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Columbus Crew owner may move soccer team to Austin, Texas

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) The owner of the Crew SC says the team is no longer sustainable and will move to Austin, Texas, unless a new, privately-financed stadium is built in downtown Columbus.

Anthony Precourt, whose Precourt Sports Ventures has owned the Major League Soccer club since 2013, said Tuesday the Crew need more fan and financial support to compete in the growing league, and a new stadium in the urban center is the only way to make it work. The Crew currently play in 17-year-old Mapfre Stadium, about 4 miles north of downtown Columbus.

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The team will be back in Ohio’s capital city for 2018, Precourt said, but its future beyond that depends on which city steps up first.

“Despite all the efforts to move the needle beyond on-the-field success, our business is struggling to keep pace with the rising standards of major league soccer,” Precourt said in a conference call with reporters. “The club historically and presently has challenges with match-day attendance, with growing our season-ticket base, with demand for corporate sponsorship and with relevance. The stadium and site are challenges in Columbus.”

The Crew is 20th in attendance this season out of 22 MLS teams with an average of 15,439, despite making the playoffs. The capacity is 19,968.

Austin is the largest market in North America without a major league sports franchise, and the city is receptive. Precourt declined to comment about any talks that could result in a new downtown soccer-specific stadium there. He dispelled rumors that the team has an agreement to play temporarily at the University of Texas stadium in 2019 while a new stadium is built.

Precourt called Austin “the most attractive untapped market in the United States for MLS soccer.” The city already has submitted a bid for an MLS expansion team.

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Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther said he had met with team ownership about solutions to keep the team in the city but complained that he didn’t get “full engagement.” City officials didn’t know about a potential move until the public announcement Tuesday, he said.

“We were surprised to learn of their decision in this way,” Ginther said in a statement. “Losing the Crew to another city would be a huge disappointment to their loyal and growing fan base in Columbus.”

Alex Fischer of the Columbus Partnership, a consortium of CEOs and business leaders, told The Columbus Dispatch that a group of business leaders approached Precourt with offers to buy Crew SC outright and to go into a 50-50 partnership, both of which were rejected. But Precourt said Tuesday that his discussions with potential investors in the team were all attached to a plan for a new stadium.

Precourt said he approached Columbus business leaders last year and was clear about the problems.

“We have engaged the community privately since the beginning of 2016 about our business issues, and made it clear that we would potentially start to explore strategic alternatives if the business didn’t improve,” he said.

He said three potential stadium sites have been identified in Columbus, but he declined to comment on them.

“We are not asking for public tax dollars, and we are not asking either city to build a stadium for us,” he said.

Russian authorities fine hotels for World Cup price-gouging

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MOSCOW (AP) Russian authorities in two cities say they have issued hundreds of fines after finding many hotels were illegally hiking prices for the World Cup.

The Rospotrebnadzor consumer regulator says one Moscow hotel raised prices up to 570 percent above what is allowed by a government decree designed to prevent excessive profiteering during the tournament.

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The regulator’s Moscow branch says it issued fines totaling 5.95 million rubles ($105,000) to 198 legal entities and 181 people.

In the Ural mountain city of Yekaterinburg, where Mexico and France will each play a group game, the regulator said it fined seven hotels, some of which were charging almost three times the allowed rate for rooms.

Russian authorities have taken a hands-on approach to regulating hotel and travel costs during the tournament to prevent the negative publicity of visiting fans being charged large sums.

Spanish police dismantle match-fixing scheme in 3rd, 4th tiers

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MADRID (AP) Spanish police have dismantled a match-fixing scheme involving players and clubs in the country’s lower divisions.

Authorities said more than 20 people have been detained as part of the police operation launched on Monday, including players, although no names were immediately disclosed.

The matches under suspicion were in the third and fourth divisions this season and last season.

The match-fixing scheme reportedly involved Chinese betting sites.

The Spanish league said the operation was based on information collected by its analysts about suspicious activities.

UCL preview: Chelsea host Barcelona; Bayern vs. Besiktas

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  • Chelsea vs. Barcelona, at Stamford Bridge
  • Bayern Munich vs. Besiktas, at Allianz Arena
  • Champions League round of 16 resumes on Tuesday

[ UCL: Spurs fight back to draw Juventus | Liverpool thrash Porto in leg 1 ]

Chelsea, mired in some of their worst form since the disastrous 2015-16 season, welcome a Barcelona side enjoying one of the best six-month runs of results in the famed club’s entire history. The Blues have won just four of their last 12 games across all competitions, while the Blaugrana have lost once in 38 games.

On the plus side, Chelsea enter Tuesday’s colossal clash as winners of their last two games — back-to-back wins for the first time in 2018 — having outscored the likes of West Bromwich Albion and Hull City by a combined 7-0. Star striker Alvaro Morata returned to action against Hull after five weeks out with a back injury, thus Antonio Conte has something of a selection dilemma on his hands with the Spaniard perhaps only partially fit, and Olivier Giroud racking up a goal and three assists in the last two games, his first starts for the club.

Barcelona, meanwhile, have conceded just two goals in their last nine games (all competitions) and even managed to overturn their lone defeat, to Espanyol, and advance to the Copa del Rey semifinals (and eventually final). Despite losing Neymar in the summer, Barca mostly cruised through their Champions League group, only dropping points in draws away to Juventus and Olympiacos. Lionel Messi has, strangely, never scored a goal in his eight career appearances against Chelsea, a record which has been spoken about at length in the build-up to Tuesday — similarly to the goal-less record which plagued him against Juve goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, whom he finally bested back in September.

[ MORE: Man City win big away to Basel | Real Madrid 3-1 PSG ]

In the other round-of-16 first-leg matchup on Tuesday, five-time (soon-to-be six) defending Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich host surprise winners of Group G, Besiktas, ahead of the likes of Monaco, RB Leipzig and Porto.

Since taking over on an interim basis (through the end of the season), Bayern boss Jupp Heynckes has won 21 of 22 games of which he’s been in charge, including four of six games during the group stage en route to finish second behind Paris Saint-Germain, while also racing out to a 19-point lead back home in Germany.

Aguero involved in clash with Wigan fan after FA Cupset

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MANCHESTER, England (AP) Sergio Aguero was involved in a confrontation with a Wigan fan as ugly scenes marred the end of the third-division side’s shock FA Cup win over Manchester City on Monday.

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Fans spilled on to the pitch at DW Stadium as the host celebrated its 1-0 fifth-round win against the runaway English Premier League leader.

Supporters from both clubs were involved in disturbances, while television pictures appeared to show a home supporter and striker Aguero involved in a physical exchange.

Aguero appeared to hit the supporter after the fan said something to the player, and Aguero had to be held back by his City teammates.

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Advertising hoardings were also ripped out and thrown as a pitch invasion by Wigan fans got out of hand while the defeated City players were being escorted off the pitch.

Footage also appeared to show objects, including an advertising board, being thrown at police officers by fans in the City end.