Cruz Azul dips into MLS, signs Baca, Farfan, Villarreal

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Cruz Azul, with what the club itself called a surprise set of signings, has turned to Major League Soccer for three new players, a shock triple swoop la Machina hopes will help them compete for the upcoming Clausura’s crown. In San Jose’s Rafael Baca, Philadelphia’s Michael Farfan, and Los Angeles’s Jose Villarreal, the Mexico City club are getting three players capable of starting in Major League Soccer, signings  that will raise a number of eyebrows north of the border.

As of Sunday, none of the players’ Major League Soccer teams had confirmed the news, with San Jose going so far as to tell multiple outlets that Baca remains under contract for 2014. Adam Serrano, who covers the LA Galaxy for LAGalaxy.com, reports that Villarreal’s move iss a year-long loan with an option to buy, raising the possibility that all three players could be on similar deals. But with (bizarrely) the league’s official web site unable to get its clubs’ representatives to confirm the moves, we’re still in the dark as to if, how, and why three Major League Soccer players landed with Cruz Azul.

On Sunday, the trio were unveiled along with Marco Fabian, Fausto Pinto, Xavi Báez – Cruz Azul’s other additions to a team that finished fourth in the Apertura’s qualification stage. In the Liguilla, the team was seen out of the tournament by fifth seeded Toluca, with the club website acknowledging they need to “reinforce many parts of the team” if they’re to improve on their fall result.

Baca just completed his third season with the Earthquakes, starting 28 games and recording two assists. A linchpin along side Sam Cronin in San Jose’s midfield, Baca had made 79 appearances since debuting for the team in 2011, scoring twice while assisting on nine goals.

Michael Farfan broke out as Philadelphia’s playmaker in 2012 and was selected to the All-Star Team but never found a groove in his first full last year under John Hackworth. The 25-year-old, also having completed his third season in Major League Soccer, had four goals and nine assists  in 82 games.

Villarreal is a homegrown player for Los Angeles who has also appeared for the United States’ U-18, U-20, and U-23 national teams. The 20-year-old debuted for the Galaxy in 2012 and has made 13 appearances, scoring two career goals.

 

The trio’s debut with their new club could come as early as Jan. 4, with Cruz Azul opening the 2015 Clausura at CONCACAF champions Monterrey. By then, we should know something about how the players ended up in Mexico. Still, with their new team having unveiled the players at a Sunday press conference, it’s truly bizarre that the league’s own machinery can’t get somebody to confirm the moves.

Rumors about Cruz Azul’s potential swoop have been circulating since last week, but without announcements from the league, the whys and hows of La Machina’s signings remain a mystery, even though the club unveiled their new players on Sunday. Whether these are outright sales or temporary loans remain to be seen.

Perhaps the only certainty beyond the trio having signed contracts in Mexico: Cruz Azul have certainly “surprised” MLS followers with their triple swoop.

Albanian federation denounces “extremist acts” of their fans in Italy

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TIRANA, Albania (AP) Albania’s soccer federation has strongly denounced the incident that halted the World Cup Group G qualifier with Italy for nearly nine minutes on Friday.

During the match, which was won by Italy, 2-0, a group calling itself Illyrian Elite threw flares onto the pitch.

“Such totally extremist actions from the grouping Illyrian Elite have nothing to do with the excellent Albanian fans” who were distinguished in the EURO 2016 finals in France for their friendship and camaraderie in their festivities, the statement added.

The federation said an coach Gianni De Biasi also was “upset by the flares,” adding that during five years he has been in charge “I’ve seen something that’s never happened before.”

USMNT: 4 players, including Brooks, Lletget, released; Arriola added

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Hours after his side’s 6-0 thrashing of Honduras to resuscitate dreams of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, Bruce Arena announced on Saturday five changes to the U.S. national team roster ahead of Tuesday’s qualifier against Panama.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage | MLS ]

John Brooks (sinus infection), Sebastian Lletget (foot), Jordan Morris (knee) and Michael Orozco (knee) were all released back to their club teams, while Club Tijuana midfielder Paul Arriola was added to the squad.

[ MORE: USA 6-0 Honduras | Three things we learned | Player ratings ]

Brooks dealt with the sinus infection throughout USMNT camp this past week, as Morris did his knee injury which he picked up last weekend. Lletget left Friday’s win over Honduras in the 18th minute and will undergo further tests to determine the severity of his injury; he was seen leaving the stadium on crutches and wearing a walking boot.

The USMNT’s roster for Tuesday’s qualifier in Panama City, Panama, now stands at 23 players, and reads as follows:

Goalkeepers: David Bingham (San Jose Earthquakes), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)

Defenders: DaMarcus Beasley (Houston Dynamo), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca), Tim Ream (Fulham), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna), Walker Zimmerman (FC Dallas), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

Midfielders: Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Paul Arriola (Club Tijuana), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Jermaine Jones (LA Galaxy), Sacha Kljestan (New York Red Bulls), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund)

Forwards: Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)

Rapinoe won’t back down on social issues despite U.S. Soccer policy

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Megan Rapinoe recently earned her spot back in the U.S. Women’s National Team squad ahead of next month’s friendlies against Russia, but the veteran won’t remain silent when it comes to her stance on the social climate of America.

[ MORE: Looking back on USMNT’s big win over Honduras ]

The 31-year-old was scrutinized for joining NFL player Colin Kaepernick in 2016 when they knelt during their respective sporting events, along with dozens of other athletes across the United States.

While Rapinoe admits that the form of protest is up for discussion, she also states that social inequality issues in the U.S. go far beyond that.

“What has surprised me the most, especially post-election, is that people are still sort of arguing against it. It’s really obvious that we have very serious inequality in this country across many different spectrums,” Rapinoe told the Guardian. “Yes, we can talk about the form of protest, or the way it’s done, or this or that. But it’s still not really the conversation that I think we desperately need to have more of in this country.”

A few weeks back, U.S. Soccer announced that it now requires all players that represent the Stars and Stripes to stand when the national anthem is played, and Rapinoe has agreed to do such.

While her days of kneeling on the pitch are in the past, Rapinoe believes she wouldn’t do anything different because she was simply trying to spark discussion amongst the American people.

“I don’t think there’s any perfect way to protest. I think if there was something else being done, something else would have been said about it. I can’t look back and say that I would have done this different, this different or this different.

“I can sleep at night knowing that I genuinely tried to have a really important conversation, or at least tried to open it up. I think I came to it with an open mind, an open heart and tried to get as many people to talk about it as I could.”

Report: Chelsea planning Hazard, Courtois pay raises

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Eden Hazard has returned to his old self under Antonio Conte this season, and now Chelsea is hoping to lock down their star attacker.

[ MORE: Lukaku says decision has been made on Everton future ]

According to the Mirror, the Premier League leaders are planning on offering up a pay raise to Hazard, who has 11 league goals this season for the Blues.

Hazard signed a nearly $250,000 per week deal two seasons ago, but the Belgium international will likely rake in significantly more under the reported deal as Chelsea hopes to keep the 26-year-old away from Spanish giants Real Madrid and others.

The Mirror is also reporting that goalkeeper and Hazard’s Belgian teammate Thibaut Courtois is likely to be handed a raise is salary as well.

The shot-stopper is set be handed a deal roughly in the range of what Hazard is currently making after allowing just 21 goals in 28 PL matches this season.