Toronto FC hire MLS player relations guru Tim Bezbatchenko as new GM

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With many expecting an established current MLS General Manager to step into the vacant role at Toronto FC, the Reds threw out another curve-ball with this hire.

Please welcome Toronto FC’s new GM, Tim Bezbatchenko.

Following former GM Kevin Payne’s departure, CEO of MLSPE Tim Leiweke has been searching for the right man to lead Toronto forward, and he has decided that Bezbatchenko is the right man for the job.

“Tim brings an analytical mind to the job along with the best understanding that I’ve seen of the salary cap and how to manage it,” Leiweke said. “He knows how to build a team that will win long-term and he believes, like we do, that his vision will have an immediate and positive impact on this team. We are excited about adding Tim’s knowledge, experience and relationships within MLS to Toronto FC and we now look forward to focusing together on the most important job: putting a winning team on the pitch for Toronto FC supporters.”

Leiweke also referred to the his new GM as a “capologist” and recognizes that the move, seen by many as controversial, is crucial to the future success of the club. Rumors had been circulating that Real Salt Lake’s experienced GM Garth Lagerwey had been lined up for the post, but TFC have gone for an entirely different candidate to help turn their ailing fortunes on the pitch around.

(MORE: Payne’s time at Toronto ends after nine months)

Bezbatchenko, a 31-year-old attorney, has spent the last three years dealing with player contracts as the Senior Director of Player Relations and Competition with MLS. And with TFC keen to manage their cap space efficiently after several turnovers of managers and players over the past few seasons, Bezbatchenko has vast levels of experience dealing with the challenges that lie ahead.

Make no mistake about it, this is a huge gamble in many ways for TFC, but many would argue that with the young executives close links to league HQ and his expertise in drafting and negotiating contracts, he already possesses many of the skills needed to step into the role of GM.

It is clear that TFC want to move forward and with Bezbatchenko now in charge and head coach Ryan Nelsen showing promise in his first full year as a coach, more fresh changes are on the way at BMO Field. It is obvious that one of the main reasons Bezbatchenko was hired is to help with the huge roster overhaul that should take place at the end of this current season. With players sitting on the sidelines on huge contracts up in Ontario, some pretty bad personnel decisions have been made throughout the last two to three managerial regimes and now Leiweke and Nelsen are left with one hand tied behind their backs, in terms of players sitting around on astronomical wages with no interest in leaving.

Bezbatchenko has one heck of a job on his hands, as he aims to turn one of MLS’ biggest under-achievers into a title contending side.

Good luck.

Luis Enrique leaves with feeling of mission accomplished

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MADRID (AP) Luis Enrique leaves Barcelona with no regrets and the feeling of mission accomplished.

[ MORE: Arsenal edges Chelsea to earn FA Cup crown ]

The coach capped his three-year stint with the Catalan club by winning the Copa del Rey title with a 3-1 win over Alaves on Saturday.

Now it’s time to enjoy some much-needed time off after three “intense” seasons, and let the club move on under fresh leadership.

“There is no sadness at all, just happiness,” Luis Enrique said. “I’m the one who decided to stop, and I think that it was a wonderful decision for me, for the players and for the team as well. The intensity of this profession demands maximum dedication every single day and there is a natural wear out.”

He said players always need new challenges and will benefit from a change in leadership, and the club will certainly keep winning despite his departure.

After missing out on the league this season, the Copa del Rey was Barcelona’s second title of the campaign to go along with the Spanish Super Cup, but Luis Enrique has won nearly everything since replacing Gerard Martino in 2014. The former midfielder led Barcelona to the treble of the Spanish league, Copa del Rey and Champions League in 2015. He also managed the league-Copa double in 2016, and also won the European Super Cup and the Club World Cup in 2015.

He said he was “proud” to have helped Barcelona fans celebrate so many accomplishments during his time at the helm.

“If someone had told me when I arrived that I would have the opportunity to help my team win nine titles out of 13 that we played, I’d say that these would be good numbers,” he said. “It would have been nice to have won La Liga and contended for the Champions League title this season, but it just wasn’t meant to be. I believe that the fans recognized the effort and the sacrifice of all the players throughout the season. I have enjoyed the opportunity to make them happy.”

Luis Enrique said he was also lucky to have had the chance to coach a player like Lionel Messi.

“He is extraordinary, extraterrestrial,” Luis Enrique said about the Argentina forward, who scored the team’s first goal on Saturday. “I’ve had the opportunity to enjoy Messi at his best, performing at the highest level. He is the very best, without a doubt.”

Neymar and Paco Alcacer also scored at the Vicente Calderon Stadium to help Barcelona win its third straight Copa del Rey title, and 29th all-time.

Luis Enrique celebrated with his seven-year-old daughter by his side, waving his winner’s trophy and singing the club’s anthem in front of the Barcelona fans who traveled to Madrid.

Barcelona is expected to announce this week that its new coach will be Ernesto Valverde, who left Athletic Bilbao a few days ago.

Luis Enrique’s future remains up in the air.

“I don’t know what I’ll be doing, really. I’m open to every possibility, including changing sports,” the 47-year-old Luis Enrique said, with a smile on his face. “I do know that I’m very competitive and it’s been like this since I was born. Right now I’m looking forward to the opportunity of enjoying my friends and my family.”

Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

Report: Reus could miss six months after sustaining knee damage

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Marco Reus missed much of the 2016/17 season with injuries, and the Borussia Dortmund attacker had that unfortunate spell continue on Saturday.

[ MORE: USMNT tops Group F and more from the U-20 World Cup ]

The 27-year-old exited the club’s DFB Pokal final win against Eintracht Frankfurt at halftime after suffering a knee injury.

According to German outlet Bild, Reus will miss at least six months as he rehabs and prepares to make a comeback.

Despite the bad news for Dortmund, Thomas Tuchel’s men captured the title behind goals from Ousmane Dembélé and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Day 9: USMNT tops Group F and more from the U20 World Cup

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Five teams booked their place in the knockout phase at the FIFA Under-20 World Cup on Sunday, including Tab Ramos and the U.S. after the Americans picked up a valuable point to finish atop Group F.

[ MORE: Allardyce steps down at Palace ]

USMNT U-20s 1-1 Saudi Arabia

An unbeaten record in group play has Ramos and Co. moving on to the Round of 16, where the U.S. will meet New Zealand. Brooks Lennon inked his name on the scoresheet for the first time at this month’s World Cup just prior to halftime, before Abdulelah Alamri equalized with almost a quarter hour left to play.

Senegal 0-0 Ecuador

A draw was all Senegal needed to ensure it would continue its run at the World Cup, while Ecuador fell short of a final 16 bid after only managing two draws during Group F play.

New Zealand 0-2 France

With nine goals for and none conceded during Group E play, France remains one of the heavy hitters at the conclusion of the group phase. Les Bleus received a strong contribution from Bastia winger Allan Saint-Maximin, who netted twice in the first half.

Honduras 2-0 Vietnam

Honduras scored twice in the final 14 minutes-plus added time but neither nation reaches the Round of 16 with Sunday’s result.

Daly collapses during match, treated for heat illness

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HOUSTON (AP) Houston Dash forward Rachel Daly collapsed during the final minute of a National Women’s Soccer League match against the Seattle Reign as temperatures climbed into the 90s.

The 25-year-old Daly was stretchered off the field and taken to the hospital, where the team said she was being treated for heat illness.

The temperature at BBVA Compass Stadium was 92 degrees at the 3 p.m. kickoff. The Reign won 2-0.

[ MORE: Perisic talking with Man Utd? ]

The NWSL issued a statement that said the league had worked with the Dash before the season to schedule any afternoon games early in the year to help avoid heat issues. The teams took a hydration break late in the match.

“We will immediately review these measures to prevent this situation from occurring in the future,” the statement said.

Reign coach Laura Harvey posted to Twitter: “Proud of the team today. Some of the hottest conditions I’ve seen. Road games are tough but that was crazy.”