The changing identity of … Major League Soccer

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In time, Saturday night will be seen as a watershed moment in Major League Soccer, the first time the 17-year-old league was able to convince both a prominent player and his club to play ball on a big transfer from Europe. That the player happened to be the captain of the U.S. Men’s National Team makes the occasion more memorable (and Seattle’s circumstances are certainly different from almost every other team’s in Major League Soccer), but luring any player of renown who is still capable of dressing for one of England’s top teams would be celebrated as a league-wide victory.

Euro-centric fans will downplay the significance, and not without  reason, but within the scope of the league, Dempsey’s acquisition is undeniable progress. This is a milestone many fans have wanted to hit for some time. In addition to keeping the Omar Gonzalez-types from jumping once their first contracts play out, fans want to be able to compete for European-caliber talent; specifically, U.S. internationals. That the U.S international is the first to be reeled in makes this a boon.

It’s worth asking whether Major League Soccer, considered by many as more of a selling league, is now a buyer. Put another way, is the immediate future that of an importer, not an exporter? Given MLS’s structure, there’s no single answer to that. Even though they sold Fredy Montero earlier this year, Seattle’s clearly a buyer. When the LA Galaxy (seemingly inevitably) join Seattle and spend big for a third DP, they’ll affirm their status as heavy hitters. But the vast majority of MLS clubs still can’t compete with strong bids from clubs from even mid-tier European leagues. Still, between the established powers, the Pacific Northwest teams, and the two Eastern Canada clubs, more and more MLS clubs are capable of being players, not spectators.

[MORE: The changing identity of … Seattle Sounders FC]

But not everything is sunshine and roses in MLS Land. Seattle’s spending is worrisome for some in the league, particularly those concerned that the growth of a few clubs threatens to dwarf the capabilities of others. Between expanding the Designated Player rules and instituting retention funds, the league’s affluent teams have more avenues to distance themselves from the pack. The extent to which that (as opposed to Seattle’s unique circumstances) influenced the Dempsey deal is debatable, but as part of the overall landscape, some see it as cause for concern.

Then there’s fan frustration, most present in Portland, who not only are Seattle’s chief rivals but sat on top of the allocation order when Dempsey rejoined the league. Many’s readings of the rules assumed the Timbers should get the rights to the returning U.S. international, even though those rules conflicted with the Designated Player guidelines. The Claudio Reyna precedent of 2007 seemed to solve that matter (the former U.S. captain returned straight to Red Bull on a DP deal), but for those suspicious of the league’s motives, the conflict was enough to fuel ire …

Ire that was on display Saturday night at JELD-WEN Field:

Infuriated by their rival’s coup, Timbers fans may be taking an excessively literal, inflexible view of the rules, which is not to say they don’t have a point. The written rules available on MLS’s web site do conflict, so much so that the league felt the need to issue a clarification after Dempsey was signed. The explanation was clear, consistent, and may have answered many’s questions, but for those who’d already decided the Dempsey deal was shaky, there was no tearing the tin foil from their heads.

[MORE: In pictures, Clint Dempsey is unveiled in Seattle.]

If Major League Soccer really is in that adolescence we discussed in the Seattle post, this is their teenage naivete. And like all mistakes of our high school days, this is mostly innocent – something to learn from. It is, however, a small reminder that it’s time to grow up. There are responsibilities and expectations that come with adulthood, and any hint that you’re making things up as you go along will lead people to question your maturity.

But this isn’t a matter of two steps forward, one step back for MLS. The Dempsey capture is a decided leap forward, even if there’s a stubbed toe on the landing. For all the confusion people found in MLS’s rules, the league is in a notably better place today than they were two days ago. That’s almost the definition of progress.

Italian soccer federation signs deal with Chinese government

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ROME (AP) The Italian soccer federation has signed a wide-ranging memorandum with the Chinese government to promote soccer between the two countries.

The deal foresees playing the Italian Super Cup or Italian Cup in China within the next three years.

[ MORE: Upsets in EURO qualifying ]

The Italian Super Cup – which pits the Serie A champion against the Italian Cup champion – has already been played in China four times over the last 10 years.

The meeting with China Media Group head Shen Haixiong also focused on TV content and rights, collaboration over developing young Chinese players in Italy and instruction for using the video assistant referee.

Shen was in Rome for the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Italian federation president Gabriele Gravina says, “Soccer has shown once again to be a bridge between different cultures.”

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

WATCH: Asprilla scores terrific bicycle kick on USL cameo

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Portland Timbers forward Dairon Asprilla has had to spend some time in the USL Championship this season, and the second tier would probably like to see Gio Savarese keep the Colombian in Major League Soccer.

[ REPORT: Liverpool to sell Keita? ]

Asprilla scored twice and added an assists on Saturday night in a defeat of Eric Wynalda’s Las Vegas Lights, and he put up a near picture perfect bicycle kick on the highlight reel.

Watch as he sets himself up, willingly or not, for the endeavor before splashing a shot in the side panel for an amazing aesthetic.

Report: Bayern, BVB ready to buy Keita from Liverpool

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A report claims that Liverpool is ready to admit defeat in the case of Naby Keita.

Keita, 24, was bought from RB Leipzig last season and arrived at Anfield in the summer, but has struggled to find consistent playing time under Jurgen Klopp.

[ VIDEO: USMNT’s Saief shines for FC Cincinnati ]

Viewed as the missing link between the Virgil Van Dijk and Liverpool’s torrential attack, Keita has not come close to replicating the form that saw his price tag reach $69 million.

Indeed, Team Talk says Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich look prepared to pay around $53 million to bring Keita back to the Bundesliga.

Keita has played 27 matches in all competitions for Liverpool, accumulating 1,388 minutes and just one assist. He had nine goals and seven assists in more than double the minutes one season ago.

According to WhoScored.com, he’s passing the ball better and taking almost a foul less than last season, but almost every other measurable has declined since he moved to England.

I’m as guilty as anyone of thinking Keita would be everything the Reds required after an improved 2017-18, but he’s either being used very poorly or having trouble adjusting to the culture.

It’s early to quit on a player so talented, but maybe Klopp and he just don’t mesh well. But if it isn’t a case of clashing with the club, it may be worth waiting out a player who looked a giant just eight months ago.

EURO qualifying: Hungary stings Croatia, Israel hangs 4 on Austria

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It wasn’t just Germany and the Netherlands staging a tight and entertaining match in EURO 2020 qualifying on Sunday.

[ VIDEO: Saief, Manneh lead FC Cincinnati ]

Hungary 2-1 Croatia

Ante Rebic’s early goal made a “business as usual” statement for the World Cup runners-up, but Hungary can be a handful against any opponents and rallied at home.

Hoffenheim striker Adam Szalai brought the hosts level at halftime, and Mate Patkai gave Hungary a deserved 2-1 win in Budapest.

Coming three days after a loss in Slovakia to start qualifying, it was an early almost-must-win for Marco Rossi’s men.

Israel 4-2 Austria

Marko Arnautovic‘s brace in defeat couldn’t have come with different vibes. His eighth minute marker gave the Austrians a leg up, his 75th minute goal meaning very little with the side having conceded four-straight in between.

China-based striker Eran Zahavi scored a hat trick for Israel, and RB Salzburg star Munas Dabbur scored the fourth goal to keep the hosts within sight of first place Poland.

Austria is winless through two qualifiers.

Elsewhere
Wales 1-0 Slovakia
Cyprus 0-2 Belgium
San Marino 0-2 Scotland
Netherlands 2-3 Germany — RECAP, VIDEO
Northern Ireland 2-1 Belarus
Poland 2-0 Latvia
Slovenia 1-1 Macedonia
Kazakhstan 0-4 Russia