MLS Media Day: Graham Zusi impressed by rise of MLS

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Next up at MLS Media Day was Graham Zusi, who’s engaging responses revealed a man enjoying life in MLS and not looking for a move abroad.

Thoughts on the upcoming season? 

It will be a busy year but busy is good. At Kansas City, we’re going to put the same goals ahead of us as in past years. We’re taking CCL very seriously and we want to be the first MLS side to win it. We took the time to appreciate what we accomplished last season but we’re now focused on what we need to do.

Discuss the preparation for facing Cruz Azul in the CONCACAF Champions League.

We’ve put a lot of emphasis on our pre-season games. So we’re using those as tune-up matches and taking them a bit more seriously than normal. We need to come into the CCL ‘mid-season sharp’. It’s unfortaunte that it’s so early in the season but we’re doing our best to ensure success.

KC may have three guys going to the World Cup — any worries? 

I don’t think we’ll focus on the national team when we’re with the club and vice versa. I’m going to consider my time with the club as being as precious as possible because I have the potential of missing several games for the World Cup. I’m going to try and put Sporting in the best place I can before heading to Brazil.

We do have 2-3 guys who might go but I don’t think it’s an issue. We’ve seen so many guys step in like Soony Sad and Dom Dwyer, who not only filled a void but made cases for themselves to be starters.

How do you view the growth of MLS?

I think if you look at the national team at this point there’s a strong contingent of MLS’ers making play for the national team. Then you look at the league in general, guys coming back. The respect for the league is growing throughout the world. In a few years time we’re going to be one of the best leagues’ in the world.

Tim Cahill believes the Supporters Shield is more important than MLS Cup. Where do you stand?

I tend to agree with Cahill. At KC, we put a big emphasis on being the best team throughout the season. I know it’s not always the team that wins MLS Cup but for us we put a lot of emphasis on winning the Supporters Shield. That consistency throughout the season can carry you through the MLS Cup. We’re going to try and be in that mid-season form, early on.

What happened at KC after winning MLS Cup? 

You saw a lot of guys sticking around building themselves up. I think it’s that mentality of being the best, that expectation of excellence, that mentality that goes top to bottom.

How do you view Toronto’s spending?

I think it speaks to the direction this league is headed. The willingness of owners to dish out that kind of money is incredible. I’m excited to see that Toronto team play.

For me it’s just an exciting time in the league. You know, it’s all kind of coming together. Seeing the Bradley’s and Edu’s wanting to come and be a part of it.

As far as Kansas City goes, I can’t speak enough of the transformation. The transition between the Wizards and Sporting is one of the best success stories you can think of. Different MLS markets have to approach it in different ways.

How does what’s gone on in MLS affect your decision to go abroad?  

There wasn’t really a decision because I can’t say there were many offers to go abroad. So it was a fairly easy choice to remain where I am. MLS is where I’m growing my game the most. Training and competition is very high and it’s the best spot for me at the moment.

Spanish police dismantle match-fixing scheme in 3rd, 4th tiers

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MADRID (AP) Spanish police have dismantled a match-fixing scheme involving players and clubs in the country’s lower divisions.

Authorities said more than 20 people have been detained as part of the police operation launched on Monday, including players, although no names were immediately disclosed.

The matches under suspicion were in the third and fourth divisions this season and last season.

The match-fixing scheme reportedly involved Chinese betting sites.

The Spanish league said the operation was based on information collected by its analysts about suspicious activities.

UCL preview: Chelsea host Barcelona; Bayern vs. Besiktas

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  • Chelsea vs. Barcelona, at Stamford Bridge
  • Bayern Munich vs. Besiktas, at Allianz Arena
  • Champions League round of 16 resumes on Tuesday

[ UCL: Spurs fight back to draw Juventus | Liverpool thrash Porto in leg 1 ]

Chelsea, mired in some of their worst form since the disastrous 2015-16 season, welcome a Barcelona side enjoying one of the best six-month runs of results in the famed club’s entire history. The Blues have won just four of their last 12 games across all competitions, while the Blaugrana have lost once in 38 games.

On the plus side, Chelsea enter Tuesday’s colossal clash as winners of their last two games — back-to-back wins for the first time in 2018 — having outscored the likes of West Bromwich Albion and Hull City by a combined 7-0. Star striker Alvaro Morata returned to action against Hull after five weeks out with a back injury, thus Antonio Conte has something of a selection dilemma on his hands with the Spaniard perhaps only partially fit, and Olivier Giroud racking up a goal and three assists in the last two games, his first starts for the club.

Barcelona, meanwhile, have conceded just two goals in their last nine games (all competitions) and even managed to overturn their lone defeat, to Espanyol, and advance to the Copa del Rey semifinals (and eventually final). Despite losing Neymar in the summer, Barca mostly cruised through their Champions League group, only dropping points in draws away to Juventus and Olympiacos. Lionel Messi has, strangely, never scored a goal in his eight career appearances against Chelsea, a record which has been spoken about at length in the build-up to Tuesday — similarly to the goal-less record which plagued him against Juve goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, whom he finally bested back in September.

[ MORE: Man City win big away to Basel | Real Madrid 3-1 PSG ]

In the other round-of-16 first-leg matchup on Tuesday, five-time (soon-to-be six) defending Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich host surprise winners of Group G, Besiktas, ahead of the likes of Monaco, RB Leipzig and Porto.

Since taking over on an interim basis (through the end of the season), Bayern boss Jupp Heynckes has won 21 of 22 games of which he’s been in charge, including four of six games during the group stage en route to finish second behind Paris Saint-Germain, while also racing out to a 19-point lead back home in Germany.

Aguero involved in clash with Wigan fan after FA Cupset

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MANCHESTER, England (AP) Sergio Aguero was involved in a confrontation with a Wigan fan as ugly scenes marred the end of the third-division side’s shock FA Cup win over Manchester City on Monday.

[ MORE: Wigan shock Man City, the world and themselves ]

Fans spilled on to the pitch at DW Stadium as the host celebrated its 1-0 fifth-round win against the runaway English Premier League leader.

Supporters from both clubs were involved in disturbances, while television pictures appeared to show a home supporter and striker Aguero involved in a physical exchange.

Aguero appeared to hit the supporter after the fan said something to the player, and Aguero had to be held back by his City teammates.

[ MORE: Money from Wembley replay “will support Rochdale for 2 or 3 years” ]

Advertising hoardings were also ripped out and thrown as a pitch invasion by Wigan fans got out of hand while the defeated City players were being escorted off the pitch.

Footage also appeared to show objects, including an advertising board, being thrown at police officers by fans in the City end.

Wigan shock themselves: “Not sure how it feels, hasn’t sunk in yet”

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Wigan Athletic didn’t just shock Manchester City with their FA Cup fifth-round slaying of the runaway Premier League leaders; nor did they merely shock the rest of the footballing world; they also shocked themselves into disbelief, according to defender Dan Burn.

[ MORE: Goodbye, quadruple! Wigan bounce 10-man City from FA Cup ]

Speaking following Monday’s triumph over Pep Guardiola‘s quadruple-chasing side at the DW Stadium, Burn admitted he himself didn’t know what to make of the night that would undoubtedly highlight and change his own professional career — quotes from the BBC:

“Not sure how it feels, hasn’t sunk in yet. It was a really tough game. The belief was always there. We’ve got Will Grigg, who does what he keeps doing.

“We pride ourselves on our clean sheets. We had a couple bad results before, so we wanted to prove ourselves, so a clean sheet against the best team in England is great.

“Once we scored, the fans really got behind us, just knew we needed to hang on. It was the longest 10 minutes of my life.”

[ MORE: Money from Wembley replay “will support Rochdale for 2 or 3 years” ]

Manager Paul Cook was able to articulate his happiness and pride only slightly better — “It feels great” — but offered the highest of praises to his players, whom “had to ride [their] luck at times” during the game, and gave everything they had to the cause, because that’s the only way you beat a team like Man City:

“It feels great. It’s such a severe test. They’re such a strong side and move the ball so well. We had to ride our luck at times and the sending off is always a big incident.

“Our lads deserve credit for their work and some of the blocks they made were outstanding, and to beat Man City you have to do that.”