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Which cities will be home to the four new MLS expansion franchises?

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After Don Garber’s comments at half time of the MLS All-Star Game in Kansas City last night, the soccer landscape in North America will change drastically over the next five to seven years.

Bring it on.

MLS’ Commissioner confirmed on Wednesday that Major League Soccer will expand to 24 teams by the year 2020. Giving hope to thousands of fans across North America that their city will be home to one of MLS’ new franchises.

Garber’s comments have been welcomed with open arms by the US soccer community. And speculation is rife, as always, as to where these next franchises will pop up.

According to the following comments from the MLS Commish, the teams will help spread MLS’ reach to the whole of the US. So expect more teams in the Midwest and Southeast regions.

(MORE: Garber plans to expand to 24 teams by 2020)

“As MLS enters a period of accelerated growth, the addition of new teams will allow us to expand our geographic coverage, grow our fan base and help us achieve our vision of being among the best leagues in the world by 2022.”

So with that “geographic coverage” in mind, let’s split up potential MLS expansion cities into regions and analyze which city could come out on top.

SOUTHEAST

Miami: With David Beckham involved in a potential franchise in Miami, this deal should get pushed through and I expect MIA to be one of two new franchises in Florida. The infrastructure will be there, the soccer fans are there but getting them all to support one team proved difficult in the past. Can it succeed this time?

Orlando: Brett Lashbrook is on board for a reason, MLS will come to Orlando very soon. Two of the four new MLS franchises look set for Florida, but Orlando have some hurdles to jump in order to get their new stadium built in time. With local business and the mayor at loggerheads, will MLS arrive in Miami before Orlando? USL Pro outfit Orlando City are pretty confident though and after a great Open Cup run and big crowds, they should be.

Atlanta: A city that has long been earmarked for an expansion franchise, the Atlanta Silverbacks of NASL have a sparkling new soccer complex that can be expanded. Owner of the Atlanta Falcons, Arthur Blank, has proposed a soccer team coming to the newly developed Falcons stadium in downtown ATL. If it could be similar to the way BC Place is adapted for the Whitecaps, that would be pretty awesome.

source:
Will MLS be head over heels for Orlando?

MIDWEST

Oklahoma City: In terms of soccer in the Midwest, OKC is embracing the world’s sport like no other. Over the past month, USL Pro and NASL have set up rival franchises in the city as they aim to bring MLS to town one day. The support for both teams will be analyzed over the coming years and Oklahoma would certainly be an interesting option for MLS expansion.

St. Louis: There is no professional soccer team in St. Louis, and there are no plans for one either. But that doesn’t mean there are no soccer fans in STL. Oh no. We saw a huge crowd of over 48,000 pack Busch Stadium when Manchester City and Chelsea visited earlier this summer for a friendly and the sports mad town could definitely have some awesome rivalries with Chicago and Kansas City. Why not St. Louis?

Minneapolis: Minnesota United, Minnesota Stars and all the other name changes it has gone through, the Twin Cities have long been home to second and third-tier soccer teams. Can it make the jump up to MLS? A possible stadium link up with the Vikings has been mooted, but will there be enough fans to fill a 20,000 plus soccer-specific stadium week in, week out?

Indianapolis: Chelsea play Inter Milan at the Lucas Oil Stadium later today and the Indy Eleven franchise will start NASL play next season. Indy is definitely becoming a soccer obsessed city. The MLS SuperDraft was there in January and this town would also provide a great link between the East coast and the cities of Chicago and KC.

Detroit: Plans for a new downtown soccer stadium are close to being submitted in Detroit, as soccer fans in the Motor City have been causing quite a stir for sometime. A NPSL side, Detroit City, regularly attracts over 5,000 fans and the atmosphere created for a minor-league soccer team is incredible. A dark horse for MLS expansion?

WEST

Sacramento: Preki is now in charge, and something tells me the former USMNT and MLS legend wouldn’t be involved with the Californian team unless something huge was on the horizon. Ambitious plans have already been unveiled for the Sacramento Republic. Can they back that up in their USL Pro debut season next year?

San Antonio: The sparkling gem that is Toyota Field has become the jewel in NASL’s stadium crown. With a 8,000 capacity that can be expanded, soccer is a big deal in the Texas city. Rivalries with Dallas and Houston would be massive for the league and the Scorpions are one of NASL’s best run outfits. Potential.

Phoenix: At the moment the Arizona city has a USL Pro in its first season of play, but could it grow into an MLS franchise? Perhaps not. Although crowd numbers have been decent in its inaugural year, it is hard to see cities such as San Antonio ans Sacramento not jumping ahead of Phoenix out west.

Where else? Obviously there are plenty of other cities not on this list, (Ottawa, Pittsburgh, Jacksonville and Las Vegas to name a few) so where should MLS look to expand?

There are plenty of worthy regions across the US and Canada. Tell us where you think they should be.

LIVE – Europa League group stage finale: Saints, Man United in crucial deciders

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 03:  Virgil van Dijk of Southampton celebrates after scoring his team's first goal during the UEFA Europa League Group K match between Southampton FC and FC Internazionale Milano at St Mary's Stadium on November 3, 2016 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
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This is it, don’t get scared now.

[ LIVE: Europa League scores ]

Premier League duo Southampton and Manchester United both go into their final group game of the UEFA Europa League needing to avoid defeat if their going to make the knockout rounds.

For United, their task is simple. Jose Mourinho’s men need just a point from their trip to Ukraine to play Zorya Luhansk to advance to the Round of 32, while a win could see them finish top depending on the result of the Feyenoord vs. Fenerbache game.

As for Southampton, it’s a little bit more complicated.

A win for Claude Puel‘s side at home against Hapoel Be’er Sheva at a sold out St Mary’s would see them safely through to the knockout rounds of the Europa League for the first time in club history. A 0-0 draw would also do the trick but a score draw (1-1, 2-2, 3-3 etc) would send the reigning Israeli champions through instead as they’d have the advantage in head-to-head away goals after the duo drew 0-0 in Israel back in October. Making the knockout rounds of this competition would be a huge deal for Southampton and would keep their cup momentum going after they reached the semifinals of the EFL Cup last week.

[ MORE: Europa League standings ]   

Elsewhere there is plenty on the line across the 12 groups, with the standings page in the link above very handy to work out the permutations as the top two teams from each group (first place team is seeded, the second unseeded) advance to the Round of 32 and will be joined by the eight teams who finished third in their respective groups in the UEFA Champions League group stage.

Below is the full schedule for Thursday’s game which kick off in three separate time slots, while you can follow live commentary and stats on the games by clicking on the link above.


Full Europa League schedule, Thursday Dec. 8

11 a.m. ET
Konyarspor vs. Gent
Qarabag vs. Fiorentina
Osmanlispor vs. Zurich
Braga vs. Shakhtar Donetsk
Villarreal vs. Steaua Bucuresti
PAOK vs. Liberece

1 p.m. ET
Vikrotia Plzen vs. Austria Wien
Apoel Nicosia vs. Olympiacos
Sassuolo vs. Genk
Anderlecht vs. Saint-Etienne
Zorya Luhansk vs. Manchester United
Rapid Wien vs. Athletic Bilbao
Young Boys vs. Astana
AZ Alkmaar vs. Zenit Saint Petersburg
Feyenoord vs. Fenerbahce
Maccabi Tel-Aviv vs. Dundalk
Mainz vs. Gabala
Astra Giurgiu vs. Roma

3:05 p.m. ET
Panathinaikos vs. Celta Vigo
Standard Liege vs. Ajax
Inter Milan vs. Sparta Prague
Southampton vs. Hapoel Be’er Sheva
RB Salzburg vs. Schalke
Nice vs. Krasnodar

Bob Bradley will remain in charge, says Swansea chairman

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With reports circulating in the British press that American coach Bob Bradley could be fired after just seven games in charge of Swansea City, their chairman has publicly backed the former U.S. national team head coach.

[ MORE: Ranking the PL superstars ]

Bradley, 58, has just one win in his opening seven games in charge of the Swans who currently sit bottom of the Premier League table on nine points, three points off safety.

That poor form, coupled with many other issues at the club, has reportedly prompted new American owners Steve Kaplan and Jason Levien (they took over as majority owners in July) to conduct an extensive review of every department at the club.

However, chairman Huw Jenkins has moved to quell rumors about Bradley becoming the second Swansea manager to be fired through the opening 14 games of the season.

“I don’t know where that story came from, but it’s natural in football that everyone wants and needs results. But the last thing we need at this moment of time is a continual change in manager. We need stability first and foremost,” Jenkins told talkSPORT. “Take a team like Fulham, they changed managers three times in the season they tried to stave off relegation and we’re in a similar position now.”

“Perhaps in the summer I could have made a better decision – from pre-season onwards I don’t think things were right, it was too flat at the club. That had a knock-on effect and obviously it’s taken us a while to work through it. But we’re with Bob now to try and turn that corner – that’s what we’re working towards. We look at the January window as a chance to reinforce things. There are players not hitting the form levels they have done in the past and we have to find out why that is and get that right as well.”

So, it seems that sense is prevailing after all.

Jenkins took the blame for Swansea’s poor start to the season in media interviews on Wednesday and now the long-time chairman is backing his manager.

The south Wales businessman was part of a consortium which saved Swansea in 2004 and then led them on an incredible journey up from the fourth-tier to the Premier League, plus winning the League Cup and getting to the group stages of the Europa League. He and other directors have come in for some serious stick from Swansea’s fans for selling their stake to the new American owners and Jenkins is believed to have made just over $10 million from selling 8.2 percent of his 13.2 percent stake in the club.

On the pitch, it’s difficult to blame Bradley for the current situation Swansea finds itself in.

After some woeful moves in the transfer window last summer (Jenkins has admitted they weren’t great with Ashley Williams and Andre Ayew allowed to leave for big profits but their replacements just haven’t been good enough) the American coach needs at least one transfer window to bring in better players and the Swans are only three points off safety with a pivotal stretch of six games to come in the Premier League.

Home games against Sunderland, West Ham and Bournemouth, plus trips to West Brom, Middlesbrough and Crystal Palace will see the Swans go up against direct relegation rivals between now and Jan. 3.

The next four weeks will be huge not only for Swansea’s future but also for Bradley and ahead of their crunch home game against Sunderland on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET online via NBCSports.com) the American coach is eager to cut out defensive mistakes as the Swans have now conceded 19 goals in his seven games in charge.

“When you are a manager it (the pressure) goes with the territory,” Bradley said. “It is work as usual, knowing from the beginning when I got here that it would be a big challenge, and it is. When you see a scoreline like that it is easy to jump on us. We are not going to survive if we keep on conceding goals like this.”

Man United’s Europa League clash in doubt over frozen pitch

Manchester United's coach Jose Mourinho, centre, attends a training session with his team at Chernomorets stadium in Odessa, Ukraine, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, ahead of Thursday's Europa League group A soccer match against FC Zorya Luhansk. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
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Manchester United and Jose Mourinho may not play their UEFA Europa League game against Zorya Luhansk on Thursday.

[ MORE: Ozil, Sanchez leaving Arsenal? ]

Amid freezing conditions in the Ukrainian city of Odessa (Zorya cannot play their games at home due to the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine) the pitch underwent an inspection on Thursday and with covers and heaters on the playing surface overnight, there is hope the game should go ahead.

However, Jose Mourinho has already talked about the state of the pitch as not being ideal, while the likes of Daley Blind and Paul Pogba looked far from impressed when they went out for a training session on Wednesday in freezing conditions.

Remember, United only needs a point from the game against Zorya to qualify for the Europa League Round of 32 and Mourinho has selected a strong 19-man squad for the trip. 

A statement from Zorya said the following on Thursday morning, as they remain hopeful of the game going ahead.

“Everything depends on the weather. The pitch is not brilliant at the moment. We are expecting temperatures of two or three degrees and everything should be okay.”

Below was the scene in Odessa yesterday for United’s training session, via Simon Peach of the Press Association.


Yep, the pitch doesn’t look great.

Barcelona invites Chapecoense to play friendly

CHAPECO, BRAZIL - OCTOBER 22: Supporters of Chapecoense cheer their team during the match between Chapecoense and Sao Paulo for the Brazilian Series A 2014 at Arena Conda on October 22, 2014 in Chapeco, Brazil. (Photo by Alan Pedro/Getty Images)
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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says it has extended an invitation to host a friendly match against the Brazilian soccer club involved in last week’s plane crash.

Chapecoense was on its way to the final of the Copa Sudamericana, one of South America’s most prestigious club tournaments, when its flight went down in Colombia, killing all but six of the 77 players, officials and journalists on board.

The match would be played in August. The friendly, called the Joan Gamper trophy, is used as Barcelona’s traditional curtain raiser for the new season.

Barcelona says it sent a formal invitation to Chapecoense on Thursday.

Barcelona says it wants to “pay homage to the 71 people who died in the accident as well as their families.”