NWSL: Houston becomes second MLS franchise to place team in women’s professional league

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Consider that the National Women’s Soccer League’s predecessor, Women’s Professional Soccer (2009-2011), saw its marque franchise fold after the circuit’s first year. That’s the context needed to realize how big a day this is for the NWSL, with North America’s latest attempt at a professional women’s league announcing on Thursday that Major League Soccer’s Houston Dynamo will enter a team in the league starting with the 2014 season.

The move takes the league from eight to nine teams for its second season, the Houston Dash set to join the Portland Thorns (operated by the Portland Timbers) as the second NWSL entry to be operated by a Major League Soccer team. Leading the league in attendance in season one (drawing 13,320 per game, nine thousand more than the league average), the Thorns won the league’s first championship, defeating Western New York 2-0 in August’s title game.

Now Houston will try to emulate their MLS partner’s success, with the Dash set to begin play in April.

“We are thrilled to have our very own NWSL franchise here in Houston,” Houston Dynamo president Chris Canetti said in a statement announcing the move. “It is an important addition to our sports landscape and will bring added value to our community.”

Canetti initially floated the idea of a women’s team to potential customers three weeks ago, asking for refundable season ticket deposits as a way of gauging interest. Though initial feedback from Canetti indicated early returns were soft, Houston ultimately decided to become the NWSL’s first expansion team, with drafts to stock their roster expected this winter.

“We’re proud and excited to welcome the Houston Dash to the NWSL,” league executive director Cheryl Bailey said. “We are thrilled at being able to add an organization as strong as the Houston Dynamo as we work toward continuing to build a sustainable league.”

That the NWSL was able to add a partner like the Dynamo speaks to the model the league has set up. With U.S. Soccer, the Canadian Soccer Association, and the Mexican federation subsidizing up to a combined seven players per team, much of the teams’ biggest costs are being offset. For a franchise like the Dash — who have an existing organizational infrastructure, and control and operate their own venue (BBVA Compass Stadium) — the NWSL presents a relatively safe investment.

After its first year, the NWSL has a proof of concept, one that was strong enough to convince a new partner to come on board. Had the model proved flimsy, hinting the league was destined to go the way of WPS and the Women’s United Soccer Association (2001-2003), it would have been near-impossible to convince this type of partner that a team was worth the risk. Instead, Houston’s ready to start from the ground up.

“We share the vision for this league and look forward to playing our part in making it a great success,” Canetti said. “Part of our responsibility is to grow the game of soccer, and this new team will play a significant role in that effort.”

By adding a ninth team to the league, Houston’s already playing a significant part. Whereas Women’s Professional Soccer was losing partners at this point in its run, the NWSL has added a major one.

That won’t guarantee success, but the addition does push the league forward. Though they’re an expansion team, Houston immediately becomes one of the NWSL’s most viable franchises, one that could help it survive women’s soccer’s dreaded three-year curse.

Everton 3-1 Swansea: Dominant second half has Toffees up to ninth

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Don’t look now, but Sam Allardyce‘s side are up to ninth place in the Premier League.

Everton managed a 3-1 comeback victory on Monday night against Swansea City, behind finishes by Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Wayne Rooney.

[ MORE: Making sense of PL table in Man City’s world ]

Since taking over managerial duties at Goodison Park at the end of November, Allardyce and his side are unbeaten in five matches (4W, 1D).

Rooney continued his long-time status as one of the PL’s top goalscorers when he notched his 10th finish of the year in all competitions. The ex-Manchester United forward scored from the penalty spot with over 15 minutes remaining in the second stanza, after previously having a spot-kick attempt saved.

The former Swansea midfielder, Sigurdsson, gave the hosts the lead in the 63rd minute, after brilliantly cutting in on his preferred right foot and curling a shot into the far corner.

The Toffees had pulled level just moments before halftime, when Calvert-Lewin scored on a rebound from Wayne Rooney’s penalty kick.

Despite getting a hand to the initial save, and pushing it off the post, Swans keeper Lukasz Fabianski couldn’t keep the follow up out by the young Englishman.

Leroy Fer tapped home for Swansea nine minutes before halftime after the Everton backline left the attacker wide open at the far post for his first goal of the season.

The Swans were forced to make a substitution after just four minutes when striker Wilfried Bony pulled up lame on the touchline. Leading goalscorer Tammy Abraham — currently on loan from Chelsea — came on to replace the veteran Ivorian.

The two sides will be back in action on Saturday when the Toffees host Chelsea, while Swansea takes on fellow bottom-half side Crystal Palace.

LA Galaxy has acquired rights to Quakes goalkeeper Bingham

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David Bingham is officially on the move from one Western Conference side to another, but his new club still has to sign the coveted MLS goalkeeper.

[ MORE: PSV likely to acquire Man City, USMNT’s Palmer-Brown on loan ]

On Monday, the LA Galaxy announced that the team has acquired the rights to the former San Jose Earthquakes shot-stopper in exchange for $200,000 in allocation money ($100,000 in TAM and $100,000 in GAM).

Despite now holding Bingham’s rights ahead of the 2018 MLS season, the Galaxy must still come to terms with the player in order for him to suit in the spring.

Last season, Bingham had a $190,000 base salary, per the MLS Players’ Union.

In the event Bingham doesn’t agree to terms with the Galaxy, another MLS club could potentially sign the experienced starter or he could move outside of MLS via transfer.

Bingham is entering his eighth season in MLS, after previously spending seven years with the Quakes.

The veteran keeper also has three caps with the USMNT, after earning his first start with the Yanks in 2016 against Canada.

At the half: Calvert-Lewin brings Toffees level with Swans

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Shaky early moments had the Swans on the back foot, but the relegation side has settled in nicely since.

Dominic Calvert-Lewin‘s late finish in first-half stoppage time has Everton level against Swansea City, 1-1, at Goodison Park.

[ MORE: Making sense of PL table in Man City’s world ]

The Toffees looked to go into the break down a goal, but a penalty kick chance to Wayne Rooney sparked the home side’s equalizer.

Despite having his spot-kick attempt saved by Swans keeper Lukasz Fabianski, Calvert-Lewin was in the right place to smash home the rebound.

Meanwhile, the Swans opened the scoring on 36 minutes when Leroy Fer tapped home.

The opportunity came off of a corner kick beyond the hour mark, to which Fer snuck in at the back post, and simply guided the ball past Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford.

Everton struggled to muster up chances of its own during the opening 45 minutes, despite the team’s extensive possession.

It was bad news early for the Swans, when Wilfried Bony suffered a leg injury inside the opening five minutes. That sparked the visitors to bring on loanee Tammy Abraham.

Juventus president Agnelli’s 1-year ban lifted on appeal

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ROME (AP) Juventus president Andrea Agnelli had his one-year ban for selling tickets to ultras lifted on Monday, but the Serie A club’s fine was doubled and it will have to play a match with one of its main sections closed.

[ MORE: Making sense of PL table in Man City’s world ]

Agnelli was banned for one year by the Italian soccer federation in September for his role in selling tickets to hardcore “ultra” fans that encouraged scalping. He was also fined 20,000 euros ($24,000).

The FIGC’s appeals court said it has changed Agnelli’s sanction “into a fine of 100,000 euros ($118,000) and a ban until today’s date.”

Juventus, however, was fined 600,000 euros ($708,000) and will have its Curva Sud closed for the home match against Genoa on Jan. 22.

The federation’s prosecutor, Giuseppe Pecoraro, had requested a 2 1/2-year suspension for Agnelli and also appealed the original decision.

Agnelli allegedly authorized the sale of season passes and other tickets. He acknowledged meeting with Rocco Dominello, an ultra fan linked to the Calabrian `ndrangheta crime mob who has since been sentenced to nearly eight years in prison for scalping.

But Agnelli said the meetings came only with large numbers of other fans at celebratory occasions, and that the club never intended to engage in illegal activity.

The 42-year-old Agnelli has led Juventus, the club his family has owned for nearly a century, since 2010.

Anti-mafia prosecutors said the `ndrangheta was involved in scalping among Juventus ultra fans for at least 15 years, guaranteeing order in the stadium in exchange for open ticket access.

Juventus denied any wrongdoing.

Juventus security director Alessandro D’Angelo and ticketing director Stefano Merulla have had their suspensions and fines canceled. D’Angelo was originally banned for 15 months, while Merulla had been handed a one-year suspension.

However, former marketing director Francesco Calvo had his appeal rejected and will be banned for one year and will have to pay a 20,000 euro ($24,000) fine.