UEFA Champions League: Ibrahimovic brace helps PSG cruise 4-0 at Bayer Leverkusen

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One of the more lopsided match ups of UEFA Champions League’s Round of 16 lived up to its muted expectations, with favorites Paris Saint-Germain offered no resistance during their knockout round’s first leg at Bayer Leverkusen. With the help of two goals from Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the reigning French champions took a 4-0 lead on Germany’s second place side, quickly eliminating any doubt the ambitious Parisians will make another trip to the competition’s quarterfinals.

The teams will resume their matchup two weeks from now in Paris, with a Leverkusen side that’s suffered three big defeats in this year’s competition unlikely to threaten for that spot in the final eight. In group stage, Bayer lost 4-2 and 5-0 to Manchester United, and while a first leg at home gave Sami Hyypia’s team a chance to set the tone in this 180-minute match, PSG’s superiority was evident from the opening whistle.

[MORE: What we learned from Paris Saint-Germain’s demolition of Bayer Leverkusen]

It only took three minutes for that edge to put Laurent Blanc’s team in front, with one of Europe’s most overlooked midfielders taking a momentary step out of the shadows. Intercepting a Simon Rolfes pass at the edge of Bayer’s defensive third, Blaise Matuidi played wide to  Ibrahimovic before sprinting into the Leverkusen penalty area. When he was found moments later by Marco Verratti through ball, the French international had an easy left-footed finish for the game’s opening goal.

By the middle of the half, Leverkusen were seeing more of the ball and were finally able to mount their first real forays toward the PSG penalty area. Come the end of the half, however, that improvement had gone for naught, with two goals from Ibrahimovic just before intermission giving the visitors a commanding halftime lead.

[MORE: FC Barcelona seizes control of Champions League series with 2-0 win over Manchester City]

The first came after a disputable penalty that saw Leverkusen defender Emir Saphic yellow carded after Ezequiel Lavezzi went down at the edge of the six-yard box. Blasting his attempt into the goal’s lower left hand corner, Ibrahimovic beat a diving Leno to double PSG’s lead in the 39th minute.

Three minutes later, when a ball in from the left for Matuidi drew Leverkusen’s defense toward the spot, Ibrahimovic hammered his teammate’s layoff into top of goal from 20 yards out. As if placing his shot into a pneumatic tube, “Ibra” sent the ball on a line to the right of the Bernd Leno, the force of his strike giving the Bayer keeper little chance to react before PSG’s third goal flew just under the cross-bar.

A second half own goal that would have put PSG up four was waved off, leaving the match’s final 45 minutes to be defined by restraint instead of reward. Dominating both chances and the ball, Blanc’s team played with the comfort of a side at home, particularly after  Saphic saw a second yellow. With Ibrahimovic spending the match’s last half hour in midfield, helping his team control the ball, PSG appeared to have grown tired of pushing for goals.

[MORE: What we learned in Barcelona’s Champions League win over Manchester City]

In the 88th minute, however, a clearly fatigued Bayer couldn’t help but conceded the fourth. With PSG building down the left, Ibrahimovic put an overlapping Maxwell behind the Leverkusen defense, where the left back crossed for Lucas Moura at the far post just before the ball rolled out of play. Moura’s layoff for Yohan Cabaye gave the recently purchase midfielder an easy finish into the upper right hand corner from 15 yards out, giving PSG a lead that’s never been reversed in Champions League.

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.

Report: USMNT’s Arriola drawing transfer interest abroad, in MLS

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Paul Arriola’s motor was constantly running as the United States men’s national team claimed its sixth Gold Cup title, and it could drive him all the way from Club Tijuana to Europe or a prime spot on an MLS roster.

There’s a snag, though.

[ MORE: Everton wins Europa opener ]

Arriola is reportedly wanted by Real Salt Lake and clubs in both the Netherlands and Portugal, but the LA Galaxy has what Goal.com describes a “dubious homegrown player” claim on Arriola, who participated in a minimal of practices with the Galaxy when he was younger.

As you’ll see below, there isn’t much “homegrown” about it and, to its critics, it is peak MLS monopolized tomfoolery. Here’s how Goal describes it:

“He was already a U.S. youth national team player when he traveled the 120 miles from Chula Vista to take part in a handful of training sessions with the LA Galaxy academy and eventually the Galaxy first team.

“The Galaxy are believed to hold a homegrown player claim on Arriola, and would have the right of first refusal on making Arriola an offer if he comes to MLS. The Galaxy’s current salary-cap situation might not allow them to make a serious bid for Arriola.”

But… here’s how the Galaxy described his choosing to sign for TJ instead of a pro deal from LA in 2013:

“It’s a little disappointing,” Galaxy technical director Jovan Kirovski told MLSsoccer.com by phone on Friday. “He went through our system, we offered him a contract and he decided to move on and go somewhere else. But that’s going to happen. It’s something that has happened before, and it’s something that will happen again.”

Arriola’s response in the same article? “I thank the Galaxy for giving me a wonderful opportunity to train with their first team and be a part of their first team which really taught me a lot.” That doesn’t read as much like he “went through their system.” He played in at least one U-18 game, debuting in October 2012, did more training with TJ in December 2012, and signed for the Mexican side in May 2013.

Should that qualify him as Homegrown?

https://www.transfermarkt.com/paul-arriola/leistungsdaten/spieler/189876

Did Arriola spent significant time with LA, or is it possible the Galaxy might reap rewards from having an already established youth national teamer to practice when he was a kid? Whether you’re okay with that or not, consider that it encourages clubs to pilfer rights without actually registering or training the player.

Not to mention there is no guarantee that playing in the Netherlands or Portugal will be better for his development than MLS. Benfica or Ajax and potential action in European tournaments? Maybe. NAC Breda or Tondela? Maybe not.

Nevermind the quagmire that is American youth soccer clubs’ not earning money from transfer fees, the Arriola drama seems baseless. We don’t know the Galaxy will hold the player hostage, but they would actually be depriving MLS of a talent, as LA would theoretically get nothing should TJ sell him to a European club.

In any event, check out Arriola’s use chart from Tijuana and you’ll see why he’s valued by Bruce Arena as well as his suitors. He’s a Swiss Army Knife. Here’s hoping Tinseltown doesn’t stop him from a proper next step (assuming he’s ready to leave Liga MX).