 at Árabe Unido; 8 pm ET, in Panama

Montreal Impact

  • 8/7 vs. San Jose Earthquakes; 8 pm ET, Stade Saputo
  • 8/21 at CD Heredia; 10 pm ET, in Guatemala
  • 9/17 at San Jose Earthquakes; 10 pm ET, Buck Shaw Stadium
  • 9/25 vs. CD Heredia; 8 pm ET, Stade Saputo

San Jose Earthquakes

  • 8/7 at Montreal Impact; 8 pm ET, Stade Saputo
  • 8/28 at CD Heredia; 10 pm ET, in Guatemala
  • 9/17 vs. Montreal Impact; 10 pm ET, Buck Shaw Stadium
  • 10/23 vs. CD Heredia; 10 pm ET, Buck Shaw Stadium

LA Galaxy

  • 8/20 vs. Cartaginés; 10 pm ET, StubHub Center
  • 9/18 vs. Isidro Metapán; 10 pm ET, StubHub Center
  • 9/25 at Cartaginés; 10 pm ET, in Costa Rica
  • 10/24 at Isidro Metapán; 10 pm ET, in El Salvador

Zlatan Ibrahimovic confirms Man United contract talks

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic is in talks with Manchester United about extending his stay at Old Trafford beyond this season.

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The veteran Swedish striker, 35, has scored 26 goals in 41 appearances in all competitions this season, and he has an option to extend his contract for another year. However, that option hasn’t been triggered yet by Ibrahimovic and United’s fans seem to be getting rather tetchy about the prospect of him not being around next season.

Ibrahimovic is enjoying life in England and revealed to the Manchester Evening News that he is in talks with the club about extending his stay in the Premier League.

“Let’s see what happens, we are talking,” Ibrahimovic said. “I have an option for another year, I want to do great as long as I’m here, so let us see, there is a lot of time. I’m enjoying being at a fantastic club, without doubts, one of the biggest clubs in the world with a great coach (Jose Mourinho).

“I know him before (from our time at Inter Milan), he’s a winner, he’s the perfect coach for this club. Being a Manchester United player, I don’t know how many people have that possibility but I am a Man United player, people wanted me here, I chose the club, I chose the best English club, that’s the way it works.”

Ibrahimovic also hinted that he would stay by stating he “never leaves a job unfinished” when talking about his dedication.

“I’m a person when I go into something I put my head 200 per cent, and I do what I’m good at. I go in, I go for the kill and I go out,” Ibrahimovic said. “And when I go out there is no complaints, that’s what I do. I never leave a job unfinished. I always go in, do my job, and in the way that is a fair play, a fair deal, that is what I do.”

With offers reported pouring in from Major League Soccer and the Chinese Super League, Ibrahimovic will likely have those kind of deals on the table next summer too. His current deal at United sees him paid over $310,000 per week but after joining from Paris Saint-Germain on a free transfer it could be one of the best pieces of business in United’s history if he helps them win the Europa League and/or finish in the top four in the PL this season.

If he leads the Red Devils back to the UEFA Champions League and has one more season as the talisman for Mourinho at Old Trafford, then leaves to finish out his playing days elsewhere, the legendary forward will go down as a hero in the eyes of United’s fans.

Portugal airport to be named after Ronaldo near his hometown

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FUNCHAL, Portugal (AP) Welcome to Cristiano Ronaldo Airport.

That will be the message awaiting passengers in the Madeira Islands from Wednesday, when the local airport will be renamed after the local star by the regional government.

Ronaldo is expected to attend a ceremony at the airport outside his hometown of Funchal on Wednesday, a day after his Portugal side lost 3-2 to Sweden in the city in a friendly.

The name change attracted a lot of attention locally, with many politicians opposing it.

Portugal’s squad landed on Monday at the airport displaying the trophy it won at the 2016 European Championship in France.

Funchal also has a Ronaldo statue and a museum about the player, as well a hotel complex named after him.

Arena reacts to USMNT draw, expects CONCACAF fight to end

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Bruce Arena didn’t enjoy watching Tuesday’s 1-1 draw between the United States and Panama, but he’s not upset with the result.

“The referee didn’t blow his whistle too much, and that’s the way the game looked for 90 minutes,” Arena said.

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Arena’s Yanks struggled to find their flow in the draw, ravaged by injuries to their back line. Arena praised his back four for their performance in difficult circumstances on the road with new teammates.

And he’s feeling a lot better than a week ago, when the U.S. had zero points and sat last in the table.

[ WATCH: Full match replay (Spanish) ]

“We’re obviously in better shape with four points in two games. We’ve made progress. Every game in qualifying is going to be critical for every team. Everyone’s in it. It’s going to be a battle for the second, third, and fourth spots.”

The Americans’ next World Cup qualifier is June 8 against Trinidad and Tobago before a June 11 road trip to Azteca to face Mexico.

Panama 1-1 USMNT: Ugly, scrappy point for both sides

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The United States will finish the international break in the Hex’s fourth place after a 1-1 draw at Panama in World Cup qualifying on Tuesday.

Clint Dempsey scored off a feed from Christian Pulisic to give the U.S. a brief 1-0 lead, and Gabriel Gomez leveled the score before halftime.

The Americans’ next World Cup qualifier is June 8 against Trinidad and Tobago before a June 11 road trip to Azteca to face Mexico.

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Here’s the Hex table as it stands, with the U.S. on pace for a playoff spot against Asia’s playoff winner:

Mexico — 10 points
Costa Rica — 7 points
Panama — 5 points
———————
USMNT — 4 points
———————-
Honduras — 4 points
Trinidad and Tobago — 3 points

[ WATCH: Full match replay (Spanish) ]

The first 10 minutes were a bit frenetic, with the U.S. focused on adventurous first touch passes when it managed to earn the ball from Panama.

That feel wasn’t aided by the officiating, as Cesar Ramos was inconsistent in a very physical opening quarter-hour (and never pulled a single card).

Felipe Baloy flashed a header over the cross bar off a 16th minute corner kick as he lost Jozy Altidore and nodded back across goal. It was a bit of set piece foreshadowing, as Arena has yet to fix a long-held USMNT problem.

Christian Pulisic was fired up when Luis Tejada shoved him to the turf in the 20th minute.

Tim Ream bailed out Jorge Villafana, who wasn’t as composed and smart as his Friday versus Panama, sliding to divert Armando Cooper’s cross for a corner kick.

Jermaine Jones cued up Pulisic moments later, but the youngster had to wait for a bounding ball to settle before Panama conceded a corner. That opportunity was wasted by an overly aggressive Gonzalez, who was called for a foul before the ball arrived in the 18.

Howard saw his first danger and averted it when Alberto Quintero shook Zusi to rip a shot on frame. It was 0-0 after 32 minutes.

Then, the breakthrough. Dempsey moved to within a goal of Landon donovan’s all-time mark thanks to Pulisic, who cooked Felipe Baloy and held off Roman Torres before laying off to the veteran. 1-0, 39′.

The lead lasted all of three minutes, as Gomez pounced on a loose ball with the Yanks’ back line at sixes and sevens off a long throw-in. Gomez turned off Jermaine Jones and lost Villafana to bury his chance behind Howard. 1-1, 44′.

The second half began with more chunky play until Villafana blazed down the left wing on an overlapping run to cross for Pulisic, whose shot was forced out for a corner which led to nothing.

Dempsey then turned a Michael Bradley free kick to a waiting Jaime Penedo as the Yanks started to refind their flow.

Panama found a doorstep chance when Torres nodded down for Tejada, but Howard made an exceptional nether regions “leg” save to keep it 1-1.

Arena introduced Alejandro Bedoya for Darlington Nagbe with 20 minutes to play, a move that was a testament to the physical nature of the game.

Fittingly, it was creative work from Pulisic that helped the U.S. win a corner kick soon after, though Penedo claimed the offering.

More chances came Panama’s way, as the U.S. spent much of the late stages desperately clearing loose balls. On another night, with better finishing from Tejada, the Yanks would’ve been sunk.