St. Louis finally back on the professional soccer map

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On Thursday soccer fans in STL rejoiced, as their city now has a professional soccer team to call their own.

An announcement from the USL Pro, the third-tier in the US soccer pyramid, welcomed the soccer-loving city back to the party after four long years without pro soccer in St. Louis. There has been a huge show of support to help get St. Louis back on the soccer map and with a huge turnout of almost 50,000 for a friendly between Chelsea and Manchester City at Busch Stadium last year, the city’s appetite for the sport is there for all to see.

Painstaking work has been going on behind the scenes and St. Louis has been awarded a USL Pro expansion franchise that will begin play in 2015. Longtime St. Louis business executive and soccer advocate Jim Kavanaugh will serve as CEO and the club will play at a 5,000 capacity stadium at Soccer Park in Fenton, Mo.  The team will be led by veteran coach Dale Schilly.

USL CEO Alec Papadakis had the following to say about handing St. Louis a USL Pro franchise.

“We are thrilled to welcome St. Louis into USL PRO starting with the 2015 season,” Papadakis said. “St. Louis, more than any other U.S. city, has significantly contributed to the development and growth of American soccer on all levels – youth, collegiate and professional. Through the years, St. Louis players, coaches and soccer executives have greatly impacted not only the game of soccer, but the history of American soccer itself.”

In the past STL has had several soccer teams who have either been relocated or gone under, as the city has struggled to keep fans of the beautiful game supporting their local team. In the NASL days the St. Louis Stars shone brightly from 1967-1977 but were then relocated to California. After that came the MISL side the Steamers, from 1979-1988 and then the Storm who also played in the MISL from 1989-1992. Following that there was the St. Louis Ambush from 1992 -2000 and then AC St. Louis who only lasted one season in 2010.

All of those teams show there is a love for the game in this area, with several U.S. soccer Hall of Fame inductees an incredibly strong collegiate level of soccer and plenty of international soccer fans based in Missouri. Famous U.S. players such as Brad Davis, Chris Klein, Pat Noonan, Matt Pickens, Steve Ralston, Mike Sorber, Tim Ream, and Taylor Twellman all hail from STL as the soccer loving city now aims to rekindle its passion for the beautiful game.

The big question remains whether or not they can become the next MLS expansion franchise. It’s too early to speculate if that will happen but if the fans get behind their new team, the sky is the limit for soccer in St. Louis.

Pique says Neymar “does not know what to do”

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Barcelona defender Gerard Pique has spoken out about the Neymar saga, stating that he and his fellow teammates are trying to lend their comrade a hand as he looks to sort out his future between Barcelona or Paris Saint-Germain.

Speaking ahead of the El Clasico preseason match in Miami, Pique told reporters, “Neymar and I we are very close and I want him to stay and I know the situation. Right now he doesn’t know what to do and we are trying to help him, the ones [on the team] that are more close to him to take the right decision.”

[ MORE: Miazga loaned back to Vitesse ]

Pique was the source of intrigue a five days ago when he posted a Tweet with picture of himself and Neymar and the caption “He stays.” The defender was forced to clarify later saying that his post was only a hopeful prediction of the future rather than a bit of breaking news.

“It depends on what he wants,” Pique said at the pre-match press conference. “He can be in all the clubs in all the world. He can be in Paris, Barcelona, Chelsea or City. All the clubs will want him. It’s about your priorities. What do you want? Do you want more money? Do you want to win titles?”

Then, Pique used his knowledge of American sports to make a comparison, perhaps indirectly referencing Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving. “It’s happening here and it’s happening in the NBA as well. There are some players that are not earning all the money that they deserve to win titles. So sometimes you have to take decisions in life and it’s all about priorities.”

Meanwhile, club captain Iniesta was also asked about Neymar, and he said he just wants a decision soon. “We [as players] just want peace which will benefit everyone – the players, the club and everything surrounding it.”

Former Barcelona defender Carles Puyol also spoke out about Neymar’s situation, telling Spanish publication Marca that he thinks Neymar should make his decision soon to erase the uncertainty.

Cheers! Czech soccer club shapes dugouts like beer cans

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PRAGUE (AP) Czech club Viktoria Plzen has come up with innovative beer-can shaped dugouts that truly represent the city.

The club from Plzen, or Pilsen in English, is known as the Czech capital of beer which gave the world the golden “pilsner” lager in 1842.

This week, it unveiled the new dugouts at its Doosan Arena that look exactly like beer cans.

Plzen manager general Adolf Sadek said it was a joint idea from the club and the nearby Gambrinus brewery.

“Such dugouts are unique and I daresay no other club has them,” Sadek said.

Added Gambrinus brewer Zdenek Polak, “Beer and football belong to each other.”

Players welcomed the novelty, particularly with leather heated seats.

The dugouts will first be tested in Viktoria’s season opener against Dukla Prague on Saturday.

Report: USMNT’s Paul Arriola attracting MLS, European interest

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Several U.S. Men’s National Team players made strong impressions on Bruce Arena and Co. at this month’s CONCACAF Gold Cup — which resulted in a Stars and Stripes title.

[ MORE: NYCFC continues push to top in latest MLS Power Rankings ]

One of those players is Club Tijuana attacker Paul Arriola, whose performance for the USMNT and in Mexico have drawn him significant interest from MLS, Portugal and the Netherlands, according to Goal USA.

The report from Goal states that a “half dozen” sides in MLS have shown interest in Arriola, including Real Salt Lake.

Arriola, 22, has played for Xolos in Liga MX since 2013 after finishing up his academy career with the LA Galaxy.

The Galaxy would hold the rights to Arriola if he were to join MLS due to a Homegrown claim, despite the forward only spending one season with the club’s academy from 2012 to 2013.

Chanot, Wallace among missing for NYCFC’s clash at Toronto

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Patrick Vieira’s men have been flying high as of late, but New York City FC’s difficult schedule continues over the weekend north of the border.

[ MORE: NYCFC continues push towards top of PST MLS Power Rankings ]

NYCFC will take on Toronto FC on Sunday afternoon at BMO Field, but the third-place side in the Eastern Conference will have to do so without six first-team players.

[ MORE: MLS Week 22 preview — Sigi makes LA debut against Sounders ]

A number of injuries will keep out regulars like center back Maxime Chanot, winger Rodney Wallace and Ronald Matarrita, while Miguel Camargo, Khiry Shelton and 16-year-old midfielder/defender James Sands are also sidelined ahead of the Toronto clash.

Wallace and Camargo each sustained injuries during the CONCACAF Gold Cup while on duty with Costa Rica and Panama, respectively.

The two sides settled for a 2-2 draw when they last met on July 19 at Yankee Stadium, but an NYCFC victory could mean a strong push for Vieira and Co. towards the top of the East.

As the table stands, NYCFC currently sits just three points Toronto at the top of the Eastern Conference through 21 matches, while the Chicago Fire are lumped in between the two clubs on 38 points.

Meanwhile, TFC will continue to deal with a couple injuries of its own as Steven Beitashour and Benoit Cheyrou remain out with abdominal and calf ailments, respectively.