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US Soccer stars impress with intelligence and class at MLS Media Day

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Despite the deep nipple-freeze cold and New York subway system being up to its old holiday tricks, I made it to Red Bull Arena on time (the wife would be so proud) for yesterday’s Major League Soccer Media Day.

I hadn’t been to previous Media Days so all I knew was what MLS Communications Coordinator, Susan Marschall, had emailed — that the journalists roundtable interviews would take place in a 4th floor suite and that for 15 mins apiece, the following players would swing by to chat: Michael Bradley, Landon Donovan, Diego Fagundez, Tim Cahill, Clarence Goodson, Brad Evans, Omar Gonzalez, Matt Besler, Mike Magee, Eddie Johnson, Graham Zusi, Maurice Edu, Kyle Beckerman and Thierry Henry.

Suffice to say, I was supremely stoked about the gig.

Upon walking into the suite I immediately recognized a good deal of the journalists — Ives Galarcep, Graham Parker, Brian Strauss, Kyle McCarthy, Leander Schaerlaeckens, among others.

Around 10am the players started coming in. With my I-Phone ‘Voice Notes’ down for the count, I typed furiously during most of their chats. On others, I took a break and just listened.

My top impression from listening to this group is that they all come off as being extremely well educated. As an American, this trait swells me with pride. Look, we’re (probably) not going to win the World Cup. But based on our intelligence alone, beautiful things can happen in Brazil (as they have in many a past WC).

It’s also worth noting that the players are all genuinely pumped at the direction MLS is heading — Miami, Orlando City, everything that went down in Toronto this past offseason — they’re really juiced about it. How the heck could you not be? The league is so blatantly on the up and everyone knows it.

In general, I found the players to be a bunch of classy dudes. Well-spoken. Funny. Respectful. Dudes.

Below are some more specific takeaways from each of the 14 players who attended the roundtable:

Michael Bradley: Bradley has spent the last eight years playing in four of the top leagues in Europe and now, The General is set to unleash havoc on MLS.

Landon Donovan: Hugely impressed by Donovan’s general good nature and mastery of the Spanish language but was disappointed that I couldn’t ask whether he would retire from the Stars & Strips after Brazil was out the door (national team questions were deemed ‘off-limits’).

Diego Fagundez: Love this kid, who told me he’s gonna nutmeg Cristiano Ronaldo when they meet on the pitch — dude has ‘USMNT’ written all over him!!!

Tim Cahill: I’m convinced Cahill (one of my Everton heroes) will be one of two things when he retires — an Army general or a top, top soccer manager.

Clarence Goodson: Dude is tall, skinny and managed to stump the entire room when he asked what Maryland Terrapins were drafted into MLS they year he graduated college.

Brad Evans: Despite the hideous camo pants, Evans’ stock to be the starting US right-back in Brazil sky-rocketed in my book for one reason that rarely gets mention — dude has big time leadership skills.

Omar Gonzalez: Another incredibly sharp thinker, I look forward to the day when Gonzalez doesn’t merely “think” he can be the leader at center-back but knows it, demands it and will tear up anyone who comes near it.

Matt Besler: Under-rated in every possible way Besler has huge breakout potential in Brazil, topping my list as the US player most likely to be in-demand by European clubs come July.

Mike Magee: In not-so-many words Magee admitted that his explosion in 2013 was largely due to finally getting out of the shadow of players like David Beckham, Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane.

Eddie Johnson: Noting what a “blessing and an honor” it is “to be a part of a team that’s had so much history,” it’s hard not to root for Johnson to succeed at DC United.

Graham Zusi: Appropriately described by someone inside the suite as ‘the guy you want your sister to marry,’ Zusi comes off as one of the nicest guys you could ever possibly meet.

Maurice Edu: After candidly describing his plight at Stoke City — let’s just say the man was done wrong by Mark Hughes, among others — Edu earned a soft spot in my heart and is a guy I’m gunning for to make the roster in Brazil.

Kyle Beckerman: The former Miami Fusion player couldn’t hide that he was “really excited” for David Beckham’s new franchise, noting “I don’t know if the guy has made a bad move in his life.”

Thierry Henry: Henry gets a good deal of schtick for his temperament but I came away from my first time meeting the French legend with nothing but good things to say – upon entering the room he shook every journalist’s hand, pulled his chair in close and gave a Wengerian-esque take on everything from MLS to US Soccer to Arsenal.

FIFA disbands racism task force ahead of World Cup in Russia

PRATO, ITALY - APRIL 13: General view during the FIFA Futsal playoff match between Italy and Hungary on April 13, 2016 in Prato, Italy.  (Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images)
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MANCHESTER, England (AP) FIFA has disbanded its anti-racism task force, declaring the work complete despite ongoing concerns about discriminatory behavior in 2018 World Cup host Russia.

FIFA wrote to members of the task force to say that it has “completely fulfilled its temporary mission” and “is hereby dissolved and no longer in operation.”

“I wish I could say that I am shocked by the decision, but unfortunately I am not,” task force member Osasu Obayiuwana told The Associated Press on Sunday. “The problem of racism in football remains a burning, very serious and topical one, which need continuous attention.

“I personally think there remained a lot of very serious work for the task force to have done – the 2018 World Cup in Russia being one such matter. But it is evident the FIFA administration takes a different position.”

The task force was established in 2013 by then-FIFA President Sepp Blatter and headed by Jeffrey Webb, a vice president of world soccer’s governing body until he was arrested in 2015 as part of the American investigation into soccer corruption.

Webb, who pleaded guilty to racketeering charges, was replaced exactly a year ago as task force chairman by Congolese federation president Constant Omari, who also sits on FIFA’s ruling council.

“We never had a single meeting under his chairmanship,” Obayiuwana said. “I wrote him, more than once, asking for when a meeting would be held. But I never received a reply from him.”

Obayiuwana, a journalist, broadcaster and qualified lawyer, received the letter from FIFA on Friday announcing the end of the task force.

“The FIFA Task Force Against Racism and Discrimination was set up with your help on a temporary basis to develop recommendations for FIFA,” wrote Gerd Dembowski, FIFA’s diversity and anti-discrimination manager.

“We are therefore delighted to inform you that all of the task force’s recommendations have been implemented and all resulting projects are ongoing.”

FIFA pointed to the introduction of an anti-discrimination monitoring system at matches, the launch of a “Good Practice Guide ,” starting a team of footballing legends and a new diversity award. Fatma Samoura, FIFA’s first female and non-European secretary general, will present the award on Monday at the SoccerEx convention in Manchester.

FIFA also told task force members that its own initiatives “actually exceed the working group’s recommendations” – trumpeting its “Say No to Racism” campaign, women’s leadership conferences and programs in Russia. There are less than nine months until Russia stages the Confederations Cup, the warm-up event for the 2018 World Cup.

The most recent research from the Moscow-based SOVA Center and the UEFA-affiliated FARE Network reported a surge in the number of racist displays by Russian soccer fans, with most cases going unpunished. Researchers logged 92 incidents of discriminatory displays and chants by Russian fans in and around stadiums in the 2014-15 season, against a total of 83 for the previous two seasons put together.

Rob Harris can be followed at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

MLS Snapshot: Columbus Crew 2-0 New England Revolution (video)

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The game in 100 words (or less): It was mostly the Crew from start to finish, and Ola Kamara’s brace helped ensure Greg Berhalter’s side that the team will remain in the Eastern Conference playoff chase. While the other Kamara — Kei — and his Revolution teammates were largely limited for chances on the evening, the Crew backline did an admirable job to prevent their opposition from testing them. For the Crew, it was the team’s first shutout since the two sides last met on August 20, ironically also a 2-0 victory for Berhalter’s group.

[ MORE: David Villa discusses MLS playoffs, Guardiola and more ]

Three moments that mattered

42′ – Ola smashes one past the Revs on the stroke of halftime — The Crew attack has sputtered a lot in 2016, but Ola Kamara continues to keep the team’s bleak playoff hopes intact.

67′ — Afful’s effort smacks against the post, stays out — The Crew attacked and attacked and attacked some more. Harrison Afful was definitely a bit unlucky that this chance didn’t end up in Brad Knighton’s goal.

84′ — Questionable penalty seals the points — It looked a bit soft to be given, but Kamara makes no mistake with the finish.

 

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Ola Kamara

Goalscorers: Ola Kamara (42′, 84)

Watch: Dario Benedetto scores audacious blast for Boca Juniors

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When there’s little support up the field, what should you do?

Just ask, Dario Benedetto.

The Boca Juniors man broke Sunday’s 4-1 win over Quilmes wide open after a quarter hour when Benedetto smashed a 40-yard attempt into the back of the net, leaving the opposing keeper speechless.

The 26-year-old did just about everything right on the day, as Benedetto finished off the match with a hat-trick before halftime.

Serie A roundup: Torino knocks off Roma, Fiorentina-AC Milan finish scoreless

TURIN, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 25:  Andrea Belotti (L) of Torino and Federico Fazio of Roma compete for the ball during the Serie A match between FC Torino and AS Roma at Stadio Olimpico di Torino on September 25, 2016 in Turin, Italy.  (Photo by Tullio M. Puglia/Getty Images)
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Joe Hart and Torino earned a 3-1 win over Roma on Sunday after two second-half finishes from Iago Falqué separated the hosts from the Giallorossi. Andrea Belotti struck for Torino after just eight minutes to give Siniša Mihajlović’s men the early lead. Meanwhile, Francesco Totti attempted to get Roma back in the match after halftime as the veteran striker converted from the penalty spot with 35 minutes remaining. For Totti, the goal marked his 250th in Serie A with Roma.

[ MORE: Schalke misery continues, Leipzig earns road point ]

Fiorentina drew AC Milan, 0-0, as the latter managed just one shot on target throughout the afternoon. Milan keeper Gianluigi Donnarumma was forced into five saves on the day, however, the Viola couldn’t find a way to break through the Milan backline.

Goals from Mattia Destro and Ivan Perisic cancelled out as Bologna picked up a point on the road against Inter Milan. Frank de Boer’s Inter currently sit third in Serie A, trailing only Juventus and Napoli, while holds the seventh spot.

Despite going down to nine men in the second half, Genoa managed a 1-1 draw against Pescara on Sunday afternoon. Giovanni Simeone’s opener gave the hosts the advantage just two minutes after the halftime whistle, however, Rey Manaj tapped in from close range in the 85th minute to secure a point for Pescara.

A pair of finishes from Balde Diao Keita and Senad Lulic helped hand Lazio a 2-0 win over Empoli to propel the Biancocelesti to fifth place in Serie A. The defeat leaves Empoli in the relegation zone through six matches.

Gregoire Defrel lifted Sassuolo past Udinese, 1-0, after knocking home the game’s lone finish in the 34th minute. Udinese fought until the very last minute, nearly finding an equalizer in the 90th minute when Felipe’s header struck the cross bar.