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Witness explains how bribes were paid to soccer officials

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NEW YORK (AP) An Argentinian accountant described on Wednesday how he handled the payment of millions of dollars in bribes to former South American soccer officials, including former FIFA vice president Julio Grondona, by using wire transfers, offshore accounts and money couriers.

Eladio Rodriguez, who kept track of finances and bribe payments at the Argentinian sports marketing company Torneos and Competencias, testified for hours in New York in the federal corruption trial of the former soccer heads of Paraguay, Peru and Brazil. The company, along with two others, made the payments to obtain the rights to broadcast tournaments and matches.

Rodriguez said it was necessary to pay bribes “to maintain a good relationship with CONMEBOL (South America’s soccer governing body) and to obtain the signing of contracts.” He said he kept track of the payments by occasionally emailing himself copies of ledgers.

The cash payments to Gondrona were made after Torneos deposited money into overseas accounts of exchange remittance businesses. Money couriers would then take the money to Torneos in Buenos Aires and Grondona’s chauffeur normally would pick it up, Rodriguez said.

Grondona was paid at least $3 million in 2013, according to Rodriguez. Payments to him were masked under the name “Pope”.

Juan Angel Napout, the ex-president of Paraguay’s soccer federation, Jose Maria Marin, the former president of Brazil’s soccer federation, and Manuel Burga, the ex-head of Peru’s soccer federation, are on trial for racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering conspiracies.

Payments to former presidents of the soccer federations of Paraguay, Peru, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador and Bolivia were made through Argentinian-based Full Play Group.

Bribes to Marin and Marco Polo del Nero, the current president of the Brazilian Football Confederation, were made under the code name “brasileiro,” according to Rodriguez, who explained that in 2013 Torneos paid $1.5 million to each for the rights of the Copa America.

When U.S. officials began arresting soccer officials in 2015, Rodriguez said he ordered the destruction of the servers he maintained in Uruguay with bribe information. He also testified that he saw Torneos employees shredding documents at the Buenos Aires office.

On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Pamela Chen dismissed one of the jurors for allegedly sleeping during the trial.

Rodriguez has a deal with U.S. prosecutors and has forfeited more than $600,000, he said.

Osorio: Jonathan Gonzalez has a “promising future” with El Tri

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The Jonathan Gonzalez situation still stings for many U.S. Men’s National Team supporters, and the encouragement from Mexico’s camp regarding the midfielder’s bright future isn’t making things better for Americans.

[ MORE: Where does Zlatan rank among stars to come to MLS? ]

El Tri manager Juan Carlos Osorio reaffirmed his belief that Gonzalez is one of the many promising prospects within the Mexican national team ahead of the country’s friendly against Iceland on Friday.

Gonzalez, who switched his national team allegiance to Mexico from the U.S. earlier this year, has been called up for the match after the 18-year-old made his Mexico senior team debut against Bosnia back in January.

“Jonathan, to start with, is part of a group of Mexican players that I’ve referred as having a good present and a promising future and that excites me to continue, along with Edson Alvarez, Omar Govea and others that aren’t here like Orbelin [Pineda] and Erick [Gutierrez],” Osorio said at a news conference on Thursday.

“Gonzalez is a good midfielder and can fight for a place with anyone. Like everyone, he has to improve a lot of things to win a place.

“After deciding to play for Mexico, it is our responsibility to give him a platform to develop and consolidate himself as a player.

“That’s why he’s in this call-up, and hopefully he can establish himself and show the qualities I mentioned.”

The former USMNT youth prospect has quickly become a regular for club side Monterrey, who currently sits sixth in the Liga MX table.

Gonzalez has appeared in 38 matches across all competitions for the four-time league champions and earned honors in the Liga MX Best XI following the 2017 Apertura season.

USMNT reveals new kits ahead of Paraguay friendly

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U.S. Soccer’s teams has donned some pretty sweet kits in the past, but this go around has particularly patriotic feel about it, and we like it.

[ MORE: Zlatan Ibrahimovic has joined the LA Galaxy ]

The U.S. released a video on Friday (below) with several USMNT stars, including Bobby Wood and Tyler Adams wearing the new kits ahead of Tuesday’s international friendly against Paraguay.

The home jersey features a flag design engraved on a white kit, which is representative of the American flag. Meanwhile, the away version holds a similar design, but with a blue base for the jersey.

Meanwhile, the USWNT will don their new kits on April 5 when they take on Mexico in the first two matches in the U.S. The two rivals will meet three days later for the second meeting.

What do you think of the latest U.S. Soccer kits? Let us know what you like or dislike about it in the comments section below.

UEFA Nations League gets $94 million prize fund for 55 teams

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NYON, Switzerland (AP) UEFA says it has created a 76.25 million euro ($94 million) prize fund for the inaugural Nations League.

The first champion will earn 7.5 million euros ($9.25 million).

The Nations League is replacing most international friendlies. All 55 UEFA members will play group matches in four tiers through November. The Final Four will be in June 2019.

UEFA says 12 top-ranked teams in League A will each get 1.5 million euros ($1.85 million). Group winners will get 1.5 million euros ($1.85 million) extra and advance to the final tournament, and the winner will get another 4.5 million euros ($5.55 million).

League B will pay 1 million euros ($1.23 million) per team, while in League C it’s 750,000 euros ($925,000) and in League D it’s 500,000 euros ($617,000). Group winners will double their money.

Alexis Sanchez discusses Man United struggles

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Alexis Sanchez appears to be struggling with his disappointing start to life at Manchester United.

The Chilean star, 29, became the highest-paid player in the Premier League when he arrived from Arsenal in January in a swap deal for Henrikh Mkhitaryan, but Sanchez has scored just one PL goal.

Sanchez has failed to make his mark on a consistent basis as United have also crashed out of the UEFA Champions League.

What does Sanchez put his lack of form down to?

In an Instagram post he left a caption saying that he was mentally exhausted: “I know you are tired. I know you are psychologically and emotionally exhausted. But you have to smile and continue”.

Speaking to the Chilean media ahead of their friendly against Sweden in Stockholm on Saturday, Sanchez revealed he has been struggling with the lack of impact he has had at United.

“The change of club was something that was very abrupt – it was the first time I’ve changed clubs in January – but many things have happened in my life that are difficult… As I am self-demanding, I expected something better. After my arrival at United, it was hard to change everything very quickly. I even hesitated to come here [to Sweden].”

Sanchez has looked better in a central role behind Romelu Lukaku but he hasn’t been used there often enough by Jose Mourinho.

At Arsenal he had the license to roam free in the attacking third but in Mourinho’s more defensive, rigid system he appears to be struggling to get on the ball in the right areas in and around the box. Sanchez has cut a frustrated figure out on the left wing and has given the ball away on multiple occasions as he tries to make the difficult passes and open up opposition defenses.

It appears that Sanchez is perhaps trying to hard to impress United and given his all-action displays, that is not easy to do.

United need more of him in the final third than out wide or tracking back to help out his own defense if they’re going to seal their top four spot and win the FA Cup to see out the final months of the season.

There’s no doubting Sanchez’s quality as we all know just how good he can be from his four seasons at Arsenal.

Yet, as he acknowledged himself, something at United isn’t quite right.