Time for half-measures is over for Italian soccer

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Juventus’ Leonardo Bonucci controls the ball during the Italian Serie A football match between Lazio and Juventus at the Olympic stadium in Rome on November 26, 2011. Bonucci is currently being invested in Italy’s Calcioscommesse scandal and faces a three-and-a-half season ban from Italian soccer. (Photo credit: GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images)

The early winner for “story I should have been tracking better for you”: Calcioscommesse. Without a doubt. This is my first post on the latest cheating scandal in Italy, one which is about to land long suspensions for multiple members of last year’s champions. Juventus head coach Antonio Conte had been attempting to negotiate a plea bargain that will mitigate his sentence for failing to report match-fixing during his tenure at Siena. Simone Pepe’s looking at a year off for his involvement while at Udinese, and defender Leonardo Bonucci could miss over three years for his part at Bari. Seems like something I could have brought up earlier.

Let’s be clear about what we’re talking about here, because it defines the context of those potential sentences. These three, along with many others throughout Italian soccer (or no longer in Italian soccer, like Marco Di Vaio), helped undermine the basic purpose of the competition. League soccer, at its core, depends on being able to wage credible matches where two teams are assumed to be competing in good faith. Once that assumption is gone, the matches are no more than cloaked friendlies. Put enough of those into a season, and your competition is useless, particularly if you can’t seem to control when the matches are real and when they’re fake.

(MORE: Marco Di Vaio in Italy dealing with match-fixing probe.)

Match-fixing is such a terrible euphemism for this compromise, and not because it’s an inaccurate description. The term does a good job of describing the control influenced on matches which may only be fixed at its edges (manipulating a margin of victory). But even the tacit acknowledgement of that control distracts from the venom we should have for this problem. These are acts that bloody the lips of everybody who devotes their time, money, and spirit to Calcio. They act like an infection persistent in the league’s blood, one which can cripple or kill unless treated brutally, without compromise.

A fine, suspension, demotion may work, but if it doesn’t, the infection will come back more resilient than before, humiliating those who tried to treat it. It will be immune to the old solutions, ready to withstand them, knowing its capable of returning. And so it is that just as Italy was recovering from Calciopoli – from having its most decorated team sent does to Serie B (among other punishments) – another attack of a corrupt, seemingly irreparable culture insults those of us who bought into Serie A’s recovery.

If that sounds like I’m taking this story personally, good. I am. Over the last two years, as Italy’s place in the European pecking order has been debated and denigrated (with the fourth of their Champions League spots handed to Germany), I’ve continued to invest in the league. I’d write pieces defending the league’s quality, purporting a resurgence people were missing for having written the league off. Now, Calcioscommesse makes me the fool, if an insignificant one. Having defended a league I didn’t know was still rigged, I feel like an idiot.

Serie A still gave me a lot of highlights in 2011-12. Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Edinson Cavani were two of my favorite players. I loved watching Arturo Vidal and Andrea Pirlo’s contributions for Juventus. When Inter surged under Andrea Stramaccioni, I actually became nostalgic for the Nerazzurri’s string of five straight titles. Not that any of that matters, now.

Italy’s league is inherently compromised. I see that, now. I see that any time I devote to it going forward risks being wasted. Yes, I know I won’t be able to resist watching. There is too much talent, history there not to. But I won’t meaningfully invest until something meaningfully changes. I won’t ignore that illness, let it sit on my bones until I have no choice but to let it ravage my fandom.

When, here in the States, Major League Baseball had this problem, they brought in somebody to amputate. Kenesaw Mountain Landis was hired to clean up a game that had lost credibility. As baseball’s first commissioner, he demanded absolute power over the game. He used it brutally.

In dealing with a scandal that could have forever scared the sport, Landis instated a no tolerance policy that would cost the American League two of its biggest stars. After the 1919 Chicago White Sox threw the World Series, eight players were banned for life. The influence of gamblers had become so pervasive, Landis needed to make a few examples. Stars like Joe Jackson and Eddie Cicotte were never allowed to play again. Though the unprecedented move sparked a 100-year debate as to the unlikely innocence of Shoeless Joe, it also solved baseball’s credibility problem.

Italy has a credibility problem. No club, player, executive, or agent can be bigger than the league. Not a league-winning coach. Not a 28-time champion club. Nobody. With another debilitating scandal having cropped up five years after what should have been a “never again” incident, Italy’s lost the benefit of the doubt. It’s not a clean league, we should assume. Italy must act to prove itself to its fans.

This morning on social media, some very smart people were questioning the justice of Bonucci’s potential ban. I question the justice of Pepe’s. I question the justice of Conte’s. I question whether Marco Di Vaio will have to pay for his part in the scandal.

At this point, if a player is shown to be connected with this type of cheating, he should be banned for life. The perception the league may not be handling the affair with the necessary seriousness – that it is not willing to do whatever it takes to clean up the game – has the potential to be as damaging as the match-fixing itself. Having handed out suspensions, demoted teams, and stripped titles in the previous scandal, Italy knows what doesn’t solve the problem.

There’s only so much time you can sit and watch something rot before you know the half-measures aren’t working. At some point the problem becomes so pervasive, carries such a threat to your future health, that only the most aggressive measures will give you piece of mind. For Italy, it’s time to start amputating anything that may compromise their game, because their game has already been compromised enough.

VIDEO: ProSoccerTalk team unfiltered – Review, preview, Power Rankings and more

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ProSoccerTalk is now on video as well as in written format. Unleash the beast, as they say.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ] 

Each week ProSoccerTalk writers Joe Prince-Wright, Nick Mendola and Andy Edwards will tell us what they learned from the Premier League action, rank their top five PL players based on current form, preview the upcoming weekend and handle any other news from around the soccer world.

Expect opinions, analysis and insight, as well as plenty of friendly banter along the way and maybe a beer or two…

Basically, they have these chats on their own anyway so we thought we would record them and let them loose on the Premier League, USMNT and everything in-between. This is going to be a lot of fun and a lighthearted look at all of the action from across the soccer world each week.

With JPW is based in England and heading to Premier League games and traveling to stadiums/ training grounds, plus Andy and Nick based Stateside, we will be checking in with them regularly to get their views on just about anything when it comes to Pro Soccer. Because, well, ProSoccerTalk.

Follow the ProSoccerTalk lads on Twitter below, and click play on the video above to watch ProSocccerTalk this week in full.

Champions League qualifying: How to watch, start times, odds

UEFA Champions League qualifying
Photo by Raddad Jebarah/NurPhoto via Getty Images
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The 12 clubs remaining in the race for the final UEFA Champions League group stage slots will be pared down to six in the next eight days.

There are American connections to two of the six ties.

Former USMNT midfielder Jesse Marsch manages Austria’s Red Bull Salzburg toward the next round, while Molde right back Henry Wingo came up with the Seattle Sounders.

VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Salzburg are significant favorites to advance over two legs, odds accentuated by Maccabi Tel-Aviv’s seven players absent due to positive COVID-19 tests.

Marsch had previously said he did not want to go to Israel due to COVID-19 concerns, calling it “dangerous,” but has accepted the task at hand.

From Austrian publication Kronen Zeitung:

“The moment UEFA said we were going to play in Tel Aviv, it wasn’t a problem for me. Maccabi has a great team. We are not naive. We understand that we have to fight tomorrow.”

At 3:10 in some sportsbooks, Marsch’s men are the only club favored to win the first leg away. Salzburg is led by Dominik Szoboszlai and Patson Daka, who’ve helped the team thrive despite the sales of several stars including Erling Haaland and Takumi Minamino.

Molde has a much tougher test with Hungarian side Ferencvaros, who knocked off Celtic. That tie could go either way, while Slavia Prague and Olympiakos are respectively noticeable favorites to beat Midtjylland and Omonia Nicosia.

Dynamo Kiev will be expected to outlast Gent over two legs, while it would be a minor upset if PAOK takes down Krasnodar.


How to watch the UEFA Champions League qualifying playoff round

Kickoff: 3 pm ET Tuesday and Wednesday
Stream: CBS All-Access (subscription required)


UEFA Champions League playoff round matches

All 12 legs will kickoff at 3 pm ET between Tuesday and Sept. 30.

Tuesday

Maccabi Tel-Aviv 1-2 Red Bull Salzburg
Slavia Prague 0-0 Midtjylland
Krasnodar 2-1 PAOK

Wednesday

Gent v Dynamo Kiev
Molde v Ferencvaros
Olympiakos v Omonia

Sept. 29

Ferencvaros v Molde
Dynamo Kiev v Gent
Omonia v Olympiakos

Sept. 30

Midtjylland v Slavia Prague
PAOK v Krasnodar
Red Bull Salzburg v Maccabi Tel-Aviv

League Cup: How to watch, start times, as Premier League powers enter

League Cup
Photo by David Price/Arsenal FC via Getty Images
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Fifteen Premier League teams eye dates in the fourth round when the League Cup returns for another September midweek.

The congested nature of the season will see some PL sides play three matches in as many weeks, though the European qualifying teams are just entering the fray this week.

[ LIVE: Follow League Cup scores ]

That includes Europa League sides Arsenal and Leicester City, who will stage the lone all-PL scrap of the round come Wednesday at the King Power Stadium.

Tuesday was going to see Tottenham Hotspur visit a club sponsored by Spurs striker Harry Kane, but Leyton Orient is in the news after positive COVID-19 tests have threatened to forfeit Spurs into the next round.

VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Manchester United will hope to snap out of its season-opening funk when it begins its tourney Tuesday at Luton Town, while Chelsea hosts Barnsley on Wednesday.

Liverpool is off to Lincoln City on Thursday, kicking off its League Cup at the same time Manchester City welcomes Bournemouth.

Because of the aforementioned congested September in the tournament, the fourth round draw has already been held and those fixtures are at bottom of the page.


League Cup third round draw

All times ET

Tuesday
Leyton Orient v Tottenham Hotspur — Postponed
West Brom 2-2 Brentford – (Brentford win on penalty kicks)
Newport County 3-1 Watford 
West Ham United 5-1 Hull City
Luton Town 0-3 Manchester United 

Wednesday
Preston North End v Brighton — 2 pm
Millwall v Burnley — 2 pm
Fulham v Sheffield Wednesday — 2 pm
Stoke City v Gillingham — 2 pm
Chelsea v Barnsley — 2:45 pm
Leicester City v Arsenal — 2:45 pm
Fleetwood Town v Everton — 2:45 pm
Morecambe v Newcastle United — 2:45 pm

Thursday
Bristol City v Aston Villa — 2 pm
Lincoln City v Liverpool — 2:45 pm
Manchester City v Bournemouth — 2:45 pm


League Cup fourth round draw

Lincoln City/Liverpool v Leicester City/Arsenal
Millwall/Burnley v Manchester City/Bournemouth
West Brom/Brentford v Fulham/Sheffield Wednesday
Fleetwood Town/Everton v West Ham United/Hull City
Bristol City/Aston Villa v Stoke City/Gillingham
Leyton Orient/Tottenham v Chelsea/Barnsley
Newport County/Watford v Morecambe/Newcastle United
Preston North End/Brighton v Luton Town/Manchester United


How to watch League Cup third round streams and start time

Kickoff: Tuesday through Thursday
Online: Select games on ESPN+
Updates: Follow League Cup scores via NBCSports.com

Premier League player Power Rankings

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Premier League player Power Rankings are here!

Our second player Power Rankings of the 2020-21 season have arrived, as all 20 teams have played and we are coming off the highest scoring matchweek in Premier League history with 44 goals scored across the 10 games.

Simply put: it was incredibly tough to put 20 players in this list based on the crazy results across the Premier League.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA

Stars from Liverpool, Tottenham, Arsenal and Everton dominate our second player Power Rankings and there are plenty of new signings who have impressed early in the season.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Remember: this is a list of the top 20 performing players right now in the Premier League. If they didn’t play in the last matchweek, they aren’t going to be in this list!

Let us know in the comments section below if you agree with the selections.


1. Sadio Mane (Liverpool)
2. James Rodriguez (Everton)
3. Kevin de Bruyne (Man City)
4. Harry Kane (Tottenham)
5. Heung-min Son (Tottenham)
6. Fabinho (Liverpool)
7. Tariq Lamptey (Brighton)
8. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Arsenal)
9. Raul Jimenez (Wolves)
10. Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace)
11. Gabriel (Arsenal)
12. Dani Ceballos (Arsenal)
13. Mohamed Salah (Liverpool)
14. Vicente Guaita (Crystal Palace)
15. Dominic Calvert-Lewin (Everton)
16. Patrick Bamford (Leeds)
17. Timothy Castagne (Leicester)
18. Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace)
19. Andy Robertson (Liverpool)
20. Kalvin Phillips (Leeds)