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


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.

Manchester United loan young striker James Wilson to Brighton & Hove Albion

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 28:  James Wilson of Manchester United takes on George Friend (L) and Daniel Ayala of Middlesbrough during the Capital One Cup Fourth Round match between Manchester United and Middlesbrough at Old Trafford on October 28, 2015 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Manchester United has sent 19-year-old James Wilson on a season-long loan to Championship side Bright and Hove Albion.

The striker signed a new contract with United earlier this year, but has seen limited playing time under Louis Van Gaal, making just one Premier League appearance this season.

[ MORE: Klopp on Sturridge setback ]

Many have called for Wilson to get more of a run with the first team, as United has had a bit of a struggle to score goals this season. With Wilson being one of the only true striker options for Van Gaal, this move may come as a bit of a surprise.

Van Gaal himself admitted that some may not be happy with the move, but said it would be better for the player’s development to get more minutes at Brighton.

Players of his age need to play and I can imagine that fans are saying that this is ridiculous, they have difficulties to score, but that is a short-term thought.

We have to think what is better for a player like Wilson and at the moment he does not have too many possibilities to play on a higher level. We believe in him so he has to develop himself elsewhere. If we need him, we can call him back.

Wilson burst onto the scene at United during Ryan Giggs‘ short stint as interim manager, scoring twice in his Premier League debut against Hull City. However, he has featured almost exclusively for the reserves under LVG and will now spend the rest of the season away from Old Trafford.

[ RELATED: Aston Villa’s Grealish sent down to U21’s after heavy partying ]

Brighton currently sits tied at the top of the Championship table, the only remaining team without a loss in league play. Despite the Seagulls’ hot start to the campaign, they haven’t been the most potent attacking side, as their leading scorer Tomer Hemed has just five goals and hasn’t tallied since September.

Klopp gives update on Sturridge injury; Henderson close to return

Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool FC
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LIVERPOOL — Jurgen Klopp has confirmed that Liverpool striker Daniel Sturridge has suffered a setback in his latest return from injury.

[ MORE: Costa out at Chelsea? ]

Klopp stated that Sturridge — who has yet to play for the German coach since he arrived at the club as manager in October — has been stepping up his recovery from a knee problem but it is now believed the England international, 26, has suffered a new foot injury which makes him a big doubt for their game against Swansea City at Anfield (Watch live, 11:15 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) on Sunday.

Speaking to the assembled media at Liverpool’s Melwood training ground, Klopp said Sturridge’s latest setback isn’t serious but he’s isn’t sure if he will be available to return to action in the coming days as confusion remains.

“We have to accept the situation and that is Danny was very often injured in last few months and maybe years,” Klopp said. “Everybody wants him back on the pitch but we all have to learn the situation. It’s not that serious. It’s completely normal after a long injury. We have to stay patient. Usually, in a perfect world, you should train five weeks in a row when you have been out this long like in preseason. But we know the world is not perfect so we have to try the best and quickest way.”

“The training for him was intensive, how it should be and we had some new things to talk about. We had to make some assessment and that’s what we did so now we can say it is not that serious but it is not possible to go on as before. We have to react to a situation and that is completely normal after a long injury.”

Asked if Sturridge could return this weekend, Klopp simply said: “I don’t know,” but it will certainly be a big worry that Liverpool’s star striker has suffered yet another injury after spending most of the last 12 months on the sidelines with thigh, hip and knee issues. Sturridge scored twice against Aston Villa during a three-game comeback spell at the end of September and start of October in Brendan Rodgers‘ final games in charge but injured his knee in Klopp’s first week at the club. He was fit enough to make the bench during Liverpool’s 4-1 demolition of Manchester City last week but has since been sent for scans on his foot injury.

[ MORE: Guardiola offered Man City job ]

Liverpool’s manager also confirmed that captain Jordan Henderson— who has been out since September with a broken foot suffered in training — has been knocking down his door to get back as soon as possible.

“Henderson wants (to come back), I can say that,” Klopp laughed. “But we have to wait to see how he adapts to training. If we see he is ready he will join in our game as he is an important player for us. I try to give myself the time to decide until tomorrow or Sunday when I have the latest information about how intensive the game yesterday was. All the players from yesterday were in good shape. ”

With Philippe Coutinho also struggling with a knock and Lucas missing this weekend through yellow card accumulation, Klopp was pleased that former Swansea City midfielder Joe Allen played 60 minutes against Bordeaux in the 2-1 Europa League win on Thursday night and praised the Welshman.

Klopp danced around questions about Liverpool challenging for the title after impressive away wins at Chelsea and Man City have got people talking, but if the Reds beat a Swansea side who have only won once in their last eight games, and other results go their way, they could be just five points off the top heading into December.

Leicester City boss Claudio Ranieri: Our goal is 40 points

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When Claudio Ranieri was brought into Leicester City this summer, he set a goal for the club: Get 40 points and stay up in the Premier League.

A third of the way through the season, Ranieri has far exceeded expectations, sitting top of the table with 28 points through 13 matches.

[ WATCH: PL TV Schedule — Week 14 ]

Originally thought of as a favorite for relegation, the perception of Leicester has changed very quickly, as both Arsene Wenger and Louis Van Gaal said you could not rule them out as title contenders.

Responding to Wenger’s comments, Ranieri played down the Foxes’ title chances, saying their goal is still to get 40 points and stay above the drop.

Thank you to Arsene but he’s a joker. He knows the truth very well. The league is very strange and open but our goal is 40 points.

Our goal at the moment is this but let me see the next two months and then maybe I change the goal.

Like everybody else I am also curious in these days to watch my team, and to see how we respond in these big matches.

At this point last season, Leicester sat bottom of the table with a record of 2-4-7 and ten points. Today, Leicester is top of the table with a record of 8-4-1 and 28 points. Under Nigel Pearson, the Foxes won just 11 games all of last season, with seven of those coming from the final nine matches in a legendary run to stave off relegation.

[ RELATED: Prince-Wright’s Premier League Picks — Week 14 ]

With a tough run of matches coming up against the likes of Manchester United, Everton, Liverpool and Manchester City, Ranieri is trying to keep his side in check, knowing you can never take anything for granted in the Premier League. However, if Leicester was to pull out a win over United on Saturday, Foxes’ fans will certainly have much higher hopes than 40 points.

Report: Guardiola to take manager’s job at Man City next season

Pep Guardiola, Bayern Munich

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Manchester City desperately want to lure Pep Guardiola away from Bayern Munich and pay the Spaniard tactician lots and lots of money to come manage in the Premier League.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Of course we’ve all heard it before — a number of times, in fact. So, what’s different about the latest report, hitting the headlines very late Thursday night in Europe, linking the 44-year-old to Man City?

Well, apparently, we’ve moved past “Man City will offer Guardiola whatever he wants to come to the Etihad Stadium,” and arrived at “Guardiola has agreed terms to become manager at Man City.”

However, the respected Spanish radio station Cadena COPE is reporting that Guardiola has already decided he would like “a change of scenery” and will succeed Manuel Pellegrini at the Etihad Stadium.

“Pep Guardiola will leave Bayern Munich at the end of this season and will train Manchester City next season,” read the report.

“Guardiola has decided on a change of scenery. He considers his time in Germany will end on 30 June after three seasons and, therefore, fulfil one of his wishes: to coach in England.”

With all due respect to every player Man City have signed in the last decade, the acquisition of Guardiola would be, by far, their greatest coup to date — a manager with a clear ethos, a clear plan of action and a track record of having succeeded and won in the UEFA Champions League, which remains the most elusive trophy to City’s cabinet.