Report: Atlanta edge towards becoming MLS’ 23rd franchise

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Soccer in the Southeast of the United States has never had it so good.

In the last three months the region has been handed two Major League Soccer franchises, with Orlando City arriving in 2015 and David Beckham’s Miami franchise set to begin play in 2017.

Those two Florida franchises could have a Southern foe to do battle against, as MLS might be heading to ATL.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Atlanta Falcons President Rich McKay told city officials on Thursday that the NFL side is “far along in negotiations with MLS” about becoming the league’s next franchise.

With the Falcons about to break ground on their new stadium just a few hundred yards from their current home in the Georgia Dome, plans to have an MLS side based in the new $1.2 billion venue have been apparent for quite some time as NFL owner Arthur Blank has spoke of his admiration for an MLS franchise in downtown Atlanta. On Thursday McKay reinforced those feelings.

“It’s our objective to get an MLS franchise if we can make it happen,” McKay said. “We think it would be, not just great for Atlanta and the region, but really it’s the right thing to do for the southeast.”

(MORE: Who’s left? With Miami confirmed, MLS down to two expansion slots)

How do we feel about Atlanta’s potential arrival into MLS?

It could work, especially with Orlando and Miami as regional rivals a la the Seattle, Vancouver and Portland triangle up in the Pacific Northwest. The far Southeast corner of the U.S. has been neglected in soccer terms for many years and deserves a shot at bringing a whole new dimension to MLS, which I think it will.

Having a franchise in ATL playing in a 70,000 American Football stadium may not sound that attractive to many people, but the Vancouver Whitecaps have proven it can work as they have a partition that folds down and acts as a ‘fake roof’ at BC Place, as ‘Caps fans sit in the bottom tier of the 60,000 seater stadium and get crowds of over 20,000. This would not be a return to the dark ages of MLS when teams played in huge stadiums and struggled to get crowds of over 10,000 in the ’90’s.

It is something that could happen as early as 2017, as that’s when the Falcons new stadium will be ready. Perfect timing to join Miami’s Beckham-owned franchise as they are likely to join the league in ’17.

The league does like to introduce expansion sides in groups, as we saw Chivas USA and Real Salt Lake join in 2005, Portland and Vancouver in 2011 and New York City FC and Orlando City will arrive together in 2015. This is all beginning to make some sense, but I can’t help but think some other cities in the U.S. would be feeling pretty miffed if MLS did arrive in Georgia. Cities like San Antonio, Minneapolis and Sacramento have a decent chance, but there will only be a maximum of 24 MLS sides in the foreseeable future after Commissioner Don Garber said so.

So, ATL to MLS, what do we think?

WATCH: Camila’s wicked swerving goal for Brazil

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The Tournament of Nations got underway earlier Thursday, with Brazil and Japan drawing 1-1 in Seattle.

While some in the crowd may’ve been waiting to see the United States women’s national team and Australia in the second game of the twin bill, they got an absolute treat from Brazil’s Camila.

[ MORE: Galaxy’s season-changing signing ]

The Orlando Pride midfielder is yet to scoop up 10 caps, but blasted this 25-yard goal home with a wicked outside bend.

The aesthetics are terrific.

LA Galaxy’s second Dos Santos signing is a season-changer

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Remember this day, MLS fans, as one that perhaps helped determine an MLS Cup Finalist.

The LA Galaxy have signed Villarreal midfielder and Mexican national teamer Jonathan Dos Santos, and he’s the sort of player who could alter the landscape of the Western Conference.

Like Nicolas Lodeiro to Seattle last season and New England’s addition of Jermaine Jones in 2014, Dos Santos’ move comes with the distinct possibility of elevating LA into the next stratosphere.

[ MORE: USMNT’s Arriola attracting transfer interest ]

Take the Galaxy’s history of winning, and toss in a midseason coaching improvement from Curt Onalfo to Sigi Schmid, as well as MVP-in-their-own-right caliber teammates Giovani Dos Santos, Romain Alessandrini, and Jelle van Damme.

Don’t sleep on the fact that Schmid might be gathering momentum from inheriting a talented and underachieving roster and a brand new game-changing midfielder, which feels a bit like karmic retribution for Seattle firing him and signing Lodeiro the next day last season. Seattle only went and won the MLS Cup.

Schmid has used any number of formations, but could deploy a 4-3-3 with Jona Dos Santos, Jermaine Jones, and Joao Pedro in the midfielder and Giovani Dos Santos, Alessandrini, and Gyasi Zardes up top (Sebastian Lletget could return at some point, too).

Now FC Dallas is very deep, Sporting KC looks powerful, and Seattle won it all last year — plus, may be adding Derlis Gonzalez?!? — but LA’s move to add Dos Santos creates a quartet of teams with proven mettle (Houston looks decent, too, but I have concerns about their first-time as a unit in the playoffs).

Joey Barton’s gambling ban lowered by almost 5 months

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Joey Barton’s 18-month ban for betting on almost 1,300 soccer-related events has been lowered to 13 months and one week.

Putting aside the hilarity of grown men and women discussing whether an extra week was necessary, the alteration means he’ll be eligible to return to football on June 1, 2018.

[ MORE: USMNT’s Arriola attracting transfer interest ]

While that still hampers the idea of the 34-year-old playing again — he’ll be 36 when the ban ends — it’s a significant change if he’s open to the idea of returning to the game.

Barton’s original ban expired in late October 2018, well into a season. From Sky Sports:

The appeal board also agreed: “It was clear that Mr Barton was not involved in any cheating, he did not influence any games and there was nothing suspicious about his bets.

“(The reduction) reflects the overall seriousness of the breaches and also the mitigation of Mr Barton’s addiction.”

Barton’s remarkably controversial career has including several suspensions and imprisonment, but he always found his way back to the field and was very good when in form. After time at Manchester City and Newcastle United, Barton fended off naysayers with stints at QPR, Marseille, Burnley, and a regrettable move to Rangers.

We may see him on the field in August 2018.

FIFA fines Qatar after players’ political support for Emir

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ZURICH (AP) FIFA has fined Qatar’s soccer federation after national team players breached rules against political statements by displaying T-shirts of the country’s Emir at a World Cup qualifier.

FIFA says its disciplinary panel imposed a 50,000 Swiss francs ($51,800) fine and reprimanded Qatar, the 2022 World Cup host.

[ MORE: Nainggolan staying at Roma ]

The incident happened in Doha on June 13, amid a dispute with regional rivals Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.

Qatar’s players warmed up for a 3-2 win over South Korea wearing white T-shirts with an image of Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani to show their support for him.

FIFA says the charges related to “displaying a political image” and “political displays” by spectators.