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Don Garber on MLS expansion; promotion/relegation

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Don Garber is gearing up for his 18th season as Major League Soccer Commissioner.

[ MORE: MLS 2017 season previews

It promises to be the busiest yet with a record 22 teams in MLS and plenty of questions surrounding future expansion franchises elsewhere.

Ahead of the 2017 MLS season, the commissioner spoke to Sky Sports in the UK about where the next teams could be and he believes things would become a lot clearer in the next few months after 12 cities across the U.S. recently submitted formal bids for an MLS expansion franchise.

“We’ve just announced we are going to announce four new teams to go from 24 to 28 which would be the largest professional division one league in the world, 12 cities from across the United States have submitted bids and great cities where we don’t have teams; San Diego, St. Louis, Sacramento and Nashville. These are really big cities with millions and millions of people and people don’t have a division one pro team to call their own with their own stadium, so we will be a 28 team league and I think that is it for us. We have to set into the right format, build more value  and more popularity in our markest and get those stadiums up and operating. That is going to take many, many years to fulfill manage and roll out effectively.”

[ MORE: MLS 2017 schedule

The leader of MLS was then pushed on the timeline of the four new franchises joining MLS, reiterating his target for North America’s top-flight expanding to 28 teams by 2022 and then that will be that.

“By the end of the 2017 calendar year we will select teams 25 and 26, the final two will come in sometime thereafter and we haven’t really selected that date,” Garber said. “Teams 25 and 26, we hope to have coming into MLS in 2020. Then 27 and 28 probably in 2022 to match a World Cup year but this is work in progress. We are just evaluating those applications and it is very simple. We need a great owner in that market who really believes in their team, very solid and very committed to the game in our country. Then it’s the city itself, does it support the game? 20 years ago there were very few cities like that and today I think there isn’t a market anywhere in the United States which couldn’t effectively support an MLS team.”

He then stressed the notion of having a new stadium plan is the other key factor for these potential expansion franchises, as he cited the new downtown home of Orlando City SC and D.C. United breaking ground on a new stadium this week.

Garber also made his feelings very clear on the potential of promotion and relegation in MLS when asked why the league seems to be so equal with eight different champions in the past 10 seasons.

“It’s almost ironic to hear you talk about the excitement because the hardcore fan here who primarily follows the European leagues, they think that this idea of promotion and relegation is the only way to have a fair and effective competition. It just doesn’t work. It doesn’t resonate with us,” Garber said. “The NBA, NFL, NHL, MLB don’t have promotion and relegation and it works just fine there. Playoffs are great, every team is working hard throughout the year. You don’t get the Leicester story, and that is one we all in the soccer business have been following with great attention.

“But the fact that every team has same resources, salary caps, we have rules on how players are acquired and how they are moved within the league and moved abroad. We have strict rules on investment which is necessary on the youth and academy levels. All of that gives each chef the same ingredients and the best chef wins, as opposed to the one who spends the most money or panicking because they’re not where they need to be halfway through the season and their fans are providing them with pressure which is unmanageable in an economically viable way. Those are the systems and we believe in it. I’m an ex-NFL guy and that league is very strong here and in the UK and around the world. We think our system is right for us.”

Serie A: Juve keep winning to remain 1 point back of Napoli

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TURIN, Italy (AP) Juventus closed the gap on Serie A leader Napoli back to just one point as the six-time defending champion eased past Genoa 1-0 on Monday.

Douglas Costa scored in the 16th minute, the first conceded by Genoa in five league matches. It was a less than convincing performance from Juventus but it was never really troubled, as goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny – standing in for the still-injured Gianluigi Buffon – was little more than a spectator.

“What was important was to win,” Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri said. “At the end there was a bit of nervousness because we were lacking in energy a bit.

“We could have finished off the match in the first half, and again with a couple of occasions after the break. We didn’t manage to so compliments to Genoa.”

The battle for the Serie A title is shaping into a two-horse race. Juventus moved 10 points clear of third-placed Lazio, although the capital side has a match in hand.

“The season is still long and all those who are behind us can still get back into the race,” Allegri said. “It was important to stay in Napoli’s slipstream.”

Juventus needed to win after Napoli beat Atalanta 1-0 on Sunday.

Allegri’s side started brightly and had an early chance to take the lead but Genoa goalkeeper Mattia Perin did well to keep out a free kick from specialist Miralem Panic.

However, it did not take much longer to strike. Douglas Costa passed out left to Mario Mandzukic, who played a delightful return ball for the Brazil midfielder to slot into the bottom left corner.

League Cup semi: Man City take 2-1 lead into 2nd leg vs. Bristol

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Manchester City can move one step closer on Tuesday to claiming their first of four potential trophies this season, when Pep Guardiola‘s men take on Bristol City in the second leg of the League Cup semifinal.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday ]

After coming back to beat the Robins in the first leg at home, Man City must now go on the road and take care of business to reach the Feb. 25 final at Wembley Stadium. As he has done so many times — and so famously — in the sky blue of City, Sergio Aguero grabbed the late winner (91st minute — WATCH HERE) 14 days ago.

For a few not-so-insignificant periods of the game, Bristol were very much the aggressors and appeared more likely to make the score 2-0 than for City to get back to 1-1. Bobby Reid converted from the penalty spot in the 44th minute after her was brought down under John Stones‘ wild, sliding tackle. Kevin De Bruyne leveled things up 10 minutes into the second half, setting the stage for Aguero’s late heroics.

[ MORE: Alexis-for-Mkhi swap complete | De Bruyne’s new contract ]

Since the first leg on Jan. 9, City have failed in their bid to finish the PL season with an unbeaten record before bouncing back to beat Newcastle United on the weekend, courtesy of a hat trick from Aguero — Guardiola quotes, from Sport24:

“I said many times it was going to happen, we can lose, so (it is) important the reaction we have. Still we have 42 points to play (for). It is 14 games. It is a lot of games to play and difficult games like Saturday and like Liverpool. It is important to show the team is still there but I don’t have the feeling we give up.

“We want to go through to the final in the (League) Cup and the FA Cup, so (we have) a lot of games but I think the people have the desire to keep going, to keep going, to keep going.”

[ MORE: One dream January signing for each top-six side ]

Bristol, meanwhile, have fallen on hard times: it’s been nearly a month (Boxing Day, to be specific — five losses, one draw) since Lee Johnson’s side last won a game in any competition, and they’ve fallen from second to fifth in the Championship table — Johnson quotes, from the Guardian:

“We don’t want to be brave losers, we want to compete to win. It’s up to the players to be focused and tactically aware, and who knows what will happen if we can show the same quality as we have shown in the previous rounds?

“We have to make sure we’re really bold. If you’re going to deliver a corner, do it like you mean it. I’d rather fail bold than fail timid. We know we have to score. I hope Pep picks his absolute best team and we can give them a right go. I’m not sure you could go and play an under-23 side against us at the moment and I think he’ll know that.”

The winner of Arsenal versus Chelsea (0-0 after the first leg) awaits in the final.

The 2 Robbies: Alexis-Mkhitaryan Swap Becomes Reality

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Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe react to the Alexis Sanchez-Henrikh Mkhitaryan swap deal between Arsenal and Manchester United finally becoming reality (0:20), Swansea’s stunning 1-0 victory over Liverpool (9:20), Southampton’s much-needed draw with Spurs (22:30) and Watford’s decision to part ways with Marco Silva (36:20). The gents end the show sharing their memories of the late English striker, Cyrille Regis (39:45).

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

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Follow them on Twitter @The2Robbies

Inter Milan sign Barcelona midfielder Rafinha on loan

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MILAN (AP) Inter Milan completed the signing of Barcelona midfielder Rafinha on loan until the end of the season, with a view to a permanent move.

Inter can sign the Brazil international permanently for $43 million plus $3.7 million in bonuses, and said on Monday that option “must be taken up before the end of the season.”

Rafinha, who was born in Sao Paulo, had been at Barcelona since 2006, when he joined its youth team. He spent the 2013-14 season on loan at Celta Vigo.

After nine months out after surgery on his right knee, he made his first appearance of the season last week as a late substitute in Barcelona’s Copa del Rey defeat at Espanyol.

“It’s an important stage in my life,” he said, “and I had a lot of desire to approach this new phase in my career.”

Inter has slipped to fourth in Serie A, 11 points behind leader Napoli.

It could slip out of the Champions League places if Roma wins its match in hand on Wednesday.

“I hope to play in as many matches as possible and help the team to reach our objective which is Champions League qualification,” Rafinha said.