U.S. Soccer budging on qualifiers in Portland, Seattle

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Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl released these little nuggets last night on his Twitter feed, updates which could influence which venues get next year’s five U.S. Men’s National Team World Cup qualifiers:

[tweet https://twitter.com/GrantWahl/status/284070895264337920 align=’center’] [tweet https://twitter.com/GrantWahl/status/284074446610907137 align=’center’]

Even with the caution implied by the second tweet, this is good news for Portland and Seattle. At least, it’s progress. Whereas before it was thought CenturyLink and Jeld-Wen fields were long shots to get any of The Hex’s games, now it seems U.S. Soccer is willing to be flexible in order to get final round qualifying matches in two highly desirable venues.

Seattle’s virtues are obvious. True, it’s a big football stadium in a day and age when Soccer Specific Stadium is becoming dogma, but consider the upside. It’s a huge football stadium, meaning we could see around 70,000 people backing the U.S. for a meaningful match.

And unlike other places that can draw similar crowds, Seattle’s is likely to be heavily pro-U.S. That’s something you couldn’t say in Los Angeles or Dallas. Even New York’s crowds tend to include a large number of non-USMNT supporters. When was the last time the national team played in front of a supportive crowd that large?

source: Getty ImagesPortland’s virtues lie on the other end of the spectrum, but with the charged atmosphere Columbus’s Crew Stadium was able to generate for a recent qualifier, U.S. Soccer seems interested in pursuing similar venues – locations which may not sell tons of tickets but will generate an imposing, bandbox atmosphere.

That’s Portland. Jeld-Wen can’t hold much more than 20,000 people, but it might have best atmosphere in Major League Soccer. The full voice of the field’s crowded north end would give the U.S. the type of unique setting that proves problematic for teams not used to a venue.

There seem to be few drawbacks to trying to get Portland and Seattle in the rotation. Travel is often cited as a deterrent, but in instances where the U.S. is plays the first of a two qualifier set on the road, the extra distance from Europe is a non-issue.

Ultimately, this game with Portland and Seattle has to stop. We’ve heard the reasons why U.S. Soccer avoids the venues, but the reasons seem thin compared to the sacrifice of leaving two potentially strong home field advantages out of the rotation (and two large fan bases out of the loop).

And sometimes, it all feels like a game of chicken. Who will flinch first? Each side seems to think they have some leverage. U.S. Soccer makes the final decisions and are trying to use that power, but Portland and Seattle know they offer enough distinct virtues to hold firm on some basic issues. Until now, both sides seemed to be holding out.

So while the idea of qualifiers in the northwest is exciting, the big news to glean from Wahl’s reporting is some movement in that stalemate – an apparent compromise. U.S. Soccer is willing to play on something that isn’t permanent grass while Portland and Seattle have to bring in the sod.

It’s good news, even if the debate itself is a bit of a farce.

More on the farce of the fake stuff later on the blog.

Leeds defender Jansson joins Malmo fans outside Stamford Bridge

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Sometimes, soccer players can be accused of being too disconnected from the fans who travel across their country to support their side. But not Pontus Jansson.

The Leeds defender traveled to London Thursday evening to join Malmo fans as they marched, sang, and chanted outside Stamford Bridge. It’s unclear if Jansson actually went into the stadium for the Europa League match, but what is clear is that he’s never lost his affection for his boyhood club. He even led some supporters in one of the Swedish club’s chants.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Jansson joined Malmo’s youth academy in 2006 and made his professional debut for his hometown side in 2009, playing in Sweden until 2014. Jansson has been a regular for Leeds each of the last three seasons since joining from Torino.

Like thousands of other Malmo fans, he probably figured this was his best chance to see a European away game of his favorite club close by. So there he went from Leeds to London to join the Malmo fans.

Premier League sets start date for 2019-2020 season

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Mark it down.

The Premier League announced that the 2019-2020 season will begin on Saturday, August 10. That’s just 90 days after the 2018-2019 season will finish on May 12.

In addition, the Premier League is continuing with closing their summer transfer window before the start of the season. August 8, at 5 p.m. local is the next transfer deadline day.

Additional news about next season’s schedule is expected to be announced in the coming months.

Manchester United opened the 2018-2019 season on Friday, August 10 with a 2-1 win over Leicester City.

Arsenal, Chelsea cruise into Europa League Round of 16

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Arsenal looked right at home back in the friendly confines of the Emirates Stadium.

After losing twice on the road this month, including a surprise 1-0 defeat last Thursday to BATE Borisov, Arsenal took care of business at home. The Gunners defeated BATE, 3-0 on the night (3-1 on aggregate), with goals from centerbacks Shkodran Mustafi and Sokratis Papastathopoulous, while BATE’s Zakhar Volkov scored an own goal early to tie the scoreline between the two legs.

[READ: Premier League Power Rankings]

South of the Emirates Stadium, Chelsea built on their 2-1 aggregate lead over Malmo FF with a resounding 3-0 win. Malmo finished with ten men and the game was highlighted by goals from Callum Hudson-Odoi and a Ross Barkley free kick.

With the wins, both Premier League sides advance to the Europa League Round of 16. The draw for the Round of 16 will be held on Friday, with matches taking place March 7 and 14.

Arsenal took an unexpected lead in the fourth minute of the match. A seemingly harmless cross from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was somehow turned into his own net by BATE centerback Zakhar Volkov. After some shaky moments early, Arsenal settled in and controlled the match, leading to the go-ahead goal. Granit Xhaka played the first of his two assists as Mustafi got on the end of a corner kick to head the ball in for a goal.

In the 60th minute, Sokratis’ header off a corner kick put the game away and allowed Arsenal fans to relax for the final half-hour of play.

Chelsea, meanwhile, didn’t get the early goal like Arsenal but didn’t end up needing it.

Maurizio Sarri sat Jorginho, David Luiz and Marcos Alonso and it led to a better defensive performance, albeit Malmo isn’t a world beater. Olivier Giroud opened the scoring in the 55th minute with a tap-in after great work from N’Golo Kante and Willian. It was Giroud’s sixth Europa League goal this season.

Barkley delighted the Stamford Bridge crowd with a terrific free kick from the edge of the box in the 74th minute and Hudson-Odoi put the cherry on top with a right-footed strike ten minutes later.

Former Premier League midfielder Diarra leaves PSG, announces retirement

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PARIS (AP) Veteran midfielder Lassana Diarra announced his retirement on Thursday, hours after he terminated his contract with French league leader Paris Saint-Germain by mutual agreement.

The 33-year-old Frenchman joined PSG in January 2018 and his contract was set to expire in June. Diarra’s career ends after 15 years and many high profile stops. He played for Arsenal, Chelsea and even Portsmouth in England, as well as spending three strong seasons with Real Madrid.

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Le moment est venu de « raccrocher les crampons » comme on dit . Pour le football , j’ai beaucoup donné . Grâce au football , j’ai énormément reçu . Le sport de haut niveau est une véritable école de courage , de persévérance et de respect . Il ne s’agit pas de faire l’unanimité mais d’honorer , en professionnel , avec volontarisme et loyauté la confiance que l’on vous accorde . Je ne dis pas que j’ai tout fait parfaitement mais je l’ai fait avec coeur , passion et bienveillance . Merci à tous ceux et toutes celles qui m’ont encouragé tout au long de ma carrière sportive . Une pensée pour les clubs , entraîneurs , éducateurs et coéquipiers qui ont fait partie de mon quotidien pendant toutes ces années . Je n’oublie pas ma première sélection avec la France en 2007 . Porter le maillot de la sélection nationale est le rêve de tous les footballeurs . Je tourne donc la page mais je n’oublie rien . Je vais continuer à œuvrer avec enthousiasme , détermination et sincérité dans mes nouveaux projets . Amitiés LASS

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After Real Madrid, Diarra became a journeyman, playing two seasons in Russia and part of a season in the United Arab Emirates. With PSG, Diarra made 10 league appearances last season under former coach Unai Emery, and has made only three in the league this season in Thomas Tuchel’s team.

Diarra made 34 appearances for France and was a regular starter during the qualifying campaign for the 2010 World Cup.