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New Republic FC owner should continue Sacramento’s meteoric rise in expansion conversation

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Witness the competition for one of Major League Soccer’s last expansion slots: new stadium renderings in Las Vegas; a rebuttal from San Antonio; the continued strength of Minnesota’s options. As quickly as competitors are driving up that next expansion fee, they’re also adding to the depth of their bids, be it with new stadiums, heightened lobbying, or new, more influential investors.

Today, Sacramento has added the third option. Selling his controlling stake in the team he founded, Republic FC’s Warren Smith is giving way to Kevin Nagle, a part-time owner of the Sacramento Kings who now has a controlling interest in the Republic. Smith will stay on as club president, while Nagle becomes the leading figure in the nascent team’s quest for first division soccer.

“Kevin’s leadership and investment in Republic FC positions (gives) us as one of the top ownership groups in the sport,” said Republic FC President Warren Smith, via a statement posted to the club’s website. “His success, credibility and financial wherewithal provide us the capability to succeed with our MLS bid.”

Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson, described by the Sacramento Bee as a close friend and ally of Nagle, also praised the move.

“This is a big win for Republic FC and our efforts to secure an MLS franchise,” Johnson said. A former NBA point guard, Johnson worked with Nagle to keep the Kings in Sacramento in the face of a last year’s threatened relocation to Seattle.

The relationship may be why today’s announcement is seen as a step forward in Sacramento’s question for Major League Soccer. From the Bee:

The announcement that Nagle owns the Republic was seen as a necessary step to underscore the seriousness of Sacramento’s bid to join MLS. Nagle and Johnson have spoken in general terms of formulating a privately financed stadium that could host an MLS team. One site could be in the currently vacant downtown rail yards.

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Kevin Nagle, the founder and former CEO of Envision Pharmaceutical Holdings, will lead Republic FC’s quest to win a place in Major League Soccer.

“I love Sacramento – its community, resilience and potential,” Nagle said in the Republics, statement. “Early on, I admired Republic FC’s success and efforts to galvanize this region; its bid for MLS is not only about sports, but also a shared vision for Sacramento. I am honored to work side-by-side with Mayor Kevin Johnson and Republic FC President Warren Smith to procure MLS for Sacramento and demonstrate why this region is built for MLS.”

With Nagle in place and Johnson on board, Sacramento’s meteoric rising into the MLS conversation should continue. While there are some concerns about the bid — lack of prolonged history; nearly losing its NBA team last year; being too close to the sun — there are a number of positives coming into play, included the team’s record attendance in USL Pro.

Averaging 11,842 per game in the third tier, the Republic’s success is undeniable. And solid ownership has always been a vital component of an MLS expansion bid. Looking across the landscape, few other locations offer the same collection of benefits as California’s capital.

As somebody who has spent much of my life in Central California (albeit, not Sacramento), I’m torn. Of the many times I’ve visited Sacramento, exactly zero recommended the city for potential MLS success. Be it in its history, demographics, or the geography/environment of the region, Sacramento seems to bear few similarities to the markets that are now fueling Major League Soccer.

But thanks to Smith, that narrative is quickly changing. The huge fan base is reminiscent of the Cascadia teams that have joined the league over the last six years. The ownership group may become reminiscent of Joey Saputo (Montréal) or Phil Rawlins (Orlando City), though we’ll need more time to judge. And although Sacramento’s summer weather presents a challenge, it’s not one that can’t be overcome.

Whatever negatives we spitballed about Sacramento may find a different perspective, particularly in light of the rest of Major League Soccer’s options. If the league were stopping at 20 franchises, the city may be a hard sell. Expand that field to 24, and all of a sudden Sacramento has a lot to offer.

Thibaut Courtois committed to Chelsea despite links to PSG

WATFORD, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 03:  Thibaut Courtois of Chelsea in action during the Barclays Premier League match between Watford and Chelsea at Vicarage Road on February 3, 2016 in Watford, England.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Thibaut Courtois has denied reports he could leave London for Paris Saint-Germain this summer after a disappointing season at Chelsea.

The 23-year-old goalkeeper missed a large portion of the season through injury and failed to regain his top form when healthy as the Blues struggled throughout the year.

With a new manager in Antonio Conte taking over in June, some believed Courtois would be sold to allow the Italian to bring in a goalkeeper of his choice.

[ MORE: Atletico Madrid reach UCL final ]

Despite recent reports linking Courtois with a transfer to PSG that would make him the most expensive goalkeeper in the world, the Belgian international does not fancy a move to France.

Speaking to French newspaper Le Parisien, Courtois said he is happy at Chelsea and will “100-percent” be back at Stamford Bridge next season.

I have never had any contact with PSG. I have played a lot against PSG recently – twice last season, again this season in a friendly and twice more in the Champions League this year.

They are a good club who win their league easily. Me, I like playing in England. Paris is a very good club but I am happy at Chelsea.

I have a contract for three years, so I will say 100 per cent [be staying at Chelsea]. Rumours affect any club where things are going badly. People think the top players want to leave because they are not in the Champions League.

Those words show quite a change from Courtois’ opinion a few months ago, when he cast doubt over his Chelsea future.

At just 23, Courtois has already made more than 200 appearances in his career for Atletico Madrid and Chelsea. Although he did not have a standout season this year, Courtois has shown his talent as a potential top-five goalkeeper in the world and Conte would be wise to keep him.

Former CONMEBOL president has petition to stop extradition rejected

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ASUNCION, Paraguay (AP) Paraguay’s top court has rejected a petition by Nicolas Leoz, the former head of the South American football confederation, to halt his extradition to the United States.

Leoz is being held under house arrest in Paraguay. He is accused of receiving millions in bribes and kickbacks and was among dozens of top officials indicted in the FIFA corruption scandal.

[ FOLLOW: Leicester City’s miracle ]

Leoz’s lawyer Ricardo Preda told The Associated Press that his petition was turned down, but that he would continue to appeal against the extradition.

Leoz was the head of CONMEBOL from 1986 until 2013 when he resigned, and was replaced by Eugenio Figueredo of Uruguay.

Figueredo is under house arrest in Uruguay on similar charges. Figueredo was replaced by Juan Angel Napoul of Paraguay, who is under house arrest in Miami.

Cristiano Ronaldo back healthy for Real Madrid; will play vs. Man City

MADRID, SPAIN - MAY 03:  Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid warms up during a training session ahead of the UEFA Champions League Semi Final Second Leg between Real Madrid and Manchester City at Valdebebas training ground on May 3, 2016 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
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Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane has confirmed that Cristiano Ronaldo is “100-percent” for Wednesday’s Champions League semifinal match against Manchester City.

Ronaldo missed the first leg at the Etihad while recovering from a thigh injury, which ended a scoreless draw.

[ MORE: UCL semifinal preview ]

The Champions League’s all-time leading scorer with 93 goals, Ronaldo has not featured for Real since suffering the injury in a La Liga match against Villarreal on April 20.

Real Madrid had the better of chances in the first leg in Manchester, but Joe Hart’s heroics stopped Zidane’s side from grabbing an all-important away goal. However, Ronaldo’s absence was clearly visible and his return is a massive boost for Real.

[ RELATED: Atletico Madrid eliminate Bayern Munich, advance to UCL final ]

Even if Ronaldo is not 100-percent fit as Zidane claims, his inclusion in the lineup is still vital for Real’s success. A threat in so many different aspects of the game, his presence alone can throw off opposing defenses, leaving more time and space for his teammates to expose a City back-line that has its flaws.

Premier League chairman: Leicester City made mugs of all of us

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 03:  Leicester reacts to Leicester City's Premier League Title Success on May 03, 2016 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
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Premier League executive chairman Richard Scudamore has been around football for a long time, but even he can’t explain Leicester City’s miraculous title run.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s Leicester coverage ]

With the Foxes now officially champions of England, Scudamore hailed the achievement as “the biggest sporting story ever.”

Speaking to BBC Sport, the Premier League’s top exec said Leicester’s run has silenced all the bookmakers and critics who said it could never happen, but that he wouldn’t want it any other way.

It’s probably the biggest sporting story ever and the biggest sporting achievement ever.

Nobody saw it coming and even when it was halfway through the season nobody said it could be sustained.

We don’t know what the future holds because we’ve all become completely hopeless at predicting anything, including the bookmakers and everybody else – because this one nobody saw coming.

It’s made mugs of all of us and that is just the most fantastic feeling.

If the bookmakers had it as a 5,000-1 event, you would imagine you should achieve these type of things once every 5,000 years. It gives us 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years of being able to say: ‘Leicester 2016. Just remember Leicester 2016.’

Pegged as pre-season favorites for relegation, Leicester defied the odds (5,000-1 odds) and claimed the most unlikely of championships. A top executive with the Premier League since 1999, even Scudamore had to admit he had a bit of egg on his face.

[ VOTE: What is the top moment from Leicester’s fairytale run? ]

Scudamore may not have believed in the Foxes, but few outside the city really did. One thing the chairman did have right though, is that we will all remember ‘Leicester 2016.’