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A reduced, 28-game MLS season may be around the corner

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Major League Soccer may be developing a plan to better deal with international dates – specifically with the maddening practice of playing through them, robbing league matches of game-breakers, sometimes at critical points of the season.

At the same time, league leaders could solve other vexing problems.

The answer, perhaps, is a 28-game schedule, a reduction of six league matches annually.

I am told that the notion began circling the board of directors’ table at meetings attached to Major League Soccer’s All-Star game five weeks ago in Kansas City. The tricky concept of addition by subtraction could create a couple of problems – but it solves a bunch, too.

It creates relief around these international breaks, which aren’t really breaks for MLS clubs forced to power through most of them, never mind the absence of high-dollar stars who are off for World Cup qualifier duty.

The FIFA fixture date problem could be marginalized now (without a league schedule reduction, that is) by cramming additional weeknight dates into the schedule, but that becomes too much of a revenue killer in some markets. (More Saturday nights mean more money for most clubs.)

It would also make scheduling a relative breeze in a 20-team league, which MLS becomes in 2015 with the addition of New York City FC. Play each team in your conference twice (home and away, naturally) and every team from the other conference once (home this year, away the next, naturally). That’s it. Quite simple. That’s 28 games.

It’s not 100 percent “balanced” because of the home-road asymmetry for cross-conference scheduling, but at least everyone is playing everyone an equal number of times, and that counts for a lot.

By reducing league matches, MLS would become slightly more competitive in CONCACAF Champions League matches; a few more of the first-choice types could be sprinkled into MLS starting lineups during the annual, regional tournament.

Major League Soccer played a 28-game schedule back in the “bad old days,” in the frugal 2001 and 2002 seasons, when cost containment became priority for a league more in the balance than most fans understood at the time. (Besides, with just 10 clubs, to which MLS was reduced by 2002, did fans really want to see the same old clubs roll through town one more time? Doubtful.)

MLS schedules rose to 30 games in 2003, then fluctuated some before arrival into the current 34-game set.

(MORE: Updated MLS rankings following 27 rounds of play)

Yes, pulling three home matches per club off the table reduces revenue; around MLS, a larger percentage of overall revenue comes from gate and stadium ancillaries such as concessions. It could also reduce sponsor value, a further cash drain. In other leagues, greater TV revenue means less reliance on ticket sales and game-day ancillaries for cash.

That’s the major debating point – but owners could determine it penny wise and pound foolish, that addition by subtraction works in this instance. If so, a 28-game schedule could be the new way around MLS.

Stoke City announces partnership with Orlando City

during the Barclays Premier League match between Stoke City and Chelsea at Britannia Stadium on November 7, 2015 in Stoke on Trent, England.
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Americans have been heavily involved in Premier League management, including John Henry at Liverpool and the Glazer family who own Sunderland.

[ MORE: LAFC is one step closer to joining MLS, after finding home for stadium ]

Friday marked a dawn of a new relationship between the PL and MLS though, when Stoke City announced a strategic partnership with Orlando City SC.

[ MORE: Rapids-RSL highlights Week 10 action around MLS ]

The goal of the agreement between the two sides is to advance player recruitment and development, as well spark fan engagement in both leagues.

Potters Chief Executive Tony Scholes:

“It’s an opportunity for us to share best practice with Orlando in a variety of areas, primarily in player recruitment, marketing and development, but also to give both clubs chance to grow in each other’s markets,” said Scholes.

“A large number of our fans already regard Orlando as their MLS side and I know that Stoke City are already followed by many Orlando fans.

“As an established Premier League club we are always looking at new ways to develop our profile overseas and our strategic partnership will help us to develop in the United States.”

NBC’s recent coverage of the PL has sparked massive interest in the United States, giving fans various opportunities to watch matches over the course of a weekend. As MLS continues to grow as well, you can surely expect interest abroad, specifically in Europe, to grow too.

Phil Rawlins, Founder and President of Orlando City, is excited with the relationship building between the two clubs.

“It was very clear that we’ve always had a good relationship with Stoke City and it came down to us wanting to reignite that synergy and bring our brands closer together. This will be our only partnership in England, and we hope to ignite passions for both our clubs in each other’s markets.”

The pursuit of MLS to become a top league has a ways to go, but a move like this will surely only benefit commissioner Don Garber and the rest of MLS.

Follow @MattReedFutbol

Gareth Bale, Keylor Navas injuries present challenge for Real Madrid

MADRID, SPAIN - MARCH 18:  Gareth Bale of Real Madrid controls the ball under pressure from Joel Matip of Schalke uring the UEFA Champions League Round of 16, second leg match between Real Madrid and FC Schalke 04 at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on March 18, 2014 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
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After narrowly escaping Wednesday’s Champions League semifinal against Manchester City, 1-0, Real Madrid is facing a bit of difficult news.

[ MORE: Ben Afra drawing interest from Barcelona ]

The club has confirmed injuries to both Gareth Bale and goalkeeper Keylor Navas, despite each player going the full 90 minutes midweek. Bale has reportedly sustained a knee problem, while Navas has suffered an injury to his Achilles tendon.

The extent of the injuries is not yet known, although Bale’s appears to be less severe. With Madrid down a goalkeeper, reserve team keeper Kiko Casilla will likely take over in net for Real while Navas recovers.

Madrid will host Valencia on Sunday in La Liga, with both players expected to miss the match. Bale could reportedly return for Real’s match against Deportivo La Coruna on May 14, their final league game. The team can then turn its attention to the Champions League final against rival Atletico Madrid on May 28.

Real currently sits one point behind La Liga leader Barcelona and second place Atleti with two games to play.

Follow @MattReedFutbol

Top 5 Premier League storylines: Week 37

NEWCASTLE, ENGLAND - APRIL 30:  Jamaal Lascelles of Newcastle United reacts at full time during the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle United and Crystal Palace at St James Park on April 30, 2016 in Newcastle, England. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty images)
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The Foxes have pulled off the unthinkable, clinching the Premier League title, but that doesn’t mean that Week 37 won’t hold significance.

[ MORE: Full Premier League TV schedule: Week 37 ]

While the title race is no longer an option, a three-team battle at the bottom of the table has taken shape in this year’s relegation battle.

Newcastle, Sunderland and Norwich City each have their eyes set on staying in the PL in 2016-17, and despite having their fair share of down this season one team will emerge and remain in the top flight of English football.

Here’s a look at the top five Premier League storylines you should be keeping on eye on this weekend.


Newcastle could be aided by opponent — (Aston Villa vs. Newcastle, Saturday, 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra 

Rafa Benitez was brought into Newcastle to save the team from relegation. Well, if the season were to end today he would have accomplished that goal. Unfortunately for he and his side though, two matches remain for the Magpies, and the two teams chasing aren’t going away.

Two points separate Newcastle from Sunderland and Norwich City, although the latter two have games in hand, which could prove crucial down the stretch. The one thing that does work in the favor of Newcastle though is their opponent, at least this week.

Aston Villa, who already knows they are being relegated, will host Newcastle on Saturday, giving the Magpies a legitimate opportunity to feast on the backline that has conceded an astounding 72 goals this season. Georginio Wijnaldum and Aleksandar Mitrovic will need to find the back of the net a few times in order to give Newcastle a chance at staying up.


Can the Black Cats scratch past the Blues? — (Sunderland vs. Chelsea, Saturday, 10 a.m. ET on USA and online via Live Extra 

The relegation battle will likely come down to the final day, which at least gives Sunderland a chance at staying up next season. The Black Cats have three matches remaining, including their dance with Chelsea. Things won’t be easy for the home side though.

Chelsea is fresh off a thrilling draw against Tottenham, which handed Leicester the PL crown and the team still has the firepower to burst out for goals at any time despite their lackluster campaign.

Jermain Defoe is undoubtedly the man to watch for the Black Cats, posting 14 goals in the league this season. If Sunderland looks to avoid relegation Defoe will surely be at the forefront of his side’s efforts to do so.


Twice as nice? — (Norwich City vs. Manchester United, Saturday, 7:45 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra 

It may have come awhile ago, but Norwich has beaten the Red Devils this season. It came back in December, a 2-1 win at Old Trafford. Just like the two teams their chasing though, Norwich has failed miserably in stringing together positive results.

Losers of three straight, the Canaries are in desperation mode as they look to break their goalless run against United. With just 35 goals on the season and facing a team that is amongst the PL’s elite when it comes to keeping goals out, Alex Neil‘s team must work some sort of brilliance to get past United for a second time.

The Red Devils on the other hand still have a shot at the Champions League. With three games remaining, one more than the teams they are chasing, United can still mathematically jump Manchester City and/or Arsenal in pursuit of the CL. If not, the Europa League may have to do, unless West Ham has their say in the matter.


Sights set on the Champions League — (Manchester City vs. Arsenal, Sunday, 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra 

Lost in the relegation battle is a meeting between two of the PL’s top sides. City currently sits three points behind Arsenal in the table, but that could all change with a victory from the Citizens at the Etihad Stadium.

In a closely-contested meeting just before Christmas, the Gunners managed a 2-1 win against Manuel Pellegrini‘s men. After recently bailing out of the Champions League semifinals though, City must has amnesia if they are to lock up the third and final automatic CL spot. Finishing fourth would mean that they have to go through qualifying in the CL.

The match goes beyond the CL though for both teams. Each side has had their share of struggles in 2015-16, so a win on Sunday could at least temporarily put those disappointments behind them.


Hammers seeking place in Europe — (West Ham United vs. Swansea City, Saturday, 10 a.m. ET on Premier League Extratime and online via Live Extra 

In many seasons West Ham would have been the PL darling. Unfortunately though, that title was taken away by Leicester, who ironically also won the PL crown.

Dimitri Payet will likely see astronomical offers this summer from Europe’s top sides if he can couple his season with a strong Euro campaign with France. That being said, he and his side still have work to do. West Ham sits five points out of the final Champions League spot and one point behind United for Europa League qualification.

Obviously the CL would be nice for a club that is still looking to make its mark on the PL, but the Europa League is nothing to sneeze at either for the up-and-coming team. A fifth-place standing would tie the club’s best finish in the Premier League Era.

Follow @MattReedFutbol

City Council approves plans for new Los Angeles soccer venue

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LOS ANGELES (AP) The City Council has approved plans to build a $250 million stadium for Major League Soccer’s expansion Los Angeles Football Club.

[ MORE: Can MLS teams begin to create separation in Week 10? ]

The council voted 12-0 Friday to move forward with a 22,000-seat stadium on the site of the old Sports Arena next to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and USC.

The 15-acre complex is also slated to include a conference center, restaurants, 140,000 square feet of plazas and streetscapes, and a soccer museum.

At its center would be the home to the new MLS team when it makes its debut in 2018.

LAFC is owned by Malaysian billionaire Vincent Tan, American venture capitalist Henry Nguyen and a celebrity-studded list of investors including Magic Johnson, Tony Robbins, Mia Hamm and Nomar Garciaparra.