Rafael Baca, José Villarreal sent to Cruz Azul’s B-team in Mexico’s second division

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Two months after being part of Cruz Azul’s winter raid on Major League Soccer, both Rafael Baca and José Villarreal find themselves in the Mexican second division, with the Mexico City-based club announcing the players have been sent to Cruz Azul Hidalgo – the club’s B-team which plays in the Liga de Ascenso.

Michael Farfan, who moved from the Philadelphia Union to Cruz Azul this December, will stay with the parent club, but for Baca and Villarreal, the reassignment becomes a setback. The Mexican-born Baca, who spent the last three seasons with the San Jose Earthquakes, was a starter in Major League Soccer before making the move to Mexico. The 20-year-old Villarreal, a product of LA Galaxy’s academy, made 22 appearances last season before going on loan to La Machina.

Through the first seven games of Cruz Azul’s Clausura season, none of Baca, Farfan, or Villarreal have made an appearance, with only Baca having dressed for Luis Fernando Tena’s squad. According to the club’s website, Baca and Villarreal make the move to the second division team in an attempt to help their adaptation process, with Cruz Azul hoping time training with Hidalgo coach Joaquín Moreno will improve each player’s “footballing rhythm.”

Undoubtedly, neither player moved south to play in the second tier, but for Baca, the move to Liga MX may have been motivated by more than competitive reasons. Moving south not only allowed him to return to the country of his birth but likely represented a financial decision. The 24-year-old made only $49,500 last year while starting 28 games for San Jose.

For Villarreal, a return to Los Angeles looks more likely by the day. Cruz Azul has an option to buy the U.S. U-20 international, which casts his move to the second-tier in a different light, but whereas once La Machina were once having Villarreal train with the A-team (and appear with the club’s U-20s), the Galaxy attacker has now, perhaps temporarily, been deemed more of a Hidalgo-level talent.

Rapids add longtime Bundesliga winger Aigner from 1860 Munich (highlights)

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The Colorado Rapids are hoping for an injection of offense from veteran Bundesliga right winger Stefan Aigner.

The soon-to-be 30-year-old has played 274 games between the first and second tiers of German soccer, with 25 goals and 25 assists in Bundesliga play and a further 31 and 25 in the second tier.

Most recently with 2.Bundesliga side 1860 Munich for a third time, he’s played most of his career between Munich and Eintracht Frankfurt.

[ MORE: BVB’s Merino to Newcastle ]

Aigner has the resume to succeed and perhaps star in MLS, especially if he wasn’t slowed too much by a knee injury last season (He returned and produced at the 2.Bundesliga level).

Here’s what Rapids interim general manager Padraig Smith said:

“We’re excited to add a player of Stefan’s caliber to our roster for the next three-and-a-half years,” said Smith. “As an organization we are committed to fielding a forward-thinking side and bringing in Stefan – a technical and versatile player who can excel in multiple attacking roles – will help us achieve that vision.”

UEFA Champions League wrap: Celtic held; U.S. GK Horvath busy

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It was a busy night in the UEFA Champions League, with clubs battling for berths in the playoff round where they could draw big names Liverpool, Napoli, Sevilla, Sporting CP or Hoffenheim.

[ MORE: How will USMNT line up? ] 


Club Brugge 3-3 Istanbul Basaksehir

American backstop Ethan Horvath was under siege at home, but his Club Brugge side overcame throwing away a 2-0 deficit to claim a 3-3 draw with İstanbul Başakşehir. The three road goals will give the Turkish visitors every reason to feel good about the Aug. 2 second leg.

Celtic 0-0 Rosenborg

Brendan Rodgers‘ Scottish champions outshot the visitors 12-8, but couldn’t find a way into the goal. Now the Bhoys will have to score in Norway to advance to the next round.

Nice 1-1 Ajax

Mario Balotelli‘s 32nd minute staked Nice to a halftime lead, but the UEFA Europa League finalists snared an away goal through Donny van de Beek to send Ajax back to Holland with a slim advantage.

UCL first legs

Tuesday
Qarabag 0-0 Sheriff
Slavia Prague 1-0 BATE Borisov
AEK Athens 0-2 CSKA Moscow
Steaua Bucharest 2-2 Plzen
Vardar 1-0 Copenhagen
Partizan Belgrade 1-3 Olympiacos

Wednesday
Astana 3-1 Legia Warsaw
Dynamo Kyiv 3-1 Young Boys
RB Salzburg 1-1 Rijeka
Hapoel Be’er Sheva 2-0 Ludogorets Razgrad
Viitorul 1-0 APOEL Nicosia
Maribor 1-0 FH

Terim steps down as Turkey manager after restaurant fight

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ANKARA, Turkey (AP) Turkey’s soccer federation says it has parted ways with national team manager Fatih Terim.

The announcement on Wednesday came weeks after Terim and his two sons-in-law were involved in a fight with a restaurant owner.

[ MORE: How will USMNT line up? ] 

The Turkish Football Federation statement said Terim, 63, and the federation agreed that “it would be healthier for both sides to part ways,” saying non-football related issues were harming both Terim and the federation.

It also thanked Terim, who has headed the national team since 2013, for his services.

Terim previously managed Galatasaray, Milan and Fiorentina. There was no word on who would replace him.

BVB mid Merino reportedly undergoing Newcastle medical

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It’s been a wild year for Mikel Merino, and now the Spaniard is close to playing for a legend from his home country.

Merino joined Borussia Dortmund from Osasuna last summer, and the 21-year-old had a hard time getting playing time under Thomas Tuchel.

[ MORE: Gold Cup Final preview ]

A defensive midfielder who also plays center back and a bit further up the pitch, Merino is set to join Rafa Benitez on loan at Newcastle United for the club’s return to the Premier League next month.

Merino was photographed in Newcastle on Wednesday, and would join a central midfield with Jonjo Shelvey and Isaac Hayden. Both players thrived in the Championship last season.

The Magpies turned Christian Atsu‘s loan permanent to start the summer, and then purchased Florian Lejeune, Jacob Murphy, and Javier Manquillo.