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What do NASL’s attendance records say about soccer’s future in the US?

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The North American Soccer League is staking its claim to big time soccer, as second- and third-tier soccer clubs continue to reap large attendance awards in 2014.

And if they keep it up, MLS will have to put its future plans out there earlier than expected.

The Ottawa Fury saw nearly 15,000 fans debut its new stadium on Sunday night, beating San Antonio’s two-year-old single-game record. The big turnout gave the NASL its best week of attendance in its brief history.

With USL Pro’s Sacramento Republic boasting nearly 15,000 of its own fans on a regular basis, and even fourth-tier Detroit City FC of the NPSL constantly topping 3,000 fans, the issue begs the question of how soccer in the United States will respond once minor league teams are regularly bringing attendance numbers that rival Major League Soccer (on a relative scale).

Don’t laugh.

The NASL’s Indy Eleven averaged 10,000-plus in the Spring season and there are many teams drawing between 4-6000 fans per game despite functioning at the lower levels of United States soccer.

MLS is going to run into scheduling problems when it reaches its goal of 24 teams. As soccer continues to explode in the States, what will the biggest league in the country do when demand goes boom?

Theoretically, if markets like Sacramento and Indianapolis continue to draw crowds, they will have the money to invest in better players (compete even). And if these markets can pull a Rhinos and make a run through the U.S. Open Cup? Where will their glory take them? What will it net them?

Phrased differently, the United States does not currently have promotion and relegation. It’s difficult to imagine Don Garber convincing Arthur Blank and David Beckham that having an ‘off’ season could doom their investments to a second-tier, but imagine the challenges faced by ownership and marketers in Indianapolis and Sacramento if they have to keep promoting their brand with no hope of a higher move?

Hopefully attendance numbers would stick, but that’s utopic at best. Could it be that MLS1 and MLS2 will have to come around, where free-spending teams like Miami, New York City, Red Bulls, Toronto and Los Angeles are constantly in the first tier of 16 and others are busting their humps to get promotion? Would a super league with Liga MX fit the bill?

source:
@NASLOfficial

This is all way oversimplified, but there is going to come a time in the next 10 years where MLS will be at another crossroads. Garber has mentioned many markets in his speeches on expansion and has been careful to hedge every argument with “at the right place and at the right time”.

It’s clear that it’s been discussed in the board rooms, but we have very few answers on what it will mean if Ottawa, Indy, Sacramento and Detroit continue to make good on their promise.

MLS has 22 teams committed to 20 markets. Soccer’s the most popular sport in the world and continues to grow in the U.S. (well beyond traditional markets, as well). It’s a tremendous ‘problem’ for MLS to have, and the league is arguably pretty responsible for the popularity growth of the sport nationwide.

But something will have to give soon enough. What will it be?

 

Bayern’s Vidal says “ugly” Atletico not deserved UCL finalists

MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 27: Juanfran of Atletico Madrid and Arturo Vidal of Bayern Munich argue during the UEFA Champions League semi final first leg match between Club Atletico de Madrid and FC Bayern Muenchen at Vincente Calderon on April 27, 2016 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
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Bayern Munich midfielder Arturo Vidal has declared “ugly” Atletico Madrid unworthy finalists in the UEFA Champions League.

Bayern was eliminated in the Champions League semifinal by Atleti on Tuesday, with Diego Simeone’s Spanish side advancing on away goals.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s UCL coverage ]

However, Vidal believed Bayern were the better team in the second leg, saying Atletico played “ugly football” to get through.

Today ugly football – Atletico – played against the best football in the world. The only time they saw the ball was for the goal.

They are going to be dreaming about us right up to the final. They did not have the ball, they took on the best team in the world, they took their chances and got to the final.

The best does not always win in football, like today. They are not deserved finalists.

Bayern Munich controlled more than 70-percent of possession and had 33 shots compared to Atletico’s nine, but those stats mean little as Antoine Griezmann’s away goal was enough to send Atleti to the final.

[ MORE: Former England striker Joe Cole headed to NASL’s Tampa Bay Rowdies ]

Atletico may not play the most attractive football, but after eliminating Barcelona and Bayern Munich in consecutive legs, it’s hard to argue anyone deserves this more than Simeone’s men.

Europa League preview: Liverpool, Shakhtar look to overcome Spanish foes

VILLARREAL, SPAIN - APRIL 28:  Cedric Bakambu of Villarreal is watched by the Liverpool defence during the UEFA Europa League semi final first leg match between Villarreal CF and Liverpool at Estadio El Madrigal on April 28, 2016 in Villarreal, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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The second leg of the Europa League semifinals kick off tomorrow, with two La Liga sides looking to make it an all-Spanish final.

[ MORE: Premier League Playback ]

Villarreal holds a 1-0 lead over Liverpool, while Sevilla scored two away goals in their 2-2 draw at Shakhtar Donetsk.

Liverpool vs. Villarreal – 3:05 p.m. ET
Villarreal won first leg 1-0

Adrian Lopez’s late winner in the first leg has given Villarreal a slight lead, while the Spanish side did well not to concede an away goal. However, Liverpool have overcome deficits at Anfield before, including their memorable 4-3 victory over Borussia Dortmund in the quarterfinals. Emre Can is back fit for the Reds, as manager Jurgen Klopp will hope his fellow German can help the team to a cup final in his first year in charge.

[ RELATED: Liverpool preparing for another big Thursday night at Anfield ]

Sevilla vs. Shakhtar Donetsk – 3:05 p.m. ET
First leg ended 2-2 draw 

Sevilla are looking to become the first team to win three consecutive Europa League titles as the two-time defending champions face off against Shakhtar Donetsk. Sevilla are in the driver’s seat after scoring two away goals in Ukraine, and will feel confident of advancing to the final with a great home record at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium.

Men in Blazers podcast: Celebrating Leicester’s title with Arlo White

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In the latest Men in Blazers podcast, Rog and Davo celebrate Leicester City’s improbable Premier League title with Leicester’s own Arlo White.

All of the MiB content — pods, videos and stories can be seen here, but to really stay in touch, follow, subscribe, click here:

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European police say Russian mafia infiltrating soccer clubs

LISBON, PORTUGAL - NOVEMBER 04:  Sporting Lisbon fans celebrate after their team score a goal during the Portuguese Liga match between Sporting Lisbon and Uniao Leiria at the Alvalade XXI Stadium on November 4, 2005 in Lisbon, Portugal.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
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LISBON, Portugal (AP) Portuguese and European police say they have broken up a cell of an important Russian mafia group that allegedly laundered money through European football clubs.

Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement agency, said in a statement Wednesday the group identified EU football clubs in financial distress and infiltrated them with benefactors who brought much-needed cash.

[ MORE: Man City bounced from UCL ]

Once they were in control, the mobsters allegedly laundered millions of euros (dollars) through player transfers, TV rights deals and betting.

Portuguese and European police on Tuesday raided third-division Portuguese club Uniao de Leiria and arrested three key members of the Russian gang. Three other Portuguese clubs’ premises were searched.

Europol said the operation helped identify serious crimes in Austria, Germany, and the United Kingdom, though it gave no details.