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Marquinhos, Lavezzi goals see PSG cruise into Champions League quarterfinals

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A mostly perfunctory match at the the Parc de Princes played out with the intensity of an early round cup match, something that didn’t prevent a Paris Saint-Germain team in cruise control producing its expected result. Entering today’s match with a 4-0 lead earned three weeks ago, Laurent Blanc’s team saw goals from Marquinhos and Ezequiel Lavezzi earn a 2-1 win, capping the French champions’ 6-1 aggregate victory over a hapless Bayer Leverkusen.

Six minutes into Wednesday’s second leg, Bayer looked anything but hapless, with Sidney Sam pulling back a goal early. It wasn’t long, though, until a corner kick was hammered home by Marquinhos, with the Brazilian defender restoring the Parisians’ four-goal advantage. In the second half, a ball from left back Lucas Digne allowed Lavezzi to score his first goal of the tie, giving PSG its final margin of victory.

The lopsided result moves Blanc’s team into their second straight quarterfinal, with the team setting its sites on avoiding last year’s narrow disappointment. Last spring, PSG was eliminated by Barcelona, who needed the away goals tiebreaker to reach the semifinals.

Despite hints he would rest many of this best players, Blanc started star forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic in what was expected to be a relatively meaningless game. Midfielder Blaise Matuidi, holder Marco Verratti and right back Gregory van der Weil were not in the team, however, with fitness concerns vaulting Yohan Cabaye, Adrien Rabiot and Christophe Jallet into the starting lineup.

In the sixth minute, those changes looked capable of bringing Bayer back into the match, with a cross from right back Giolio Donati setting up Sam for the Germans’ first goal of the tie. Blasting his shot into the lower left hand corner, Sam pulled Bayer within three, giving the visitors to quick goal they needed to spark faint hopes.

Those hopes were dashed in the 13th minute thanks to Marquinhos. Off a corner from Cabaye,  the PSG defender headed into the right of goal, quickly restoring the hosts’ lead.

In the 28th minute, however, Bayer were on the cusp of a second score, with a shirt-pull from Jallet on Eren Derdiyok giving Simon Rolfes a chance from the spot. A poor attempt left the ball waist-high from Salvatore Sirigu, who needed only to jump slightly to his left to keep it 1-1.

Eight minutes into the second half, PSG claimed their first lead of the day, with Digne finding Lavezzi in the center of the area before the Argentine beat Bernd Leno to make is 2-1. Midway through the half, a second yellow card to midfielder Emre Can saw Bayer reduced to 10, allowing both sides to cruise through the match’s final 22 minutes.

For Bayer, the result represented progress on three weeks ago, though it continues a slide that’s put next year’s Champions League in doubt. Ahead of a visit to Bayern Munich on Saturday, Leverkusen’s slump leaves them only five points ahead of fifth place Wolfsburg. Though their trip to Paris could have build momentum for a league revival, the lack of intensity at the Parc de Princes renders Wednesday’s performance irrelevant.

If Laurent Blanc wishes to ascribe some meaning to the match — if he wants to make his team care about a game that saw him withdraw Ibrahimovic shortly after Can’s red card — he can point to a lackluster effort and admonish his team ahead of the quarterfinal round. Realistically, though, today’s 2-1 win was just as meaningless for the victors as it was for the vanquished.

MLS Preview: Conference leaders meet as Philly head west to Colorado

COMMERCE CITY, COLORADO - APRIL 02:  Dillon Powers #8 of Colorado Rapids controls the ball against the Toronto FC at Dick's Sporting Goods Park on April 2, 2016 in Commerce City, Colorado. The Rapids defeated Toronto FC 1-0.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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The weekend is nearing, which means another full slate of ten matches across Major League Soccer.

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With Sporting KC and D.C. United kicking things off on Friday night, Saturday is jam-packed with eight matches before the league’s youngest clubs NYCFC and Orlando wrap up the action on Sunday.

Colorado Rapids vs. Philadelphia Union — Saturday, 9:00 p.m. ET

There’s not a misprint on the table, Colorado and Philadelphia are both at the top of their conferences. After sitting near the bottom of MLS for the past two seasons, Colorado has shocked everyone, currently leading the league in points (27) with the fewest goals conceded (9). On Saturday, the Rapids put their perfect 6-0 home record on the line when they host the Union, who currently lead the East by two points.

New York Red Bulls vs. Toronto FC — Saturday, 7:00 p.m. ET

Coming off of a massive 7-0 win in the Hudson River Derby against NYCFC, the Red Bulls will look to continue trending upwards when they host Toronto FC. Two of the preseason favorites to top the Eastern Conference, both sides are currently tied on points, although the Red Bulls have a game in hand. For Toronto, Sebastian Giovinco will be keen to prove Antonio Conte wrong after being left out of the Italy squad for EURO 2016 after the Italian boss talked down upon MLS.

[ MLS: Standings | Stats | Schedule ]

Montreal Impact vs. Los Angeles Galaxy — Saturday, 8:00 p.m. ET

Didier Drogba has scored in each of his last three starts, a streak he will look to keep alive against the Los Angeles Galaxy this weekend. While Drogba will be looking to score, Montreal must make sure their defense is in top form as the Galaxy have scored a league-high 25 goals through 11 matches.

Elsewhere around MLS

Sporting KC vs. D.C. United — Friday, 7:00 p.m. ET
Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Houston Dynamo — Saturday, 6:00 p.m. ET
Columbus Crew SC vs. Real Salt Lake — Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET
New England Revolution vs. Seattle Sounders — Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET
Chicago Fire vs. Portland Timbers — Saturday, 8:30 p.m. ET
San Jose Earthquakes vs. FC Dallas — Saturday, 10:30 p.m. ET
New York City FC vs. Orlando City SC — Sunday, 4:30 p.m. ET

Cantona claims ethnicity played role in Benzema, Ben Arfa France snubs

SHANGHAI, CHINA - APRIL 14:  Former Footballer Eric Cantona of France speaks during a press conference at the Shanghai Grand Theatre prior to the  Laureus World Sports Awards  on April 14, 2015 in Shanghai, China.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images for Laureus)
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Eric Cantona has made the headlines again, this time making some bold claims against France national team manager Didier Deschamps.

Cantona, a former Manchester United legend and French international, questioned whether Deschamps excluded Karim Benzema and Hatem Ben Arfa from the team due to their North African origins.

[ MORE: Skrtel set to leave Liverpool ]

Speaking to The Guardian, Cantona calls Benzema and Ben Arfa two of France’s best footballers, both of whom will not be playing for the national team this summer.

Benzema is a great player. Ben Arfa is a great player. But Deschamps, he has a really French name. Maybe he is the only one in France to have a truly French name. Nobody in his family mixed with anybody, you know.

So I’m not surprised he used the situation of Benzema not to take him. Especially after [French Prime Minister Manuel Valls] said he should not play for France. And Ben Arfa is maybe the best player in France today. But they have some origins. I am allowed to think about that.

One thing is for sure – Benzema and Ben Arfa are two of the best players in France and will not play the European Championship. And for sure, Benzema and Ben Arfa, their origins are north African. So, the debate is open.

Cantona’s view doesn’t hold much merit as Deschamps did not even have the option of selecting Benzema, the country’s active leading goalscorer. The Real Madrid striker is suspended by the federation, embroiled in a blackmail sex-tape scandal involving French teammate Mathieu Valbuena, who was also left off the EURO roster.

[ MORE: Three battles that could determine the Champions League final ]

France is an extremely diverse nation with a large North African population, Benzema of Algerian descent and Ben Arfa’s father a former Tunisian international. Both players were born in France and have received prior call-ups under Deschamps, with Cantona’s quite ridiculous comments likely to cause a stir before the EURO.

FA Cup will no longer have quarterfinal replays

HALIFAX, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 09:  The FA Cup is seen prior to the FA Cup First Round match between FC Halifax and Bradford City  on November 9, 2014 in Halifax, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Starting in 2017, the FA Cup will no longer have replays in the quarterfinal round.

The decision was made in an effort to combat the congested English fixture list, which has been a topic of debate for years now.

[ MORE: Lukaku wants out at Everton ]

This season, Manchester United defeated West Ham in a quarterfinal replay before going on to win the competition.

In a statement released by the FA, these changes aim to add drama to the matches while eliminating an extra matchday needed for replays.

The revamped competition will see eight clubs battle it out over one weekend with each tie to be played to a finish on the day, adding to the drama and impact the competition has enjoyed in recent years.

Other new initiatives will be explored to ensure The FA Cup retains its status and appeal. These plans also form part of The FA’s commitment to help ease English football’s congested fixture schedule.

There will still be replays in the earlier rounds of the tournament, which allows lower level clubs the opportunity to earn a nice financial boost should they force a second match at a Premier League ground.

The Premier League is the only top league in Europe that does not take a winter break, a schedule that has been criticized by multiple managers, including Jurgen Klopp.

Judge hears arguments on US women’s team strike rights

HARRISON, NJ - MAY 30:  The United States team poses for a team picture before the match against the South Korea during an international friendly match at Red Bull Arena on May 30, 2015 in Harrison, New Jersey.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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CHICAGO — A federal judge in Chicago has heard arguments whether the world champion U.S. women’s soccer team has the right to strike for improved conditions and wages before this year’s Olympics.

Lawyers for the U.S. Soccer Federation told Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman at a Thursday hearing that a no-strike clause is implied in a still-valid 2013 memorandum with players.

[ MORE: All of PST’s USWNT coverage ]

But a lawyer for the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team Players Association balked at that claim. Jeffrey Kessler said the federation had “screwed up” by not securing a no-strike clause in writing and can’t argue three years later that such a provision is implied.

The union wants the option to strike before the Olympics start in August, but hasn’t said it will. Many players have voiced concern over gender equity in soccer.