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.

Ronaldo explains his new chin hair at World Cup

AP Photo/Hassan Ammar
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Now that Cristiano Ronaldo has taken to sporting a reasonable hairstyle atop his head, people are talking about the foliage on his face.

[ RECAP: Morocco 0-1 Portugal ]

Ronaldo, 33, drew speculation when he stroked his chin following a goal in his hat trick performance against Spain in the World Cup opener. Some said he was demonstrating defiance against Lionel Messi posing with a goat (Greatest Of All Time) in a recent photograph.

Ronaldo scored again on Wednesday, and there was seemingly little doubt his goatee was a wink to the speculators. But what did it mean, CR7? From ESPN:

“This goatee? It’s a joke I had with [Ricardo] Quaresma. “We were in the sauna [before Friday’s match against Spain] and I started to shave and I left the goatee. I said if I score tomorrow, I would leave it for the rest of the tournament. And it gave me luck.

“I scored in that game, I scored in this one, so it stays.”

Personally, I like to imagine Ronaldo starting to get as wild with his facial hair as he did his head hair.

Perhaps a beatnik style, or something like Serj Tankian from System of a Down. Get nuts, C-Ron.

Report: Southampton could sell Tadic to Ajax for $20m

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Could Southampton be selling one of its most creative forces?

Dusan Tadic, 29, is in the middle of a World Cup run with dark horse Serbia, but the Saints star is also being talked about as a purchase item for Ajax.

[ MORE: Serbia tops Costa Rica ]

The celebrated Eredivisie has traditionally been a selling club for the Premier League, but could be a $20 million buy for Ajax.

The report says director of players Marc Overmars and financial director Jeroen Slop have flown to Southampton to work out a deal.

Tadic starred for Dutch sides Groningen and Twente between 2010-14 before moving to St. Mary’s for a reported $12 million.

He’s scored 24 goals with 35 assists in 162 appearances for Saints, 21 and 30 of which came in the Premier League.

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