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World Cup expansion will destroy regional qualifying

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On Thursday, FIFA announced a preliminary plan to expand the World Cup to a whopping 48 teams, starting in 2026 if the approval process goes as planned.

Every continental region is gaining slots, with CONCACAF nearly doubling its allotment, Africa adding four teams, and Europe gaining three. 46 teams would make the tournament outright, while another two would come from a six-team playoff.

The early outlook was met with cautious optimism across the soccer community, and there’s no doubt that the World Cup itself would benefit from expansion, with not only a significantly increased revenue stream for the FIFA brass to gawk at, but also viewers will gain from added entertainment, a la March Madness as smaller countries gain access to opportunities to shock larger nations in front of a grander audience.

[ MORE: FIFA announces World Cup expansion details ]

Despite the obvious gains, what gets completely and utterly dismantled is the qualification stage. In exchange for a month of tournament-style wackiness, not only does making the World Cup completely lose any remaining pedigree, but the qualification stage becomes an afterthought for continental powerhouses.

This particularly applies to CONCACAF, where currently the final round of qualification features a six-team round-robin. The way it stands currently, the usual bunch can often overcome minor slips to qualify on a regular basis, but as we’re seeing with the United States, at least things are interesting for the opening few rounds and questions often remain throughout the entire process. Just last cycle, we saw Mexico qualify thanks to the United States’ generosity with a last-second goal against Panama to send their southern neighbors through. Bottom line: it’s not always easy.

Now, with the new system, a massive total of six teams will make the finals, leaving almost no doubt about the fates of those at the top. Mexico and the United States will be shoo-ins, leaving the qualification process a near-afterthought. Sure, countries that don’t always see the final rounds will now have an increased shot, and that’s a great development for the growth of the game worldwide, but it comes at a great price. Now, instead of the ability to lure casual World Cup-only fans with meaningful games between tournaments, national teams will be left with a shell of the old qualification process to slog through.

Looking to Europe, already teams like France, Spain, and Germany are running away with their groups in the current format. Add three more slots to the mix, and even the next tier of countries like England, Poland, and Italy will be given near-automatic spots. Group G currently sees Spain and Italy battling for the automatic berth, with the runner-up left with a chance at disappointment in a one-game playoff. Now, with the new system, the life is sucked from the process, and teams are left with glorified friendlies.

In South America, four (usually five) teams make the tournament. That often leaves a top team sweating it out near the end of the cycle, with Argentina currently tugging at its collar having slipped in recent qualifiers. Add two more automatic slots, and you can kiss the drama goodbye. As it stands, Argentina – despite three losses in its last five matches – would still be four points clear of danger.

tl;dr version: It’s no fun anymore.

Nobody is surprised by FIFA’s pursuit of yet another way to increase revenue; we’ve seen it countless times before. Unfortunately, the price is high, as the 3-1/2 years between would entirely fall apart.

Report: LA FC near deal for Honduras goalkeeper Luis Lopez

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As this year’s MLS newcomers aim to fill out the rest of their roster, Los Angeles FC appears close to adding a goalkeeper.

[ SOURCES: Jack Harrison expected to sign for Stoke this winter ]

Reports out of Honduras have stated that Luis Lopez is close to signing with the expansion side, which will suit up for manager Bob Bradley starting in March.

The 24-year-old Lopez most recently played for Real Espana in Honduras’ top flight, who won the league’s Aperatura season. Real currently sits third through one match to start the Clausura season.

At the moment, LA FC has just one other goalkeeper on its roster, former Seattle Sounders keeper Tyler Miller.

Additionally, the Real Espana goalkeeper has made 12 appearances for the Honduras national team.

Bayern beats Bremen 4-2 to go 16 points clear in Bundesliga

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BERLIN (AP) Robert Lewandowski scored twice as Bayern Munich stretched its considerable Bundesliga lead even further Sunday with a 4-2 win over visiting Werder Bremen.

It’s the sixth consecutive round in which Bayern has extended its lead since a defeat at Borussia Moenchengladbach in the 13th round – Jupp Heynckes’ only blot in 17 games across all competitions since he returned as coach.

[ MORE: Javi Gracia named new Watford manager ]

Bayern moved 16 points clear after 19 games.

Despite facing a relegation fight and aware of the side’s terrible record in Munich – Bayern scored at least five goals in each of Bremen’s last five visits – the visiting players showed they weren’t overawed and started brightly.

Max Kruse struck the post early on, and the visitors duly went ahead in the 25th minute when Kruse timed his pass perfectly for Jerome Gondorf to squeeze the ball past Sven Ulreich, through the goalkeeper’s legs.

But Bayern struck back with its first real chance minutes before the break. Thomas Mueller controlled Jerome Boateng’s cross on his chest with his first touch and profited from defender Milos Veljkovic‘s loss of balance as he scored with his next.

Lewandowski, who skipped Bayern’s previous game with a knee problem, put the home side in front with a powerful header from James Rodriguez’ corner with a half-hour remaining.

An own-goal from Niklas Suele gave Bremen renewed hope, but Lewandowski grabbed his league-leading 17th goal of the season minutes later with another header, this time Mueller providing the cross.

Mueller then sealed it late with his second of the game off a ball over the top from James. It was the 28-year-old’s 100th Bundesliga goal.

Mueller suggested Bayern’s nine-day break between games had a negative impact as the team had an even tougher week than usual in training.

“Perhaps that’s a small reason (for Bayern’s lackluster start),” Mueller said. “We certainly have to work on a few things, like we do after every game. We’re not yet where we want to be. But the team’s attitude and condition are excellent.”

SCHALKE DISAPPOINTS

Niclas Fuellkrug scored late for Hannover to grab a 1-1 draw at Schalke, denying the home side the opportunity to go second.

Much of the Schalke supporters’ attention was focused on Leon Goretzka, the Germany midfielder who agreed to join Bayern on a free transfer at the end of the season.

There were whistles for Goretzka as his name was called out before kickoff, and there were more any time he touched the ball before he was eventually taken off for Weston McKennie.

Some fans held a large banner declaring: “Neither money nor titles are worth more than our club.”

Marko Pjaca scored early on his first Bundesliga start after joining Schalke from Juventus, but the home side did not press its advantage and Fuellkrug earned the visitors a deserved share of the points. Hannover’s Felix Klaus hit the post in the first half.

Transfer rumor roundup: Auba to Arsenal, Man City target Evans, Fred

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With less than 10 days remaining in the winter transfer window in England, and other leagues not too far behind, teams are looking to bolster their rosters in an attempt to make title pushes come May.

[ MORE: Spurs, Saints play to 1-1 stalemate at St. Mary’s ]

Pro Soccer Talk takes a glance at some of Sunday’s biggest transfer stories and rumors, with an emphasis on those pertaining to the Premier League.


Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang looks to be on his way to the Emirates Stadium this month, as Arsenal aims to revamp its attack in the wake of Alexis Sanchez’s departure.

Goal is reporting that Arsenal chief executive Ivan Gazidis is in Germany to help close the deal for the Gunners, who are also nearing a move for Manchester United attacker Henrikh Mkhitaryan.

Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan have a history together, having featured together in the Borussia Dortmund lineup.

Various reports still state that Dortmund is holding out for nearly $73 million in order for the Gunners to obtain Aubameyang’s services this window.


For awhile it seemed like Manchester City were the favorites to acquire Sanchez, but now the club has turned its attention elsewhere.

Goal is reporting that the Cityzens will instead go after West Bromwich Albion defender Jonny Evans and Shakhtar Donetsk midfielder Fred.

Pep Guardiola‘s side is reportedly seeking a deeper bench heading into next month when the UEFA Champions League picks back up.

Man City currently holds a 12-point lead at the top of the PL table.


Chelsea has had some interest recently in some… interesting…. PL strikers, and now the Blues have apparently turned their attention to another lesser-known commodity.

It seems that the Blues have turned their attention to Burnley forward Ashley Barnes to serve as a secondary option in Antonio Conte‘s lineup.

Alvaro Morata remains the club’s go-to option up front, along with attackers Eden Hazard and Willian, but Chelsea has been seeking another forward to compliment the Spaniard for some time.

Additionally, Belgian striker Michy Batshuayi is in the mix as well for the Blues, despite only having scored two PL goals this season (eight in all comps).

Depay strike downs PSG, brings Lyon second in Ligue 1

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Memphis Depay‘s time in England may not have gone according to plan, but the young Dutchman is tearing it up in France.

[ SPAIN & ITALY: Bale, Real Madrid soar with seven-goal outburst and more ]

The former Manchester United winger scorched the game-winner into net on Sunday, as his Lyon side went on to defeat league leaders Paris Saint-Germain, 2-1, at the Stade des Lumières.

Stunning first-half strikes from Nabil Fekir (15th goal of the season) and Layvin Kurzawa had the two clubs level at 1-1 going into the halftime break, but there was more action to be had after the mandatory stoppage.

A straight red card from Dani Alves in the second stanza put the Parisians at a major disadvantage, and Lyon would capitalize down the stretch with the extra man.

The hosts putting the finishing touches on the match four minutes deep into second-half stoppage time when Depay struck a beauty of a shot past goalkeeper Alphonse Areola.

Depay is now up to 10 goals on the season in all competitions for Lyon, including eight in league play.

PSG may have suffered its biggest loss though in the first half when Kylian Mbappe was taken off the field on a stretcher after a rough collision with Lyon shot-stopper Anthony Lopes.

The victory brings Lyon up to second place in France’s top flight, while PSG still holds an eight-point  lead over the runners’ up with 16 matches left in Ligue 1 play.