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CCL draw: TFC meets Rapids, Club America to face Saprissa

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Major League Soccers sides are still searching for the magic potion that will guide them to CONCACAF Champions League glory.

Could 2018 be the year that one of MLS’ best finally break through?

[ MORE: LA Galaxy acquires rights to Quakes keeper David Bingham ]

The CCL draw was held on Monday night, which included five teams from the United States’ top division.

FC Dallas, Toronto FC, the Seattle Sounders, the Colorado Rapids and the New York Red Bulls each enter the 2018 edition of the competition, which begins next year with 16 clubs in total.

Toronto — who recently won MLS Cup — will take on the Rapids in the only possible matchup between MLS sides.

Meanwhile, the match of the opening round will likely be Liga MX giants Club America taking on Costa Rican side Saprissa.

The Round of 16 will commence in February and early March, with home-and-home fixtures deciding which teams will advance to the quarterfinals.

Below is the full set of pairings from Monday’s CCL draw in Miami.

A1– Chivas Guadalajara vs. B1–Cibao (Dominican Republic)
A2– Seattle Sounders vs. B2– Santa Tecla (El Salvador)
A3– New York Red Bulls vs. B3– Olimpia (Honduras)
A4– Club Tijuana vs. B4– Motagua (Honduras)
A5 — Tigres vs. B5– Herediano (Costa Rica)
A6– Toronto FC vs. B6– Colorado Rapids
A7– FC Dallas vs. B7– Tauro (Panama)
A8– America vs. B8– Saprissa (Costa Rica)

Alex Morgan named CONCACAF Female POY, Navas wins Male POY

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CONCACAF awarded some of its finest players and coaches on Sunday night, and two familiar faces took home the evening’s most notable awards.

[ MORE: Making sense of table in Man City’s world ]

U.S. Women’s National Team forward Alex Morgan (Orlando Pride) and Keylor Navas of Costa Rica and Real Madrid each earned Female and Male Player of the Year honors, after boasting tremendous 2017 seasons.

Morgan who primarily plays for Orlando in the NWSL, was also a member of Lyon, who went on to win the Women’s Champions League this past season.

Navas, on the other hand, played a key role in Real Madrid’s UEFA Champions League run, as well as Los Blancos’ La Liga title.

For Morgan, the award is her third since CONCACAF began handing out its annual awards in 2013. Meanwhile, Navas has now won Male Player of the Year on two occasions.

Secret recordings emerge as key evidence at FIFA bribe trial

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NEW YORK (AP) A turning point in the investigation of soccer’s governing body came with a 6 a.m. wake-up call by the FBI to the five-star Miami hotel room of a Brazilian sports marketing executive named Jose Hawilla.

A startled Hawilla, after learning he was a target of the probe, eventually decided to cooperate by wearing a wire – a coup for U.S. prosecutors at the ongoing U.S. trial of three former South American soccer officials charged in the corruption scandal that’s embroiled FIFA.

[READ: Key battles in the Manchester Derby]

The prosecutors have used the hours of the secretly recorded audio evidence to help bring charges against dozens of other soccer officials and marketing executives accused of paying them a fortune in bribes in exchange for their influence in awarding lucrative commercial rights to big tournaments. Several defendants have pleaded guilty since the case was announced in 2015.

U.S. authorities “know everything,” Hawilla said in one taped conversation with a colleague he was trying to protect, according to transcripts made public for the first time. “They have so much information that lying is the worst thing you can do.”

Jurors have heard Hawilla’s recordings and testimony at the trial of former national soccer federation presidents Jose Maria Marin, of Brazil, Manuel Burga, of Peru, and Juan Angel Napout, of Paraguay. All pleaded not guilty to conspiracy and other charges, with their lawyers arguing they were framed by untrustworthy cooperators like Hawilla seeking a break in their own cases.

The trial, which continued on Wednesday, is in its fourth week in federal court in Brooklyn.

Hawilla, a 74-year-old grandfather originally from Sao Paulo, testified that he became head of the Traffic Group marketing firm after several years as a sports journalist. He testified he learned from the start that to win contracts for commercial rights for major soccer tournaments, soccer officials expected to be paid off in a systematic way, a necessary evil some in the business accepted but he found “revolting.”

He said to get rights to the CONCACAF Gold Cup tournament in the early 1990s he paid bribes to two of the biggest names in the scandal, former FIFA officials Jack Warner, of Trinidad and Tobago, and Chuck Blazer, of the United States. Warner remains overseas fighting extradition, while Blazer became a cooperator before dying earlier this year.

A partner of Hawilla explained to him “we had to pay a bribe to Jack Warner and that, for sure, Chuck Blazer was going to find out about it and we would have to pay a bribe to him as well,” Hawilla testified in Portuguese through an interpreter.

He added: “I did not agree with the practice, but, unfortunately, you are practically forced to do that.”

Hawilla told the jury that he and other marketing executives he worked with paid tens of millions of dollars over the years to other top soccer officials in bribes papered over by falsified contracts. He named another soccer official from the Cayman Islands who’s pleaded guilty, Jeffrey Webb, as someone who took a $10 million bribe in March 2013.

The FBI arrested Hawilla about two months after the Webb bribe. By 2014, prosecutors contend, he was a full-blown informant, luring Marin into an April 2014 conversation in which the defendant negotiated a bribe by saying, “It’s about time to have it coming my way. True or not?”

Hawilla responded: “Of course. That money had to be given to you.”

In another tape, Hawilla appeared to upset two business partners by telling them he wanted to pull out of the scheme so he could clean up his business and sell it. One cautioned that anyone who bought it would have to understand that, “There will always be payoffs. There will be payoffs forever.”

The same person is overheard saying, “I want to co-exist with and make all the presidents rich,” even if it meant less money for him.

Asked in court why someone would think that way, Hawilla boiled it down to one word: “Demagoguery.”

Report: Sunil Gulati may not run for U.S. Soccer presidency

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We could have a real shakeup in the U.S. Soccer presidential election, with the leading candidate in the race reportedly on the brink of stepping down.

[ MORE: AC Milan boss Gattuso likens Benevento draw to being “stabbed” ]

Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl is reporting that current U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati is “strongly considering not running for re-election.”

Gulati, 58, has overseen U.S. Soccer at his current capacity since 2006, when Robert Contiguglia stepped down from his position that same year.

As things stand, Gulati is one of eight candidates officially in the mix to run for the presidency in 2018, including former NBC Sports soccer analyst Kyle Martino and ex-USMNT players Eric Wynalda and Paul Caligiuri.

Wahl also notes in his Twitter post that if Gulati doesn’t run for re-election that he could potentially endorse Kathy Carter — president of Soccer United Marketing.

SUM has come into question recently as corruption allegations continue to surface pertaining to payments made to the multi-billion dollar organization. Meanwhile, NASL’s ongoing lawsuit against the USSF also directly involves SUM because of its ties to both U.S. Soccer and Major League Soccer.

CONCACAF announces League of Nations, replacing friendlies

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We may be seeing a lot more of the U.S. Men’s National Team vs. Mexico and less of the USMNT vs. Portugal in the coming years.

CONCACAF on Thursday announced the creation of a “League of Nations,” taking a page from UEFA’s idea to replace friendlies with matches against similar-ranked opponents, with promotion and relegation across three separate divisions. Matches are expected to begin in September 2018, with the schedule released in early 2018.

[ MORE: MLS stats ]

The League of Nations was an idea championed by new CONCACAF president Victor Montagliani, declaring a focus back on soccer after too much focus on making money in the past.

“This is a watershed moment for CONCACAF.  By focusing on football to provide all our teams with year-round, quality competition, the League of Nations platform means everyone wins,” Montagliani said.  “This new tournament is highly beneficial to all our Member Associations and fans everywhere, since it provides significant opportunities to play important competitive matches with increased regularity throughout the year.”

While this looks like it will have a great effect for smaller CONCACAF nations like Aruba, the Bahamas and the U.S. Virgin Islands, giving them more regular games to grow their national teams, it could hurt the USMNT, Mexico and Costa Rica in the long run, with no international dates available to face European or South American sides that could provide great challenges and tests to up and coming players.

Perhaps with the UEFA League of Nations snapping up any of the European nation’s available friendly dates, CONCACAF figured they may as well ensure that the big nations play each other more often, but it could hurt the overall growth of the national teams.

Jurgen Klinsmann once said he’d rather play Belgium one time than El Salvador 100 times, and he’s probably right if U.S. fans want to see their players test themselves against some of the best in the world.