Sacramento Republic FC

Report: Three cities finalists for two MLS expansion franchises

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The race for the next two Major League Soccer franchises is reaching a conclusion.

[ MORE: Latest MLS Expansion rankings ]

With 12 cities waiting for a decision from MLS in mid-December about which two bids were successful in their quest for teams 24 and 25, Grant Wahl from Sports Illustrated is reporting that the two new teams will come from two of Sacramento, Nashville and Cincinnati.

As you’ve already worked out by now (and probably by the end of first grade), two into three doesn’t go.

In our MLS expansion rankings last week we ranked Nashville as numero uno, Sacramento in second spot and FC Cincinnati in third.

Since then Cincinnati’s push for a new soccer-specific stadium is gathering steam and a jersey sponsorship deal for a potential MLS team has already been lined up for both FCC and Sacramento.

[ MORE: Beckham’s Miami franchise almost official ]

Per SI.com, the MLS owners meeting will take place on Dec. 14 in New York City and that’s when the decision about the next two teams to join MLS will be made.

“From talking to several insiders, I’m being told the two expansion teams will likely come from a group of three cities that includes Sacramento, Nashville and Cincinnati,” Wahl said.

Previous reports had stated that Nashville has been awarded a team due to their stadium deal being rubber-stamped and a strong financial commitment from the City Council, while Sacramento has long been the favorite for an MLS expansion franchise with work already beginning on a soccer-specific stadium for Sacramento Republic FC of the USL given their strong fanbase over multiple years in the lower leagues and also a strong ownership group.

Cincinnati is the real wrinkle in all of this and given their record-breaking crowds in their first two seasons in USL at Nipper Stadium (home to the University of Cincinnati Football team) it is so hard to ignore the huge potential in Cincy, even if MLS is insisting that a new expansion team has to have a soccer-specific stadium deal lined up. Is that really necessary anymore?

Look at Atlanta United this season. Detroit’s MLS expansion bid certainly did and has changed their stadium deal to Ford Field which can be reconfigured for MLS games and then extra cash saved from not spending a new stadium, a la Atlanta, could be spent on the team instead.

In truth, awarding all three cities of Sacramento, Cincinnati and Nashville an MLS expansion franchise would be the fairest way to do this as all three are way ahead of their expansion rivals. Will it happen? Probably not, but it’s something MLS’ owners can seriously consider in their meeting next month. If you’re going to add four new teams (plus LAFC joining in 2018 and David Beckham’s team in Miami finally seeming likely to happen, so six new franchises total to take the number to 28) in the next few years anyway, why wait if three are ready right now?

Detroit and Phoenix are the only other cities from the current group of 12 which are anywhere close to securing franchises but they’ll likely have to wait for the next round of expansion with another two teams to be named at a yet to be determined date, but likely sometime next year. There’s a real argument to be made that adding three new teams next month makes sense for MLS. Which punish one of Cincinnati, Sacramento or Nashville?

Add into the mix Beckham’s franchise in Miami finally getting the green light with an official announcement to arrive in the “coming months” and the Columbus Crew’s situation regarding a potential move to Austin, Texas and the crazy world of MLS expansion has reached fever-pitch.

Expect plenty more reports between now and mid-December about which cities have sealed the two MLS “golden tickets” as they pay $150 million for a new franchise.

The 2 Robbies: Alexis/Mkhitaryan transfer saga and more

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Robbie Mustoe and Robbie Earle recap all the key stories from the latest Premier League Saturday fixtures including Manchester City’s 3-1 win over Newcastle (0:20), Chelsea’s 4-0 victory at Brighton (10:15) and the latest on the Alexis Sanchez/Henrikh Mkhitaryan saga after wins for Arsenal and Manchester United (19:00). Plus, a closer look at the bottom of the table and thoughts go out to James McCarthy after his serious injury against West Brom (29:00).

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.

All of the The 2 Robbies content can be accessed by clicking on this link:

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Video: Stoke’s Imbula scores stunner on loan at Toulouse

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Stoke City supporters know the name Giannelli Imbula, and perhaps they’ll be clamoring for the Frenchman to return to the bet365 Stadium if he can score more goals like this.

[ MORE: PL Roundup — Top three all victorious; Gunners thrash Palace ]

The holding midfielder is currently on loan with Ligue 1 outfit Toulouse, and for the first time this season, Imbula opened his goalscoring account in some fashion.

Right on half-hour mark, Imbula unleashed a left-footed strike from nearly 40 yards out to give Toulouse the lead over Montpellier (below).

Imbula joined Stoke during the 2015/16 PL season, and has made 26 appearances for the Potters in his time with the club, prior to his loan to France.

Willian proves he’s Chelsea’s x-factor against Brighton

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There’s a considerable difference when watching a Chelsea team that plays with and without one of its Brazilian influences in the attacking part of the field.

Willian — who first debuted for the Blues back in 2013 — hasn’t always managed to be a regular starter for Chelsea, whether it was Jose Mourinho, Guus Hiddink or current manager Antonio Conte at the helm, though.

[ SOURCES: Jack Harrison expected to join Stoke City this winter ]

The 29-year-old plays with considerable flair, something that certainly isn’t uncommon amongst many players that have grown up in Brazil.

At times Willian’s overconfidence is a significant blessing, and at others it can be considered a curse, however, the former Corinthians player’s presence is something that Chelsea needs now more than ever.

That was on display on Saturday during the side’s 4-0 win at Brighton, a match in which Chelsea dominated from start to finish with Willian on the pitch. While the performance cannot solely be attributed to the attacking midfielder’s showing, it’s easy to argue that the Blues midfielder is becoming the club’s biggest x factor — one that can determine the outcome of a match.

Just look six minutes into the match, when the Blues put together one of the best team goals you’ll see in a match this year (or any year for that matter), which of course, was started and finished by none other than Willian.

What stands out about the play isn’t the brilliant slicing shot into the near post corner by the veteran playmaker, but instead the confidence that Willian exudes and brings to a Chelsea lineup that has plenty of talent to be considered one of the best teams in England and all of Europe.

After all, Conte’s group is just a season removed from winning the Premier League and still sits inside the top three in the world’s top league.

Then, there’s the Blues’ third goal against Brighton, which was set up by a smart, and instinctive, through ball played into the path of Eden Hazard by Willian (below).

Even though Hazard ends up with a ton of time on the ball to make his next decision, which was ultimately to cut inside on his preferred right foot, the run by Willian towards the end line dragged a defender away from the Belgian international — allowing the sequence to progress.

Arguing Willian’s importance isn’t a knock on Hazard — a world-class player in his own right — or Alvaro Morata, who has had the intolerable task of replacing a key player like Diego Costa.

Instead, it simply shows that Chelsea has a plethora of talent, and that some of the club’s attacking struggles throughout the 2017/18 season can be chalked up to Willian being left out of the starting XI on a regular basis.

[ MORE: Sergio Aguero continues to display brilliance for Man City ]

The Brazilian international has scored eight goals and added seven assists this season in all competitions for the Blues, despite only starting 19 matches.

The mind of manager Conte is an ever-changing one, so maybe Willian still doesn’t get the starting nod on an every week basis, but just by watching the team’s performance at the Amex Stadium it’s quite hard to argue against the player being on the field as much as possible.

Premier League Preview: Southampton vs. Tottenham

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Southampton will host Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday (Watch live, 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with both sides hoping to pick up three points for very different reasons.

The Saints are currently in the midst of a fierce relegation battle through 23 matches, and sit in 18th place in the Premier League, while Spurs are hoping challenge for a top-four position.

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Mauricio Pellegrino‘s Southampton could get defender Maya Yoshida back in time for Sunday’s match, however, the side will be without Charlie Austin once more, who is currently nursing a hamstring injury.

Meanwhile, a number of key figures will miss the match for Tottenham, including goalkeeper Hugo Lloris and Harry Winks. Also, Danny Rose and Toby Alderweireld remain sidelined with injuries, although the latter is expected to be back soon.

What they’re saying

Mauricio Pellegrino on state of the Saints: “We are not happy with our position but in three or four weeks’ time everything can change. It’s part of our competition. I feel in our team the spirit is really good and everybody is conscious about what we need. I receive these messages from players every day, and we have to convert these feelings into stats.”

Mauricio Pochettino on potential January moves: “To be honest it will be difficult. At some point you always dream but not too much exciting [is happening]. If it happens, it happens. If not, then it doesn’t happen. We are happy with the squad.”

Prediction

Harry Kane is firing at an absurd rate recently, and Southampton’s current form is worrisome to say the least. With just four wins all season, it’s hard to imagine the Saints coming out in front in their clash. Southampton 0-3 Tottenham