NPR column on “America vs. MLS” gets Twitter buzzing, but what’s so controversial about it?

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One of the big talking points this morning in the world of Twitter and soccer — and by the world we mean the United States and by “big talking points” we mean the usual suspects in U.S. Soccer media — is this short post by Frank Deford for National Public Radio.

Deford’s take is that American soccer, meaning MLS, hasn’t yet caught the imaginations of sports fans here, and that it isn’t likely to as long as Major League Soccer isn’t among the top leagues in the world.

And?

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Of course, that’s chapped several undersides in our “quick to react” soccer culture, and many are just calling Deford an over the hill, ancient-thinking click-baiting troll.

But that’s neglecting a couple of things:

1) Frank Deford is, on the whole, quite far from a troll, and one of the most respected writers of sports journalism’s modern era. Sure he has his salacious headlines, but on the whole his treatment of topics like this is far from patronization.

2) Doesn’t he have a point? I’m not talking about the fans in MLS, NASL and USL markets pumped about their local teams. That culture is brilliant, growing and going to keep moving up in interest. And soccer itself will continue to grow here, eventually reaching the heights Deford projects.

From NPR:

Soccer in America has a curious impediment to its popularity, and the problem is soccer — that is, everybody else’s soccer.

After all, Americans not only believe that we are the blessed exceptional, but that we have the divine right to always have the most exceptional entertainment right at our fingertips. The British Empire, theatrical division, seems to have taken up residence here. And hey, nobody has any problem with immigration if you’re a baseball, basketball or hockey player.

Yes, the World Cup attracted terrific interest, but then, so does Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, every time she has a baby. Then it’s back to all the first-rate exceptional diversions that we have right here.

Sure, Deford drops the inevitable “soccer moms” and diving/theater blasts, but in terms of MLS making the major leap most of us desire, no one is claiming the league is there, so why be upset when someone tells you the same? Plus, considering the long head start the States gave Europe, catching up in world-renown is almost impossible to do in 20 years. In this piece, Deford says that Beckham didn’t get the sport moving here — debatable — but he’s lavished praise on Becks/MLS in the past.

Deford, it should be noted, is not a soccer fan and many may be reacting to their distaste for his distaste as opposed to his point.

Put it this way: India and China are huge nations that are sure to be forces in soccer by the time most of us leave this Earth, but short of the Indian Super League and Chinese Super League signing the world’s best players and sponsors in the primes of their careers, it’s going to be a slow build.

Neutral American viewers, largely, are drawn in by the best of the best, and they tend to like it better when those “best” are playing at home. See NASCAR defeating open wheel racing as a prime example. In fact, one of the biggest sports in Europe that is also saluted by the U.S. is basketball, and the NBA is the biggest league in the world right now. Cricket and rugby, not so much.

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source: Getty ImagesSo here’s my point to Deford’s post: It really doesn’t matter. The opinion he presents is one that is going to be trumped in time, guaranteed, unless MLS vomits all over itself. United States businessmen have either bought or are consistently linked with big clubs in England. Ownership is a status symbol, and when it’s more important to have that be Stateside, those folks will vie with bigger businessmen for American club ownership.

MLS has some things to sort out, as do NASL and USL and any other interested ruling party in U.S. soccer. For one, this country is huge which makes minor and major league play quite a costly endeavor. And courting the European team fan to watch a currently inferior product is a challenge that demands a great stadium atmosphere. Some have it, some don’t… and it shouldn’t be ignored that the brightest ones hail from longtime soccer markets like Portland and Vancouver.

If you’re asking me, there’s no question that U.S.-based club soccer is going to arrive at its destination of being a major competitor on the club scene. It’s 100 percent unreasonable to expect it to be there now, or in five years. Being upset with Deford for stating the absolute obvious — to me — is like being mad at someone for observing that some butterflies are in cocoons while others are already soaring through the sky.

But hey, NPR got your attention. And Alexi Lalas underlined your hopes in a very real and salient way:

Sir Alex’s son in trouble for saying he’d “shoot” refs

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LONDON (AP) It clearly runs in the family.

Former Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson was known for having an explosive temper during his nearly 27 years at Old Trafford, and it seems he has passed it down to his son.

Darren Ferguson, who is the manager of third-tier English team Doncaster, is in trouble for saying he would “shoot” referees because of what he perceived as their poor standards.

Ferguson was charged by the English Football Association on Wednesday for remarks that “were improper and/or brought the game into disrepute.”

The 45-year-old coach has already apologized, saying it was a “tongue-in-cheek comment” and that “I do not advocate violence against officials.”

Ferguson was unhappy his team was denied a penalty in a 1-1 draw with Plymouth on Saturday.

“The referees are part-time and the standard is appalling, their fitness levels are a disgrace, I’ve had enough of it,” Ferguson said after the match.

“What can I do? Shoot them, it would be a good idea.”

Follow Live: Chelsea, Swans, Cherries in FA Cup replays

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Chelsea, Swansea City, and Bournemouth look to avoid upsets in replays of their third round FA Cup matches.

[ LIVE: Follow all the FA Cup scores here ]

All three matches kick off at 2:45 p.m. ET

The Blues tangle with former Premier League peers Norwich City, this time at Stamford Bridge, in a bid to host a fourth round match with Newcastle United.

Antonio Conte‘s not messing around (too much) with the XI.

Swansea City and Wolves, meanwhile, are arguably battling for a bid in the fourth round, as a trip to Notts County is on the docket for the winner of Wednesday’s replay at the Liberty Stadium.

Bournemouth is at Wigan Athletic for a replay with the third-tier Latics, with the victor hosting West Ham United on Jan. 27.

Benevento captain Lucioni banned one year for doping

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ROME (AP) Benevento captain Fabio Lucioni has been banned one year for doping.

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Italy’s national anti-doping organization made the decision Tuesday after the steroid clostebol was found in a sample taken after Benevento’s 1-0 loss to Torino in September.

Benevento team physician Walter Giorgione was banned for four years for administering the steroid to Lucioni in a spray.

Both Lucioni and Giorgione plan to appeal.

The 30-year-old Lucioni joined Benevento in 2014 and the defender helped the team move from the third division up into Serie A this season for the first time.

Benevento is last in Serie A with only two wins in 20 matches.

The ban is back-dated to October, meaning Lucioni can return early next season.

Everton completes move for Walcott: “I’m dead excited” (video)

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Everton continues to supply its managers with top-end talent, adding Theo Walcott to its expensive season of boys which includes Gylfi Sigurdsson, Wayne Rooney, Cenk Tosun, Jordan Pickford, and Michael Keane.

[ MORE: Plenty to prove for Big Sam ]

The deal is reported to be near $28 million for Walcott, who’s made only a half-dozen Premier League appearances this season but did nab three goals in five Europa League matches.

Walcott, 28, scored 108 goals in 397 appearances for the Gunners. His 19-goal campaign last season was his second-best — he scored 21 in 2012-13 — but Walcott dipped down Arsene Wenger‘s depth charge and is leaving to pursue regular football.

And his comments will be lapped up by the #WengerOut brigade at his now former club:

“The Club has won trophies but I want them to win trophies now. The manager is very hungry and it’s just what I need. I’ve had a couple of chats with him and straightaway I felt that hunger and that desire that he wanted from me. I need that and I wanted that

The move is another exciting one for Everton, which has underachieved under Ronald Koeman and now Sam Allardyce. And it’s another sale from Arsenal which gives pause: Are the underperforming Gunners going to regret the move?

In the 2005-06 season, Walcott made his Southampton debut in the Football League Championship at the age of 16, and moved to Arsenal the next season.

Walcott has eight goals in 47 caps for England, and won two FA Cups at Arsenal.

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Here is a useful quote from Sam Allardyce:“His physical output is excellent, he would be one of our top players in that area as well, which will hopefully bring us a lot more excitement and more ability to get forward quicker and create.

And here is an utterly useless one: ““If you analyse his goal record, then we are looking at a player who contributes goals on a regular basis.”

You don’t say. To paraphrase: If you look at all his goals, he regularly scores goals. Here’s more from the player on his move.