France goes coast-to-coast, smothering Switzerland in 5-2 rout

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The French controlled Switzerland through and through, and from the very start it was clear not “if” but “by how much” would be the appropriate question.

Les Bleus hit twice in the first 20 minutes, as Olivier Giroud powered in a header and Blaise Matuidi took advantage of a Swiss mistake, and they never looked back, putting themselves on the brink of a place in the final 16.

From the very start of the game it was clear who would be the most dangerous, and Giroud put them up in the 17th minute.  Off a corner kick, he powered in a header from a good distance out, and it split the difference between Swiss goalkeeper Diego Benaglio and the near-post defender Ricardo Rodriguez.

Just a minute later, the restart saw a back pass from Valon Behrami go horribly wrong, and it was intercepted by Karim Benzema. The striker found Blaise Matuidi coming down the left flank, and the PSG midfielder struck home between Benaglio and the near post for a second goal just 67 seconds after the first.

From there the French never looked back, and Switzerland looked shell-shocked for the rest of the match.

Granit Xhaka thought he’d pulled one back after the initial shock, but his header off a 27th minute free kick was ruled out for offsides.

La Nati did have a few chances, but nothing came of them. Their best came in the 30th minute, when a straight-on Admir Mehmedi shot was kept out by Hugo Lloris.  The rebound fell to Xherdan Shaqiri who ripped a bouncer across the face of goal, but Lloris dove expertly and got a fingertip to the shot, which trickled just wide and out of the reach of Haris Seferovic streaking to the far post.

Despite the few moments of brightness, the Swiss didn’t look like they were going to make anything of the first half, and the French put them away with a third before the break.

source: AP
There was plenty of celebrating for the French after annihilating their second World Cup opponent.

They had one chance to do so which wasn’t taken, when Johan Djourou played a mind-boggling tackle on Benzema was the ball was trickling out of play, a clear penalty which the referee gave. Benzema’s spot-kick was saved, however, and Yohan Cabaye blasted the rebound off the crossbar.

Les Blues would find their triple, however, on a corner-kick counter. Switzerland’s try from the flag found only French feet, and Raphael Varane played Giroud in down the left touchline. Giroud, already with a goal to his name, shared the wealth to Mathieu Valbuena in the box, and he struck home the chance with ease.

The second half was just a formality at this point, and the French were happy to sit back and deny the Swiss any serious chances.  They shut up shop for good with a half-hour left as manager Didier Deschamps removed Giroud in favor of midfielder Paul Pogba.

Well…we thought they shut up shop. They added a fourth just for fun when Matuidi delivered a perfect ball into the box, and Benzema beat Philippe Senderos with a scissor kick through Benaglio’s legs.

And another, for Moussa Sissoko after Benzema found him in space on the right edge of the box and the Newcastle midfielder picked up his first international goal with a shot across the face inside the far post.

Switzerland got a pair of consolations to destroy France’s clean sheet, and they’ll feel a little better after taking advantage of France’s let off at the end. The first came on a free kick by substitute Blerim Dzemaili that trickled under the way and past a diving Lloris for a slow-rolling goal. With three minutes to go, Gokhan Inler poked a ball over the French defense for Granit Xhaka to finish with a quality volley.

France may have even had six, had the referee not blown

With a pair of dominating wins, the French look a lock to move into the knockout round, if not a mathematical guarantee.  They would go through with an Ecuador win or draw against Honduras this evening.

LINEUPS:

France – Lloris, Debuchy, Evra, Varane, Sakho (Koscielny 63′), Cabaye, Valbuena (Griezmann), Giroud (Pogba 63′), Benzema, Matuidi, Sissoko

Goals – Giroud 17′, Matuidi 18′, Valbuena 40′, Benzema 67′, Sissoko 73′

Switzerland – Benaglio, Lichtsteiner, Von Bergen (Senderos 9′), Inler, Seferovic (Drmic 69′), Xhaka, Behrami (Dzemaili 46′), Rodriguez, Mehmedi, Djourou, Shaqiri

Goals – Dzemaili 81′

Watch Live: Arsenal v. Tottenham in North London derby

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This is it.

The Premier League returns with a bang following the two week international break as Arsenal host Tottenham Hotspur at the Emirates Stadium (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE ONLINE

Arsenal haven’t won any of their last six games in the Premier League against Tottenham, while Spurs are three places and four points above the Gunners in the PL table.

In team news Arsenal start with Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez and Alexandre Lacazette up top, with Shkodran Mustafi returning from injury.

Tottenham have Dele Alli, Hugo Lloris and Harry Kane fit to play after recovering from injury.

LINEUPS

Arsenal: Cech; Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal; Bellerin, Xhaka, Ramsey, Kolasinac; Ozil, Sanchez; Lacazette. Subs: Ospina; Mertesacker, Wilshere, Iwobi, Welbeck, Maitland-Niles, Coquelin

Tottenham Hotspur: Lloris; Sanchez, Dier, Vertonghen; Trippier, Dembele, Sissoko, Davies; Eriksen, Alli; Kane. Subs: Vorm; Foyth, Aurier, Winks, Walker-Peters, Son, Llorente

MLS attendance up, TV ratings lag as US mulls future

AP Photo/Jay LaPrete
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NEW YORK (AP) Major League Soccer’s attendance is up and fan interest is booming, even if television broadcasts are far less popular and some young Americans would rather play in Europe.

[ MORE: Caleb Porter out as Portland Timbers head coach ]

MLS averaged 22,000 in attendance for the first time in its history this season, ranked among the top seven leagues in the world. The league is set to add a second Los Angeles franchise next year, announce two expansion cities next month and at some point finalize David Beckham’s long-pending Miami club.

But viewers averaged under 300,000 for nationally televised regular-season matches, fewer than the average for a New York Yankees game on their regional sports network. Several top young Americans, such as Christian Pulisic and Weston McKennie, have chosen to forego the MLS to play in Germany and test their mettle in a more demanding environment.

And worst of all, the United States – whose roster was filled with MLS stars – failed to qualify for next year’s World Cup, ending a streak of seven straight appearances in soccer’s showcase.

“We need to use this failure as a wakeup call for everyone associated with the sport at all levels to ensure that we have the right processes and mechanisms and development programs and leadership and governance in place to learn from this missed opportunity to ensure that it never happens again,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said this week. “Part of the maturation of becoming a soccer nation is recognizing that qualifying for the World Cup is not a birthright. It’s something you need to earn, and we are unfortunately in the company of some great soccer nations, like Italy and Holland and Ghana and Chile – Copa champions – that have also not qualified.”

MLS playoffs resume next week after the international break with the first leg of Conference Championships. Columbus – whose owners are threatening to move to Austin, Texas, in 2019 – hosts Toronto, while Houston is home against Seattle.

“MLS and soccer in the United States have made great advances in many areas. But its promoters have found that the abundance of existing legacy sports leagues that have the highest quality of athletes on the planet creates a ceiling on professional soccer in the United States,” said Marc Ganis, president of the consulting firm SportsCorp. “It has not, and perhaps never, will supplant any of the major legacy sports unless and until the quality of play and players increases significantly and the U.S. men’s team in particular is more competitive and, in fact, wins some of the major international tournaments.”

Momentum of playoff runs was interrupted because of World Cup qualifying, and the culmination of the league’s season competes for attention with the NFL and college football among the wider American sports audience.

“Long-term demographic things like CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) and stuff with the NFL says maybe there is a long slow decline around some of that, but when you’re starting from where they’re starting, that’s going to take a generation,” Sounders general manager Garth Lagerwey said. “We’ll grow because most of the immigration to the U.S. is from soccer-playing countries and the country is going to grow.”

Launched with 10 teams in 1996, two years after the U.S. hosted the World Cup, MLS expanded to 12 but cut back to 10 after the 2001 season. There has been steady growth since expansion started in 2004. Next year’s total will be 23, already well over the norm for a first division, and the league is planning to settle at 28.

Infrastructure could not be more different than in the early days. The league has 14 soccer specific stadiums, two more renovated for the sport and one built with both the NFL and soccer in mind. Three more soccer stadiums are under construction.

Average attendance is up 60 percent from 13,756 in 2000, boosted this year by 48,200 for Atlanta in its opening season. MLS trails only the Germany’s Bundesliga, England’s Premier League, Spain’s La Liga, Mexico’s Liga MX, the Chinese Super League and Serie A, with Italy’s first division ahead by only 22,177 to 22,106.

But that has not translated yet into big television ratings.

ESPN averaged 272,000 for 30 telecasts this regular season on ESPN and ESPN2, and Fox averaged 236,000 for 33 broadcasts on FS1 and Fox. In addition, Univision is averaging 250,000 viewers for its Spanish-language MLS telecasts.

But the Premier League attracts a larger audience, averaging 422,000 on NBC, NBCSN and CNBC, even though many matches are on weekend mornings.

“We’re not the Premier League,” Garber said, pointing out last year’s MLS Cup drew 1.4 million viewers on Fox. “The fact that we’re able to generate ratings growth across all of our partners here and in Canada, and dramatic growth in Canada, is a positive. So we actually, we and our partners, feel pretty darn good.”

Player payroll has increased as MLS keeps adding what it calls Targeted Allocation Money. While several older American players have returned to MLS from Europe, many of the teens viewed as the future of the U.S. national team have gone abroad as they emerge from the MLS youth academies, which have been mandated by the league since 2007 and produced more than 250 players with first-team MLS contracts.

Pulisic, at 19 already the leading American star, left Hershey, Pennsylvania, to sign with Borussia Dortmund at age 16, able because of his grandfather’s Croatian citizenship to play in Europe before he turned 18. McKennie left FC Dallas’ academy when he turned 18, signed with Schalke and scored in his U.S. debut this week.

“I didn’t want to become one of those guys that started in MLS and said, man, I wonder if I could have made it to Europe,” McKennie said. “I wanted to spread my wings and see what I could do over here.”

Forward Josh Sargent decided against Sporting Kansas City and is waiting until he turns 18 in February to sign with Werder Bremen.

“I think I’ve just always wanted since I was a little kid to play in Europe,” he said.

Tyler Adams, who also made his U.S. debut this week, played his first MLS game with the New York Red Bulls last year at age 17 and became a regular this season. Garber says “Tyler Adams probably is playing more minutes today for the Red Bulls than he would if he was not in Major League Soccer.”

Adams is happy but thinking ahead.

“Obviously a goal of mine is to play Champions League one day, and obviously the MLS is working its way to becoming one of the top leagues in the world,” he said. “Maybe one day I find myself in Europe. You never know.”

Sometimes big contracts only stall a career. Matt Miazga left the Red Bulls to sign with Chelsea in January 2016, saw little playing time and didn’t get in games regularly until late that autumn during a loan to the Dutch club Vitesse Arnhem.

“If your only desire is to go to Europe, there are flights leaving every hour on the hour from JFK and LAX and everywhere in between,” said retired American defender Alexi Lalas, now a Fox analyst. “But getting to a place in Europe where you are making good money, where you are playing consistently, where you are learning, where you are valued as a player and as an American player, where you are able to adapt and adjust and live in the other 22 1/2 hours that we often don’t talk about, that’s whole `nother story, and there’s not a lot of flights leaving that have that on the other end.”

With the U.S. soccer community in turmoil following the World Cup failure, some have called for MLS to guarantee playing time for young Americans.

“Our coaches universally believed that that was not the best way to ensure we had the highest-possible product quality to be able to have competitive games and to drive the growth of our fan base,” Garber said.

AP Sports Writer Tim Booth contributed to this report.

Bartra error emphasizes Dortmund’s latest Bundesliga woes

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Christian Pulisic sat out Friday’s 2-1 Dortmund defeat against Stuttgart. Coincidence? Perhaps.

However, the club’s struggles are apparent as Dortmund’s winless run extended to four matches and their gap from Bundesliga leaders Bayern Munich could be up to nine points by the end of the weekend.

[ MORE: Chris Coleman steps down from Wales, expected to take Sunderland job ]

BVB was without several of its top talents for the match, including U.S. Men’s National Team star Pulisic and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, but it’s Dortmund’s defending that continues to be the side’s biggest issue.

Stuttgart struck after five minutes when Chadrac Akolo broke the deadlock off of an embarrassing blunder by Marc Bartra and the Dortmund defense.

Bartra attempted a routine back pass to goalkeeper Roman Burki during the early moments of the match, but his ball back proved to be way too strong and deflected off of Burki and into the path of Stuttgart forward Akolo (video below).

Dortmund atoned for the former Barcelona man’s mistake just prior to halftime when Maximilian Philipp equalized, but it took just six minutes into the second stanza for Josip Brekalo to restore the Stuttgart advantage.

Moyes: Chicharito could miss two weeks with hamstring strain

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David Moyes has given Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez assurances that he’ll have the opportunity to compete for a starting role with the Hammers, but the Mexican international will have to wait a bit for a chance.

[ MORE: North London Derby takes center stage Saturday morning ]

Hernandez, 29, is currently nursing a hamstring strain, leaving his status for this weekend against Watford in doubt.

“I think everyone knows he [Chicharito] has got a hamstring injury,” Moyes said during Friday’s press conference. “It could take a week, it could take two weeks.”

Moyes didn’t mince words recently when speaking about Chicharito and other players within the squad, essentially pointing out that no player will be awarded a starting role simply because of their stardom.

Hernandez has scored four goals in 13 matches this season for West Ham, who currently sits 18th in the Premier League. The Hammers have won just two matches to start the 2017/18 campaign and sit on nine points.