Slicing through the clutter of MLS expansion talk

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This is as good a time as any, I suppose, to remind everyone of the harsh realities when it comes to MLS expansion.

It’s a touchy subject, because so many fans in some wonderful soccer markets – underserved by MLS, it must be said – would love to see a top flight club land in their city. Thus, they tend to be understandably emotional about it.

And I would love to have better news. But the bottom line on expansion talk is this: it’s just talk … at least until some well-heeled investor group with barrels full of currency gets into the real nittygritty with MLS brass, and a genuine stadium plan is put on the table for careful examination.

Until then, we’re all just flapping our little soccer gums in dreamy delight. We may as well be talking about free beer – because it’s just as much a fantasy.

Major League Soccer needs to be in the American southeast. We all know so. I would love to see a little more MLS in the Midwest, in St. Louis or the Twin Cities of Minnesota, for instance. Out West, San Diego would be swell.

(MORE: Further talk on MLS expansion … on Orlando specifically)

But it takes so very much more than coloring in the map.

So when fans ask about Orlando, Miami, Atlanta, San Antonio, Phoenix and on and on … that’s wonderful. And I love that people are asking. But it takes more. Which is the precise point league commissioner Don Garber made yesterday in his annual pre-MLS Cup address. On this one, he was speaking specifically about Atlanta.

It certainly would hinge on the new stadium because otherwise there wouldn’t be a place to play. Should the public sector and private sector be able to come together and get a new facility for the Falcons, it would allow us to continue our discussions on how MLS can fit into their mutual plans.”

Garber always has to be careful here, because he doesn’t want to discourage interest in Atlanta or anywhere else.  He can’t come across looking like a fiscal hardass. But he has to balance the public discourse with spoonfuls of real-world substance, too.

By the way, I am no fan of NFL teams kicking around MLS interest when it comes to new facilities. It’s too easy to employ MLS as a tool for political leverage, and then to reduce MLS to a vehicle for filling more stadium dates.

It has worked beautifully in Seattle, but that always seems more exception than rule.

(FYI: That map you see above represents absolutely nothing official … just think of it as me doodling on the computer while thinking of MLS expansion)

Toronto locks down USMNT backstop Bono with extension

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Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono is going to stay Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono.

[ RECAP: Morocco 0-1 Portugal ]

The newly-capped USMNT backstop, 24, has been attracting interest from abroad since breaking past Clint Irwin to win the TFC job and guiding the club to multiple MLS Cup Finals.

Now general manager Tim Bezbatchenko has locked down his young goalkeeper to an undisclosed contract extension. From TorontoFC.com:

“Alex was a big part of our success last season. He set club records for wins and clean sheets and was a critical piece of our championship team,” said Toronto FC Sr. Vice-President, Soccer Operations & General Manager Tim Bezbatchenko. “Since joining the club as a first round pick in 2015, Alex’s ability to make key saves in big moments has been critical to our success.”

The Syracuse-born product of Syracuse University has made 64 appearances for the Reds.

WATCH: World Cup, Day 8 — Argentina on the edge; France aims for berth

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France, Denmark, and Croatia can clinch knockout round berths on Thursday in Russia, the last nation also holding the opportunity to help deprive the World Cup of an extended Lionel Messi run.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Messi’s Argentina drew Iceland in its opener, the megastar infamously missing a penalty, and will look to beat a Croatian side that looked quite good in dispatching Nigeria.

That’s the final match of the day, which begins with Denmark facing Australia and continues with a tasty match-up between France and Peru.

Below is Thursday’s schedule in full.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.


2018 World Cup schedule – Wednesday, June 20

Group C
Denmark vs. Australia: Samara, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
France vs. Peru: Yekaterinburg, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group D
Argentina vs. Croatia: Nizhny Novgorod, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Halted World Cup flip-throw heard around the world

AP Photo/Sergei Grits
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Milad Mohammadi knew the time was right for something special, but special isn’t always good.

And good is a subjective term. Cause to us this is very good, Milad.

The Iranian national team defender failed with a flip-throw bid in the final moments of a 1-0 loss to Spain on Wednesday at the World Cup in Russia.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.

And this wasn’t like he illegally flipped or broke some other rule. No, like a kid trying an audacious jump into the deep end, Akhmat Grozny star Mohammadi just bailed and climbed in from the side (so to speak).

The kiss, the look skyward, the headbutt… all integral parts of a wonderful World Cup moment.

Renard, Morocco ‘very proud’ of unlucky national team

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If you would’ve told Morocco fans or their manager, Herve Renard, that they’d outshoot and outpossess both Iran and Portugal at World Cup, their next question would probably be, “So do we need to do against Spain to win Group B?”

Alas, Morocco lost a pair of 1-0 decisions to become the first team knocked out of the 2018 World Cup.

[ RECAP: Morocco 0-1 Portugal ]

The Lions of Atlas fell to Iran in their opener on a stoppage time own goal after carrying 64 percent possession and a 13-8 advantage in shot attempts, then lost to a Cristiano Ronaldo fourth minute goal on Wednesday despite a 16-10 shot advantage and 53 percent of the ball.

“I’m very proud of the performance and I am very proud of my players, I’m very proud of this country,” Renard said.

With no hope of advancing to the next round, the manager is finding the experience bittersweet. From RTE:

“What I am sure of at this moment is that the entire Moroccan people is proud of this team. Of course it’s easier to play with a player who has one chance and he puts it away. But we are in Morocco.

“We have quality players. Despite the ups and downs of the game, we should have been more effective. Because, like in the first game, we had plenty of chances. I won’t blame anyone. That’s football. It’s always those who know how to be present in the box, the most gifted players, who make the difference. We took a lot of risks and we didn’t get our reward.”

It’s unlikely Morocco will hold either of those statistical advantages against Spain, especially a Spanish side yet to qualify, but there is plenty to like from the tournament aside from poor finishing quality.

But the performances of 19-year-olds Amine Harit (Schalke) and Achraf Hakimi (Real Madrid) — not to mention Hakim Ziyech (25, Ajax) — seem to hint at a promise for 2022. And Renard’s men can still play spoiler for Spain, which is no small shockwave.