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Report: New York Cosmos on brink of collapse, again

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The North American Soccer League (NASL) seems to be in a lot of trouble.

After losing Minnesota United to Major League Soccer and both the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Ottawa Fury to USL in the past few months, the future of the NASL has been in question with only nine teams still around for the 2017 campaign and both the Fort Lauderdale Strikers and Rayo OKC said to be having severe financial issues of their own.

[ MORE: Hazard selects title rivals ]

Couple all of that with the USL’s progress and it filing for Division Two status for the 2017 season, and everything is beginning to stack up against the NASL just five years into its second coming as a soccer league.

The latest news that the NASL champs in three of the last four seasons — also the team which has the largest payroll and the biggest brand — have now had payroll problems and have yet to make season ticket sales available for next season unfortunately comes as no surprise.

Dave Martinez over at Empire Soccer has the report, which also states that an NASL meeting will take place with the Board of Governors on Tuesday to discuss the future of the league. That doesn’t sound good.

Here’s the latest on the Cosmos:

After another cataclysmic year at the gate, it stands to reason that the club could be looking at a bare-bones operation for 2017. Still, it is impossible to ignore the facts. The team hasn’t taken ticket deposits for next year. The location of their 2017 home venue, still believed to be MCU Park, remains a mystery. Players are being shopped for transfer. Payroll isn’t being met. Staff are being furloughed.

Does that sound like a team that is gearing up for the New Year? The NASL is conducting a Board of Governors meeting this Tuesday to address the future of the league. And for the first time since its reincarnation, one can only guess if the Cosmos will be a part of that future.

Simply put, it was tough to see the Comos’ business model being successful.

They’ve had big names, presumably on big wages, in recent years with Raul and Marcos Senna trying to help raise the profile of the club but attendance figures continued to dip below the league average (which was 5,912 in 2015) and with no big TV deals and Major League Soccer the main focus for commercial and marketing opportunities in North American soccer, the NASL’s status as a second-tier league meant many of its clubs have had to battle away just to make ends meet.

With the NASL trying to force its way as a first-tier league running alongside MLS for many years, it now seems like the league which originally flourished in North America from 1970-85 is once again on the brink of extinction.

For the Cosmos, their strong global brand should have meant they would’ve been successful in MLS but issues behind-the-scenes meant no agreement for them to move into the top-flight of North American soccer was made and then for the 2015 season New York City FC arrived on the scene in the Big Apple, meaning MLS now had two teams in NYC and the Cosmos fell further down the pecking order in terms of relevance. There’s no doubting the Cosmos would’ve been a success in MLS but looking from the outside, the door for them to enter MLS seems well and truly shut.

Nobody involved in the U.S. soccer community wants to see a league or individual teams struggle. So many have in the past and unfortunately many will in the future.

With the Cosmos reportedly in dire straits, the reality of the struggle lower-tier teams in the U.S. and Canada are facing is now all of a sudden very real.

Timbers sign Peruvian winger Andy Polo from Liga MX’s Morelia

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) The Portland Timbers have acquired winger Andy Polo on loan from Liga MX club Monarcas Morelia for the upcoming season.

The 23-year-old native of Peru played in 25 matches last year for Morelia and made six starts with two goals.

He’s also World Cup-bound, having appeared in Peru’s two-legged playoff against New Zealand in November. Peru won 2-0 on aggregate. Overall, he’s appeared with the Peruvian national team 15 times since his senior debut in 2016.

“Andy is a versatile, young player who will add another element to our attack, and we believe that he has further upside to his development,” Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese said in a statement.

The Timbers used targeted allocation money and have a purchase option. Polo’s arrival is pending a physical and receipt of a visa.

He will occupy an international roster spot.

Can Man United still sign Sanchez without Mkhitaryan swap?

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The answer to the (first) titled question is, undoubtedly, yes.

[ MORE: Wednesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Tuesday | Friday ]

The latter question — the “will they?” — remains a relative unknown at this point, but if reports out of the UK are to be believed, Manchester United are just as likely to send $40 million (or so) Arsenal’s way in exchange for Alexis Sanchez, should Henrikh Mkhitaryan refuse the move by declining any contract offers from the Gunners.

[ MORE: Conte bewildered VAR not used in Chelsea PK controversies ]

The thinking, at least for the last few days since Man United somewhat unexpectedly entered the Sanchez sweepstakes, was that swapping the Armenian for the Chilean was the obvious — and, perhaps only — way forward. Call it special circumstances or an obvious audible, but that’s not necessarily the case — from the Guardian:

“It is understood that if Mkhitaryan does not leave Mourinho believes that, given the club’s robust finances, [Man United executive vice-chairman] Ed Woodward could still sanction a move for a player who would potentially vastly improve United.”

By the time Sanchez is signed, sealed and delivered, United will have also paid Sanchez and his agent, Fernando Felicevich, massive signing-on fees that could total another $30 million. No matter the order in which the Sanchez-Mkhitaryan saga plays out, United will come out ahead with a superior player at a massively discounted price — should Sanchez ultimately move to Old Trafford, of course.

Conte bewildered VAR not used in Chelsea PK controversies

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If the FA, English football’s governing body, is insistent upon testing video-assistant refereeing (VAR) as they have done in recent FA Cup and League Cup fixtures, Antonio Conte believes they should darn well use it.

[ MORE: Wednesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Tuesday | Friday ]

Following his Chelsea side’s penalty-shootout victory over Norwich City in an FA Cup third-round replay on Wednesday, Conte was equal parts frustrated and confused by the fact that video-referee Mike Jones failed to prompt referee Graham Scott to consult the on-trial system on multiple occasions.

Most notably, Chelsea’s 92nd-minute (extra-time) penalty shout following Timm Klose‘s tackle on Willian. Scott, instead, booked the Brazilian for diving — one of three cards, all shown to Chelsea players, for simulation on the night — and that was that.

“If you watch the replay you see very clearly it is a penalty,” said Conte after the game — quotes from the BBC:

“I think that there was a penalty but not on [Alvaro] Morata — on Willian.

“With Willian, the referee heard what the other referee watched and decided to continue to play. If we want to try to use this new system, it is important for the referee to wait, especially in this incident that is not so clear.

“And then when the referee that is watching had a doubt, he has to call the referee to watch and he can make a decision. The referee on the pitch has to make the decision, not one off the pitch.

“We can improve it for sure but we need to try to take the best solution. The final decision is for the ref on the pitch. Otherwise, why is there this ref?

“The mistake wasn’t of the ref on the pitch but the person watching. When you see this, you have to call the referee.”

VAR was used in another third-round replay, on Tuesday, and helped to correctly rule Leicester City striker Kelechi Iheanacho as being in an onside position when he scored his side’s second goal. While offside/onside calls are much clearer, cut-and-dry decisions to make — and with the aid of a natural stoppage in play — clearly much work lies ahead with regard to the process of determining whether the referee has made a “clear and obvious error,” which remains the threshold for using VAR, in instances of fouls/diving.

Copa QF: Messi misses PK, Barca’s 29-game unbeaten run ends

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MADRID (AP) — Lionel Messi missed a penalty and Barcelona conceded late as its 29-match unbeaten streak ended in a 1-0 loss to city rival Espanyol in the first leg of their Copa del Rey quarterfinal on Wednesday.

Messi failed from the spot in the 62nd minute, his shot brilliantly saved by goalkeeper Diego Lopez.

Youngster Oscar Melendo netted the winner for the hosts in the 88th with his first goal as a professional.

“I have no words, I was looking forward to this first goal,” said the 20-year-old Melendo, who had come on as a substitute in the second half.

It was Espanyol’s first win against Barcelona at its RCDE Stadium.

The second leg of the Catalan derby is next week at Camp Nou.

Barcelona hadn’t lost since a 2-0 defeat by Real Madrid in the second leg of the Spanish Super Cup on Aug. 16. It had won 23 of its last 29 matches in all competitions.

“We knew we would lose one day,” Barcelona midfielder Sergio Busquets said. “The positive thing is that in a week we have a chance to rebound and advance.”

Messi had his chance from the spot after Sergi Roberto was fouled by Esteban Granero, but his low shot into the right corner was stopped as Diego Lopez dived to his left to tip the ball away.

It was a rare miss for Messi, who is having a stellar season and is the Spanish league’s top scorer with 17 goals.

“The penalty save gave us the boost that we needed,” Melendo said. “We were playing too defensively.”

Melendo netted the winner with a low shot from the middle of the area after a well-timed pass by Marc Navarro.

Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde did not use all of the team’s regular starters, leaving players such as Luis Suarez on the bench.

The match was interrupted for a few minutes in the 76th after Barcelona goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen was hit by an object thrown by fans behind his goal.

Barcelona midfielder Paulinho was replaced in the second half because of a foot injury.