New Major League Soccer stadium in Tampa Bay?

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CARSON, Calif. – The stadium-related, out-of-nowhere story from Tampa Bay yesterday will need much untangling.

Luckily, almost everybody who has anything to do with domestic soccer is in Southern California this week, site of Saturday’s MLS Cup final; we’ll have our untangling tools at the ready.

Here’s what we know about yesterday’s whopper, a news story from Tampa that says a group (with more money than it knows what to do with, apparently) is about to spend $400 million on a soccer stadium, minus any promises of an MLS franchise.

  • Hopes are for a 28,000-seat stadium with a retractable roof. (It does tend to get wet in Tampa, so that ability to shut the lid would be nice.)
  • The stadium to open in March of 2016.
  • The money is out of England, from VisionPro Sports Institute Holdings, which has heavy business and political connections to Tampa Bay.
  • The timing couldn’t be better; MLS commissioner Don Garber reiterated Major League Soccer’s desire to find its way into the Southeast, and also reinforced the league’s desire to avoid ill fitted venues (i.e., big football stadiums in most cases.)

There are three sticky points here:

One is the commitment for 19-team MLS to make a second New York franchise No. 20. That’s still targeted for around 2016, and most of the MLS expansion energy will presumably remain pointed in that direction.

The other is finding an owner. As I’ve mentioned several times before, nothing happens until a city has the right owner to go with the right stadium plan.

(MORE: Slicing through the clutter of MLS expansion talk)

Finally, there is a matter of history. Tampa Bay had an MLS team before, the short-lived Mutiny (pictured). That lasted five seasons, folding in 2001 as MLS contracted to 10 teams (and came very, very close to going away altogether.)

That was a very different time in MLS. Tampa was league owned and operated, and surely suffered from that status. Still, that could create an awkward obstacle if competition gets fierce with a place like Orlando, where officials are eager to get past the MLS expansion velvet ropes.

(MORE: Tampa Bay’s potential competition in Florida, Orlando)

After slow start, Belgium takes care of business against feisty Panama

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All it took was one goal to bring Belgium to life.

Following a frustrating first 45 minutes, in which Belgium put a pair of shots into the side netting and forced saves from Panama goalkeeper Jaime Penedo, Dries Mertens 47th minute goal opened the floodgates, as Belgium went on to defeat Panama, 3-0, Monday afternoon in Sochi.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

But Panama never made it easy for the Belgians. From the opening whistle the CONCACAF nation showed its incredible spirit, chasing down Belgium all across the field and making life incredibly difficult for Belgium attackers Romelu Lukaku, Mertens and Eden Hazard. Hazard was hacked down all over the field, and while he did earn fouls and a few yellow cards were issued to Panamanian players, it was enough to get in Hazard’s head.

Two minutes into the second half, everything changed. A wonderstrike from Mertens opened the game, and forced Panama to attack and try and tie the match, which gave Hazard, de Bruyne and Lukaku more space to operate.

In the heat and humidity of the Sochi summer, Panama’s veteran defense began to tire, allowing de Bruyne the space to deliver a terrific assist to Lukaku in the box, putting Belgium up 2-0 in the 69th minute.

 

Six minutes later, Lukaku was put through on the break, chipping over Penedo to confirm the victory.

With the win, Belgium moves to the top of Group G. Up next for Belgium is Tunisia on Saturday, while Panama takes on England on Sunday.

VIDEO: de Bruyne delivers gorgeous assist on Lukaku goal

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It took a little bit of patience, but Romelu Lukaku finally got on the scoresheet at the 2018 World Cup, thanks to a delicious assist from crosstown club rival Kevin De Bruyne.

The Manchester City playmaker delivered a spectacular outside-of-the-boot cross into the box, where Lukaku’s head met it and guided it towards the far post for Belgium’s second goal of the day.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Arsenal close in on Leno; Man City near Jorginho signing, and more

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Arsenal looks like it will have a new man between the pipes for next season.

According to a report from German publication SportBild, Bayer Leverkusen goalkeeper Bernd Leno will be introduced as an Arsenal player on Tuesday, after a reported $23-29 million transfer fee. The 26-year-old was on Germany’s 35-man pre-World Cup squad, but was one of the last cuts as Joachim Low went with Manuel Neuer, Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Kevin Trapp in Russia.

Leno became the full-time starter for Leverkusen as a 20-year-old, and has held the position of the No. 1 for the last six seasons, earning plenty of Bundesliga and UEFA Champions League experience along the way.

It’s unclear what will happen to current Arsenal No. 1 Petr Cech. The 36-year-old Premier League legend experienced one of his worst seasons in net for Arsenal and he could begin the season as a backup, unless he moves to a new club. He reportedly has a contract through 2019.

Here’s some more transfer rumors from around the Premier League and Europe.

(more…)

VIDEO: Mertens scores wonderstrike for Belgium

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After a frustrating 45 minutes, it took only two minutes for Belgium to finally get on the board, even if it was a goal sprinkled with magic dust.

Off a partially cleared ball on the right side of the box, Belgium attacker Dries Mertens whalloped a shot that arced over Panama (and former LA Galaxy) goalkeeper Jaime Penedo, giving Belgium a 1-0 lead.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]