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MLS Expansion: Cincinnati, Sacramento both deserve spots

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With Nashville to be named as a new Major League Soccer expansion franchise in a ceremony in Music City USA later on Wednesday, the race for the final expansion spot is well and truly on.

[ MORE: MLS Expansion rankings ]

It is too close to call between Sacramento and Cincinnati who are both worthy of an MLS team in this round of expansion.

So, why wait?

MLS asked 12 cities to submit their bids for an MLS franchise in January and since then they’ve evaluated all 12, named four finalists (Nashville, Sacramento, Cincinnati and Detroit) and they’ve said they’ll name two cities who have won the expansion franchises in this round.

That means one of Sacramento or Cincinnati will miss out and their bid for an MLS franchise will have to wait for at least another year as two more MLS teams are expected to be added at some time during 2018.

Surely MLS can add three teams right now instead of two, right?

To deny Sacramento or Cincinnati seems ridiculously harsh.

Some of the rumblings behind-the-scenes suggest that there are concerns about how much money those behind the Sacramento bid are willing to put into the MLS franchise despite their impressive stadium plans and obvious success with a Sacramento Republic FC, while Cincinnati’s ongoing battle to secure land for a soccer-specific stadium continues (a “must have” for expansion teams, at least in most circumstances) even though Nippert Stadium would surely be a wonderful home for the franchise.

With both Sacramento and Cincinnati currently having successful USL franchises as the center pieces of their bids, life will go on whatever happens and they’ll both continue to get big crowds and attract interest.

That is perhaps why MLS has left it down to one from those two bids for the final spot. If either Sacramento or Cincinnati doesn’t get a franchise now, they’re nailed on to join a year later.

When it came to Nashville, many will argue there isn’t a professional soccer team in Nashville right now and it is a risk to award an expansion franchise to the Tennessee city first. That’s a valid argument.

However, it also suggests that getting a team up and running is more time sensitive compared to the situation in Sacramento and Cincinnati. Nashville having two wealthy owners behind the bid, plus a rock solid soccer-specific stadium plan at the fairgrounds site sealed the deal.

Yes, Nashville SC have a U-23 team playing in the USL PDL league for the 2017 season and then stepping up into the USL proper for 2018, but that will simply be a stop gap until the team likely joins MLS for the 2019 season and their success will have no real bearing on how the MLS franchise does in Year One and beyond.

Then there is the Miami factor. With David Beckham’s ownership group changing up a significant part of its financial backing last month, is the Miami bid in danger of collapsing? Why can’t MLS to Miami be put on hold and an extra team be added in this round of expansion so Sacramento, Cincinnati and Nashville will all join in 2019?

With the future of the Columbus Crew moving to Austin, Texas also up in the air, it may actually help for MLS to expand quicker to help negate any impact of not having Miami or a Columbus/Austin franchise in the league in 2019.

Is it really that hard for MLS to change its mind on the rules for this round of expansion? It shouldn’t be. Both Sacramento and Cincinnati deserve to join Nashville in the MLS party. Now.

Everything is in place and ready to roll in both cities and they’ve proved themselves in USL.

Vancouver adds versatile Juarez, formerly of Monterrey, Celtic

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Efrain Juarez is bringing his game to Major League Soccer.

[ MLS: 2018 Mock SuperDraft ]

The 39-times capped Mexico veteran has inked a deal with the Vancouver Whitecaps, joining a strengthened unit which came within a point of winning the West last season.

Juarez, 29, was unveiled as a midfielder by the ‘Caps, though he’s primarily played right back in his club career. He’s played at Celtic, Real Zaragoza, Club America, Monterrey, and Pumas.

Last capped by El Tri in 2012, Juarez has played every position except goal, center attacking mid, and center forward in his career (picture a ‘U’ on the pitch).

“I’m so happy and excited for this new stage in my career,” Juarez said. “It’s an opportunity for me to keep growing in a new league and to be a part of an amazing club in Vancouver. From the moment they showed interest me, Carl Robinson and the Whitecaps staff have made me feel very important. I promise to put all my effort into this club and do my best to help us achieve our goals.”

VIDEO: Asensio goal ends Real Madrid’s winless run

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Marco Asensio’s eighth goal of the season and second of this Copa del Rey put an end to an unlikely Real Madrid winless run in a 1-0 victory at Leganes.

[ MLS: 2018 Mock SuperDraft ]

The 21-year-old darted in front of a defender to volley home from in-tight, giving Real Madrid a first leg lead in the tournament quarterfinals.

More importantly, perhaps, it gives struggling Real a boost in morale after draws with Celta Vigo and Numancia, and a loss to Villarreal.

Real is home to Deportivo de la Coruna in La Liga before hosting Leganes in the second leg.

Hopeful Newcastle buyer Staveley: Offer still on the table

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Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley is probably happy that his for-sale club is away this weekend, even though his side’s up against Manchester City.

[ MORE: Top PL storylines — Week 24  ]

That’s because hopeful buyer Amanda Staveley has responded to claims that her hopeful takeover of the team won’t be happening any time soon.

Talks had stalled, said Tuesday reports, much to the chagrin of an #AshleyOut brigade that at times can make Arsenal’s #WengerOut brigade look like a yard full of happy puppies.

A “source” had said, “Attempts to reach a deal have proved to be exhaustive, frustrating and a complete waste of time,” but Staveley shot back on Thursday to reignite the fire. From the BBC, taken from The Times:

“Our bid remains on the table. This is an investment, but it has to be a long-term investment. Newcastle would be run as a business, but we want it to be a successful, thriving business that is an absolutely integral part of the city.”

She also said that popular manager Rafa Benitez is integral to her interest in the team, and that fact combined with her insistence that an offer remains on the table will have many Newcastle fans seething with current ownership (and there have been protests for years). It’s Ashley’s move now.

2018 MLS Mock Draft: LAFC, Galaxy hold the keys

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Major League Soccer’s latest batch of hopeful rookies learn the next steps of their professional careers beginning Friday with the first two rounds of the MLS SuperDraft.

There are several intriguing prospects, including accomplished Stanford center back Tomas Hilliard-Arce and dangerous Michigan winger Francis Atuahene.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

An MLS mock draft is always tricky given the wildly varying opinions on players from the college game. This year, it’s even trickier as clubs without picks and some with multiple first round picks may be looking to move up and down even more than the norm.

Here’s how we think the draft could play out:

  1. LAFC – Tomas Hilliard-Arce, CB, Stanford
  2. LA Galaxy – Jon Bakero, FW, Wake Forest
  3. DC United – Francis Atuahene, FW, Michigan
  4. Montreal – Joao Moutinho, LB, Akron
  5. Minnesota – Wyatt Omsberg, CB, Dartmouth
  6. Orlando City – Ema Twumasi, FW, Wake Forest
  7. Montreal – Chris Mueller, FW, Wisconsin
  8. New England – Mo Adams, MF, Syracuse
  9. New England – Chris Lema, MF, Georgetown
  10. Real Salt Lake – Justin Fiddes, LB, Washington
  11. FC Dallas – Marcelo Acuna, FW, Virginia Tech
  12. San Jose – Brandon Bye, RB, Western Michigan
  13. Sporting KC – Ed Opoku, FW, Virginia
  14. Atlanta – Alex Roldan, MF, Seattle
  15. Chicago – Mason Toye, FW, Indiana
  16. New York Red Bulls – Alan Winn, MF, North Carolina
  17. Vancouver – Tristan Blackmon, RB, Pacific
  18. Sporting KC – Jon Gallagher, FW, Notre Dame
  19. New York City FC – Daniel Musovski, FW, UNLV
  20. Houston – Mo Thiaw, FW, Louisville
  21. Columbus – Brian White, FW, Duke
  22. Seattle – Tim Kubel, MF, Louisville
  23. Toronto FC – Oliver Shannon, MF, Clemson

There are a few players to keep an eye on for the later rounds that I won’t project for the first round due almost exclusively to first person bias (Some I’ve seen play in college, others at other levels). Afonso Pinheiro from Albany produced like crazy until this season, and Bowling Green defender Alexis Souahy has a skill set that could really transmit to the MLS level.

Mac Steeves (Providence) is a prototypical big body scorer, while Evansville’s heady Ian McGrath has a flair for the absurd and can play almost every position up the center of the pitch. Charleston’s Thomas Vancaeyezeele was a D-2 monster and is probably worth a shot earlier than people suspect.