MLS gets cloudier, not more transparent, with Clint Dempsey’s Seattle Sounders deal

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SEATTLE — Question marks surrounding United States captain Clint Dempsey signing with Seattle Sounders FC persisted on Monday. Major League Soccer owners appear happy to have fans and media in the dark about much of their process.

“I think we’re in our adolescence as a league,” Sounders general manager and part owner Adrian Hanauer said during Dempsey’s introductory press conference at CenturyLink Field on Monday. “I sit on the product strategy committee (and) the competition committee, and we talk about transparency, and we want to continue to have more and more transparency in the league. I think that’s a good thing for fans. It is something that we’re working towards.”

After the press conference, he continued the train of thought by reiterating MLS’s goals within its single-entity structure.

“The objective is that we have a partnership of owners, and our goal is to improve the league and the profile of Major League Soccer in this country and globally, or our profile vis-à-vis the rest of the world,” Hanauer said. “We’ve created a rule structure that we think best allows our league to grow in a rational way. You can ask me about a specific rule, but we have a decent level of transparency in some areas. In others, maybe we have less transparency, but we’re just trying to build the game and do what we need to do to run a healthy enterprise.”

During the conference, Hanauer offered some insight into how the Sounders were able to sign Dempsey without being subject to the allocation process, but he declined to comment further on why media and fans continue to be left clueless on many facets of the player acquisition process.

“We have different mechanisms by which players can come into the league,” he said. “You can’t come in through multiple mechanisms. You can’t come in as a Designated Player and an allocation player and a Discovery Player. So he came in as a Designated Player.”

Seattle’s biggest rival, the Portland Timbers, holds the top spot in the allocation order. If any United States national team player signs with the league, the team at the top of the order is supposed to have the right of first refusal to sign him.

(MORE: A brief look at MLS roster rules with regard to Clint Dempsey signing)

On Saturday, after Dempsey’s deal became official, MLS executive vice president of player relations and competition Todd Durbin released a statement saying Dempsey was not subject to allocation because of his Designated Player status.

“For new players signed by an MLS club as a Designated Player, the allocation process does not apply,” Durbin said. “Examples of this include previous high-profile player signings like David Beckham, Thierry Henry, Robbie Keane and U.S. national team player Claudio Reyna when he signed with New York.”

Reyna signed with the Red Bulls in 2007, in the first year of the Designated Player rule. The rule allows each MLS franchise to sign up to three players for more than the league maximum salary of $368,750 for a player over age 23.

Designated Players only count for the maximum amount toward determining a team’s salary cap situation. If a U.S. national team player signs as a Designated Player, then he is not subject to allocation because of the special nature of the deal.

Common wisdom surrounding player acquisitions in MLS suggests that if a deal would raise the profile of the league, especially on a global stage, then team owners are usually willing to make concessions to the player involved.

“Let’s be realistic: A player of Clint’s quality and pedigree has a say in where he ends up,” Hanauer said. “That’s just the reality of certain players that end up in our league.”

Hanauer said Monday that Seattle has courted Dempsey for at least the last two years. It’s unlikely that any other team was willing to shell out Dempsey’s reported $8 million annual guaranteed salary.

(MORE: Report: How Dempsey’s move came together, new details on Deuce’s Seattle deal)

Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl reported that MLS, not the Sounders, paid Tottenham Hotspur the $9-million transfer fee — but Hanauer declined to confirm both the number and who paid it, except to say that “the league generally won’t pick up transfer fees.”

The key word in that sentence: “generally.”

Even that brief sentence seems to indicate that the set of guidelines team officials use flex much further than the MLS Roster Rules and Regulations published to the world. Never has MLS’s single-entity structure seemed as insular as this week.

Spanish police dismantle match-fixing scheme in 3rd, 4th tiers

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MADRID (AP) Spanish police have dismantled a match-fixing scheme involving players and clubs in the country’s lower divisions.

Authorities said more than 20 people have been detained as part of the police operation launched on Monday, including players, although no names were immediately disclosed.

The matches under suspicion were in the third and fourth divisions this season and last season.

The match-fixing scheme reportedly involved Chinese betting sites.

The Spanish league said the operation was based on information collected by its analysts about suspicious activities.

UCL preview: Chelsea host Barcelona; Bayern vs. Besiktas

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  • Chelsea vs. Barcelona, at Stamford Bridge
  • Bayern Munich vs. Besiktas, at Allianz Arena
  • Champions League round of 16 resumes on Tuesday

[ UCL: Spurs fight back to draw Juventus | Liverpool thrash Porto in leg 1 ]

Chelsea, mired in some of their worst form since the disastrous 2015-16 season, welcome a Barcelona side enjoying one of the best six-month runs of results in the famed club’s entire history. The Blues have won just four of their last 12 games across all competitions, while the Blaugrana have lost once in 38 games.

On the plus side, Chelsea enter Tuesday’s colossal clash as winners of their last two games — back-to-back wins for the first time in 2018 — having outscored the likes of West Bromwich Albion and Hull City by a combined 7-0. Star striker Alvaro Morata returned to action against Hull after five weeks out with a back injury, thus Antonio Conte has something of a selection dilemma on his hands with the Spaniard perhaps only partially fit, and Olivier Giroud racking up a goal and three assists in the last two games, his first starts for the club.

Barcelona, meanwhile, have conceded just two goals in their last nine games (all competitions) and even managed to overturn their lone defeat, to Espanyol, and advance to the Copa del Rey semifinals (and eventually final). Despite losing Neymar in the summer, Barca mostly cruised through their Champions League group, only dropping points in draws away to Juventus and Olympiacos. Lionel Messi has, strangely, never scored a goal in his eight career appearances against Chelsea, a record which has been spoken about at length in the build-up to Tuesday — similarly to the goal-less record which plagued him against Juve goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, whom he finally bested back in September.

[ MORE: Man City win big away to Basel | Real Madrid 3-1 PSG ]

In the other round-of-16 first-leg matchup on Tuesday, five-time (soon-to-be six) defending Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich host surprise winners of Group G, Besiktas, ahead of the likes of Monaco, RB Leipzig and Porto.

Since taking over on an interim basis (through the end of the season), Bayern boss Jupp Heynckes has won 21 of 22 games of which he’s been in charge, including four of six games during the group stage en route to finish second behind Paris Saint-Germain, while also racing out to a 19-point lead back home in Germany.

Aguero involved in clash with Wigan fan after FA Cupset

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MANCHESTER, England (AP) Sergio Aguero was involved in a confrontation with a Wigan fan as ugly scenes marred the end of the third-division side’s shock FA Cup win over Manchester City on Monday.

[ MORE: Wigan shock Man City, the world and themselves ]

Fans spilled on to the pitch at DW Stadium as the host celebrated its 1-0 fifth-round win against the runaway English Premier League leader.

Supporters from both clubs were involved in disturbances, while television pictures appeared to show a home supporter and striker Aguero involved in a physical exchange.

Aguero appeared to hit the supporter after the fan said something to the player, and Aguero had to be held back by his City teammates.

[ MORE: Money from Wembley replay “will support Rochdale for 2 or 3 years” ]

Advertising hoardings were also ripped out and thrown as a pitch invasion by Wigan fans got out of hand while the defeated City players were being escorted off the pitch.

Footage also appeared to show objects, including an advertising board, being thrown at police officers by fans in the City end.

Wigan shock themselves: “Not sure how it feels, hasn’t sunk in yet”

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Wigan Athletic didn’t just shock Manchester City with their FA Cup fifth-round slaying of the runaway Premier League leaders; nor did they merely shock the rest of the footballing world; they also shocked themselves into disbelief, according to defender Dan Burn.

[ MORE: Goodbye, quadruple! Wigan bounce 10-man City from FA Cup ]

Speaking following Monday’s triumph over Pep Guardiola‘s quadruple-chasing side at the DW Stadium, Burn admitted he himself didn’t know what to make of the night that would undoubtedly highlight and change his own professional career — quotes from the BBC:

“Not sure how it feels, hasn’t sunk in yet. It was a really tough game. The belief was always there. We’ve got Will Grigg, who does what he keeps doing.

“We pride ourselves on our clean sheets. We had a couple bad results before, so we wanted to prove ourselves, so a clean sheet against the best team in England is great.

“Once we scored, the fans really got behind us, just knew we needed to hang on. It was the longest 10 minutes of my life.”

[ MORE: Money from Wembley replay “will support Rochdale for 2 or 3 years” ]

Manager Paul Cook was able to articulate his happiness and pride only slightly better — “It feels great” — but offered the highest of praises to his players, whom “had to ride [their] luck at times” during the game, and gave everything they had to the cause, because that’s the only way you beat a team like Man City:

“It feels great. It’s such a severe test. They’re such a strong side and move the ball so well. We had to ride our luck at times and the sending off is always a big incident.

“Our lads deserve credit for their work and some of the blocks they made were outstanding, and to beat Man City you have to do that.”