By the way, CONCACAF Champions League’s finals start on Wednesday

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The sad reality of CONCACAF Champions League is people in MLS Land don’t care that much, a debilitating ailment for a competition hungry for significance. When Major League Soccer teams are alive in the tournament (which they were, until last round), you see plenty of opinions describing the confederation competition as important for the region’s future. But unless a team can go on a run like Real Salt Lake did two years ago, MLS fans drift away. The tournament’s important when a U.S. or Canadian team is in it, but when they’re not? Well, we have a regular season to tend to.

I mention this because Champions League’s final starts tomorrow with a first leg that’s carrying the buzz of a comatose teetotaler. While Mexico is covering it with the same hyped anticipation they gave last year’s final, this year’s rematch between Monterrey and Santos Laguna has failed to capture the imagination of the MLS faithful. People who keep tabs on Liga MX will watch tomorrow night, but neither Monterrey’s potential record-tying win (a third in a row) nor the presence of U.S. international Herculez Gomez with Santos Laguna can entice an MLS audience that moved on once Seattle and Los Angeles where bounced.

It’s a truly fascinating matchup. Monterrey are the kings of the region, having represented CONCACAF at the Club World Cup two times in a row. To get there last year, they had to go through Santos Laguna, who got revenge by defeating the Rayados in the Clausura final. Though the teams have split their last 11 meetings (both teams with a 4-4-3 record), Santos won 1-0 this weekend when the teams surreptitiously met in Torreon.

Monterrey has the most talented player in the region, Chilean attacker Humberto Suazo, but while for a long time the Rayados also laid claim to being CONCACAF’s most talented squad, it’s not longer clear they have more firepower than the Guerreros. Oribe Peralta, Carlos Darwin Quintero, and Gomez form the region’s best attacking trio. Panamanian defender Felipe Baloy is as imposing as any player in CONCACAF, while 39-year-old former Mexican international Oswaldo Sanchez continues to defy time in goal. Add in a pinch of revenge-driven motivation and this weekend’s result and Santos is favored to knock off the holders.

There’s no shortage of storylines capable of corralling interest, but that doesn’t matter. For as much as diehard MLS fans want CONCACAF Champions League to be a major undertaking – one which teams would gear up and prioritize over early regular season matches – there’s little appetite to see it through. The cause behind promoting Champions League is MLS, not the tournament itself, so when the league’s teams bow out, so do its supporters.

There’s a tinge of hypocrisy there, but it’s understandable. Just as England suddenly started caring about Europa League once its teams were in it (and not Champions League), MLS fans go where their teams go. We may again next year hear the annual calls to start making CONCACAF’s Champions League more than it is, but unless another RSL comes along, we’ll likely be left where we are now: Waiting for weekend action while devoting little more than the corner of our eye to the teams that eliminated MLS powers.

Rayados start their quest for three-straight tomorrow at 10 p.m. Eastern. Santos Laguna is searching for their first confederation title. MLS starts again on Saturday when Toronto hosts New York.

VIDEO: Breaking down some celebrated Premier League derbies

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The kickoffs aren’t coming back soon, so we’re finding solace in anticipating the biggest matches on the Premier League calendar.

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Certain rivalries are circled on the fixture list when it arrives each summer, the sort of games that seem to level the playing field regardless of the gulf in class.

Is Arsenal struggling? No better way to bounce back than Spurs.

Liverpool sliding a bit? It’ll snap back to form when Everton hits Anfield.

PST lead writer and editor Joe Prince-Wright has prepped up for several of these derbies over the years, and here’s a cheat sheet for those new and a tasty summation for those missing their hated foes.

Liverpool-Manchester City

Arsenal-Tottenham Hotspur

Liverpool-Everton

Manchester City-Manchester United

Chelsea-Tottenham Hotspur

Bournemouth’s Howe takes voluntary pay cut, first PL manager to do so

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Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe is the first Premier League manager to take a pay cut due to the coronavirus suspension.

Howe joins Bournemouth chief executive Neill Blake, first team technical director Richard Hughes, and assistant manager Jason Tindall in taking “significant, voluntary” pay cuts.

Howe is the longest-serving manager in the PL. He started with Bournemouth’s academy in 1994 and spent just a few short seasons away from home (Portsmouth and Swindon Town) during his playing career.

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The club has also furloughed employees throughout the organization. From a Bournemouth statement:

There is no script for moments like this. No tactics and no set plays to find a winning formula. But as a board we are continually looking at ways to ensure the future of the club and our employees is protected when the season returns.

We have also advised a number of staff across all areas of the club that they will be temporarily furloughed, as a result of the ongoing pandemic.

These measures have been taken to safeguard the financial stability of the club during what is such an uncertain period, not only in football but for businesses in all industries across the world.

Surely Howe won’t be the last during this uncertain time for clubs and businesses all over the world.

Ex-Marseille president first coronavirus-related death in Senegal

Pape Diouf
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DAKAR, Senegal (AP) Pape Diouf, a former president of French soccer club Marseille, died Tuesday in Senegal after contracting the coronavirus. It was the West African country’s first COVID-19-related death, according to the health ministry. He was 68.

Diouf, who was president of Marseille from 2005-09, had been treated since Saturday in intensive care in Dakar, health minister Abdoulaye Diouf Sarr said.

Senegal President Macky Sall wrote on his official Twitter account that he had followed Diouf’s health closely after he was admitted for treatment.

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“I pay tribute to this great figure in sport,” Sall wrote. “I pay tribute to the medical staff at Fann Hospital who spared no effort to save him.”

Relatives said Diouf was meant to be moved to France. He had recently traveled to several countries in the West Africa region.

In its most recent count, Senegal has reported 190 cases of the coronavirus, with 45 of those having recovered.

Diouf was a charismatic and popular leader who was close to the fans and players at Marseille, the only French team to win the European club title.

“Pape will forever remain in the hearts of Marseille people and (is) one of the great architects of the club,” Marseille wrote under a photo of Diouf.

Shortly before his time at the club ended, Diouf signed Didier Deschamps as the new coach and Deschamps won the French league title and League Cup in his first season in charge. It was Marseille’s first league title in 18 years.

Deschamps, who coached France to World Cup success two years ago, described Diouf as “a man of convictions, a spirited man, passionate about football” adding that his “sudden and brutal death deeply saddens me.”

“I could measure his popularity, which was immense with the Marseille people whose hearts he had won,” Deschamps said on L’Equipe’s website.

The French soccer league called Diouf’s death “a moment of immense sadness for French soccer.”

Diouf was born in Chad to Senegalese parents. After arriving in Marseille at the age of 18, he became a sports journalist and then a players’ agent.

Diouf was not afraid to take risks in signing unheralded players, such as the diminutive Mathieu Valbuena from third-tier side Libourne in 2006 when he was 21.

The 1.67-meter (5 feet, 5 inches) Valbuena went on to prove Diouf right, and all the doubters wrong, playing 52 times for France.

“A great man with a great heart,” Valbuena said. “We were hypnotized by his speeches, he had a lot of charisma.”

Diouf was awarded the French Legion of Honor medal in 2012, one of the country’s highest honors.

Pugmire reported from Paris. AP reporter Babacar Dione in Dakar, Senegal contributed.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Report: Griezmann plus cash could finally get Neymar back to Barcelona

Neymar
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Neymar’s long-rumored return to Barcelona hasn’t quite reached the point of exhaustion, but it’s close.

A new report has said Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain may be coming to terms with what’s been a fairly obvious swap deal for some time.

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According to Sky Sports, PSG would send Neymar to Barcelona in return for French hero Antoine Griezmann and money.

The $167 million price tag attached to Neymar is significantly more than the $110 million on Griezmann, and there’s no doubt the former is more of a gamechanger at this point on their careers.

While Neymar gets both the #whenhealthy and #whenavailable tags to his rep, he’s scored 18 times with 10 assists in 22 matches across all competitions this year.

Before the full phrase ‘Ligue 1’ exits your lips, he’s scored against Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Celtic, Galatasaray, Liverpool, Anderlecht, and Red Star Belgrade in his three seasons with PSG.

Griezmann is a full year older than Neymar and, while one of the world’s elite attackers, he’s a step below the Brazilian’s tier. He’s also said to want to keep finding his way at Barca, with Gerard Pique and others ready to lend support.