Highlights from MLS commissioner Don Garber’s preseason Q-and-A

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[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xasIyVLC1yE]

Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber spent just under an hour answering media and fan questions on Tuesday – an interactive state-of-the-league ahead of this weekend’s opening to the MLS season. Here are the highlights from the session, embedded above.

(All responses listed in order they appear in the Q-and-A.)

Growth of Major League Soccer

“Our ultimate goal is to be a league of choice. If we become a league of choice for players and staff and fans, I think we will achieve that goal. A place where American and Canadian players want to play. A place where top international players want to play. A place where fans proudly say that they are a fan of this league, but more importantly a fan of their respective clubs …

“In order to be one of the top leagues in the world, you got to really be the top league in the region. In order to do that you have to have the top players in our country playing in our league.

On expansion, potential new markets

“There will be a time, and that time is probably sooner as opposed to later, where we won’t have expansion questions. The league will be fully expanded. That’s probably years from now … People care about it now because it’s part of the evolution of our league, of our business, but the time is going to come when this fully expanded.”

  • Atlanta: “Discussions with Arthur Blank and his family have been going on since 2008 … We’re getting close. There are ongoing discussions. There’s not a rush to finalize something there. The new stadium that they’re planning is not going to open up for a number of years.”
  • Texas – Austin and San Antonio:It’s premature for both markets … Expanding in Texas, that’s likely going to happen. Where that happens, when that happens, remains to be seen.”
  • Cleveland: “We need more teams in the Midwest … there haven’t been any discussions (about Cleveland) of late … Support the Crew.”
  • Detroit: “We knew there’s been some interest. There haven’t been any discussions. Not sure it’s on the short list, but you never know.”
  • Minnesota: “Minneapolis is on the short list. Lots of interest there. We’ve had a high level of activity with the current Minnesota United ownership group … We think they’re smart. We think they’re focused, and they’re great community citizens.”
  • North Carolina: “Even in my early days — back in [1999], 2000 — we’ve always looked around it, because it is a hotbed of soccer … We’ll monitor it. We’ve said we need to get south of Washington, D.C. Atlanta is a southern team. Florida … is south of D.C. … I’m not sure North Carolina is coming anytime soon.”
  • Sacramento: “I would encourage every fan in that market: support the Republic; get behind it; build that team; build that brand. Show that there’s a real appetite north of San Jose for professional, high-level soccer, and we’ll see what happens.”

Chivas USA

“We said a year ago we would come up [with] a solution to our challenges with our second team in L.A., and we have had challenges. When you’re running a young sports league, you’ve got to accept you’re not going to get [everything] right.u’ got to be bold enough to make tough decisions … and you have to be man enough to say ‘we didn’t make the right decision’ and come up with a plan to fix it. That’s where are with Chivas USA …

“Lots of interested parties. We have not set a price for it because we haven’t decided how we’re going to go about that process, because the first thing we need to do is get the ship back on path.

(Commissioner Garber also mention the University of Southern California as a potential site for a future Chivas USA venue. Answering a question about possible Chivas USA relocation out of Los Angeles, Garber said, “No.”)

On a potential stadium for New York City FC

“It’s tough to get stadium projects done in New York City, perhaps even more difficult than it was six months or a year ago … Short-term, sometime soon they’re going to make an announcement of where they’re going to play temporarily.”

On how the league has improved since he took over

“We are a stable, viable, and productive entity, where in 1999 or 2000, we were all trying to figure out what could this be and what would this be, and whether we can get through the next couple of years. We don’t really worry about that today …”

“We had a handful or owners, and today we have lots of them – more than I could mention … many of them are folks that have come into the league and this is their sole focus …”

“There was only one (soccer-specific) stadium at that time. Now we have 14 of our clubs playing in 15 buildings …”

“The infrastructure has changed dramatically … the big change that (U.S. Men’s National Team head coach) Jurgen Klinsmann sees today, even over a couple of years ago, is the training grounds are more professional, the opportunities for players from a nutrition and fitness perspective, the focus on medical testing — just overall sports medicine — has so dramatically changed because we have the capability to be able to do that.

On a future promotion/relegation system

“No.”

On a single-table competition format

“Now that all the questions are more expansion-oriented, the single-table jockeys have gone quiet over the last year. I think we have a single-table competition with our Supporters’ Shield.”

MLS Snapshot: Larin outduels Villa in Orlando’s win over NYCFC

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The game in 100 words (or less): I’ve been saying it since the preseason: Cyle Larin is going to Europe, and it wont be long before MLS’s best young striker since… ever(?) makes the jump across the Atlantic Ocean. Canada’s greatest-ever hope for international soccer relevance bagged a brace (31st and 51st minutes) on Sunday, bringing his 2017 season total to six goals (37 for his career, which is just over two full seasons old), as Orlando City SC narrowly edged New York City FC, 2-1 at Yankee Stadium. He’s also scored nine goals in seven career games against NYCFC. Larin wasn’t the only star striker on display, and the scoresheet, though, as David Villa provided NYCFC’s lone goal of the game which made the final 15 minutes mighty interesting.

[ MORE: Saturday’s MLS roundup — FCD win battle of unbeatens ]

Three moments that mattered

31′ — Larin finishes from close range for 1-0 — Scott Sutter provided the cross into the box, and Lain found space between two defenders for the easy finish.

51′ — Larin brushes off Wallace, heads home for 2-0 — Larin versus an opposing winger is a mismatch that Orlando will look to exploit every single time. 9 times out of 10, it’ll end up like this.

74′ — Villa finishes a brilliant set-piece routine — Maxi Moralez couldn’t have hit a better ball into the box, and we couldn’t have expected any better finish from Villa.

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

Man of the match: Cyle Larin

Goalscorers: Larin (31′, 51′), Villa (74′)

LIVE: Real Madrid host Barcelona in El Clasico

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Let’s go.

Real Madrid host Barcelona at 2:45 p.m. ET on Sunday in the final installment of El Clasico this season in La Liga.

[ LIVE: Follow El Clasico, here ] 

With Barca three points behind their bitter rivals who top the La Liga standings and also have a game in hand with six weeks to go, nothing but a win will do for Luis Enrqiue’s men.

All of the talk before this game has been about the absence of Neymar as Barca have decided to not put the Brazilian forward in their squad after they appealed his three-game ban but have yet to hear back on his suspension.

Aside from that bizarre situation, it’s been a mixed week for the Spanish giants in the UEFA Champions League.

Barca were knocked out by Juventus at the quarterfinal stage, while Real Madrid got by Bayern Munich in an exhausting clash at the Santiago Bernabeu which required extra time to set up a semifinal tie against Atletico Madrid.

The stars will come out to play as Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema will collide.

Liverpool 1-2 Crystal Palace: Benteke haunts Klopp

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  • Palace win third-straight at Anfield
  • Christian Benteke scores twice
  • Liverpool slip up in top four race
  • Eagles 7 points above drop zone

Crystal Palace stunned Liverpool at Anfield once again on Sunday as the Eagles fought back from 1-0 down to win 2-1 and added to their recent impressive wins against Arsenal and Chelsea.

Phillipe Coutinho gave Liverpool the lead with a stunning free kick but just before half time Christian Benteke made it 1-1 and then the former Liverpool striker headed home in the second half to give Palace a precious three points.

With the win the Eagles are on 38 points and move up to 12th place as they surge away from the relegation zone, while Liverpool remain on 66 points and can feel Manchester City and Manchester United breathing down their neck in the race for the top four.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays

Liverpool started the game well but found it tough to break down a stubborn Palace defense and the Eagles always looked dangerous on the break.

One of their breaks saw the ball drop to Benteke but the former Liverpool dragged his effort wide of the post after beating two players.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings

Coutinho soon had Liverpool ahead as the Brazilian magician curled home a stunning free kick for his 10th Premier League goal of the season. 1-0 to the Reds.

Just before half time Palace were level as sloppy defending let in Yohan Cabaye and his perfect cross was tapped home by Benteke against his former club. 1-1. Benteke had another shot on target before half time but Simon Mignolet saved as Palace were buoyed by their equalizer.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

In the second half Coutinho danced free on the edge of the box but smashed an effort way over as Palace sat in deep and frustrated Liverpool’s attack.

Palace threatened at the other end from set pieces and Benteke caused mayhem in the 71st minute but Cabaye smashed an effort over the bar with the goal gaping.

Moments later Benteke put Palace ahead as Andros Townsend‘s corner from the right missed everyone and the Belgian nodded home his second goal of the game. 2-1 to the Eagles.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score

Late on Liverpool pushed hard for the equalizer but Palace held on for their third-straight win at Anfield and all but secured their Premier League status for another season.

Arsenal 2-1 Man City: Gunners reach FA Cup final

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Arsenal beat Manchester City 2-1 after extra time at Wembley on Sunday as Arsene Wenger got the better of Pep Guardiola to set up an FA Cup final against Chelsea.

Sergio Aguero put City ahead in the second half but Nacho Monreal equalized in normal time and then Alexis Sanchez scored the winning goal in extra time to seal the Gunners spot in the FA Cup final on May 27 at Wembley.

It will be an all-London affair in the FA Cup final and it could perhaps be Wenger’s final game in charge.

[ MORE: Full FA Cup schedule ] 

Aguero went close early but made a mess of a patient build up play and David Silva‘s header was pushed over by Petr Cech, while Arsenal had the ball in the net at the other end but Laurent Koscielny was offside as he flicked the ball past Claudio Bravo.

City were forced into an early change as Silva limped off after a collision and Raheem Sterling came on and soon after Aguero went down in the box under a challenge from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain but referee Craig Pawson waved away the appeals.

Aguero slammed a shot into the side-netting as half time approached with City controlling the possession but failing to break through. A huge moment of controversy arrived five minutes before half time as Leroy Sane’s cross was flagged to have gone out of play as Aguero and then Sterling both finished but replays showed it had stayed in.

A huge let-off for Arsenal and right on half time they could’ve had a penalty kick as Jesus Navas bundled over Sanchez in the box.

In the second half it was Arsenal who put City under pressure as Fernandinho gave the ball away on the edge of the box and Olivier Giroud‘s effort was blocked by Nicolas Otamendi.

Moments later City were 1-0 up as Aaron Ramsey was robbed by Yaya Toure and Aguero raced free from Monreal and dinked home to put City ahead. The goal was Aguero’s fifth in as many FA Cup appearances this season and with 12 goals in his last 12 games he now has 166 for City, taking him to tied second on their all-time list of scorers.

Mesut Ozil flashed an effort just wide of the post after City went ahead as the Gunners continued to push forward in pursuit of an equalizer.

The leveler arrived with less than 20 minutes to go as Oxlade-Chamberlain’s fine cross from the right found Monreal at the back post and the Spanish left back nonchalantly smashed home with the outside of his right foot. 1-1. Game on.

Moments later Toure’s stunning volley was superbly saved by the fingertips of Cech as the ball hit the post and came out and soon after Fernandinho’s header cannoned off the bar as City pushed hard for a late winner.

Substitute Danny Welbeck went so close to snatching the win for Arsenal in normal time but the former Manchester United striker lashed an effort inches wide of the far post after breaking free.

In extra time it was Arsenal who could’ve gone 2-1 up as Rob Holding headed over the bar from close range. Soon after Sanchez did put Arsenal ahead as Welbeck missed his kick but Sanchez controlled and finished clinically to make it 2-1.

At the other end Sterling’s cross was cleared by Holding and the sub was subbed at the half time of extra time with Kelechi Iheanacho coming on as City’s fourth substitute as the new FA rules were used.

Fabian Delph, another sub, was put in by Kevin De Bruyne in the 110th minute but Hector Bellerin deflected his effort wide at the crucial moment then De Bruyne flashed an effort just wide as City poured forward for an equalizer.

In the end Arsenal held on to seal a third FA Cup final appearance in the last four seasons.