NWSL: Houston becomes second MLS franchise to place team in women’s professional league

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Consider that the National Women’s Soccer League’s predecessor, Women’s Professional Soccer (2009-2011), saw its marque franchise fold after the circuit’s first year. That’s the context needed to realize how big a day this is for the NWSL, with North America’s latest attempt at a professional women’s league announcing on Thursday that Major League Soccer’s Houston Dynamo will enter a team in the league starting with the 2014 season.

The move takes the league from eight to nine teams for its second season, the Houston Dash set to join the Portland Thorns (operated by the Portland Timbers) as the second NWSL entry to be operated by a Major League Soccer team. Leading the league in attendance in season one (drawing 13,320 per game, nine thousand more than the league average), the Thorns won the league’s first championship, defeating Western New York 2-0 in August’s title game.

Now Houston will try to emulate their MLS partner’s success, with the Dash set to begin play in April.

“We are thrilled to have our very own NWSL franchise here in Houston,” Houston Dynamo president Chris Canetti said in a statement announcing the move. “It is an important addition to our sports landscape and will bring added value to our community.”

Canetti initially floated the idea of a women’s team to potential customers three weeks ago, asking for refundable season ticket deposits as a way of gauging interest. Though initial feedback from Canetti indicated early returns were soft, Houston ultimately decided to become the NWSL’s first expansion team, with drafts to stock their roster expected this winter.

“We’re proud and excited to welcome the Houston Dash to the NWSL,” league executive director Cheryl Bailey said. “We are thrilled at being able to add an organization as strong as the Houston Dynamo as we work toward continuing to build a sustainable league.”

That the NWSL was able to add a partner like the Dynamo speaks to the model the league has set up. With U.S. Soccer, the Canadian Soccer Association, and the Mexican federation subsidizing up to a combined seven players per team, much of the teams’ biggest costs are being offset. For a franchise like the Dash — who have an existing organizational infrastructure, and control and operate their own venue (BBVA Compass Stadium) — the NWSL presents a relatively safe investment.

After its first year, the NWSL has a proof of concept, one that was strong enough to convince a new partner to come on board. Had the model proved flimsy, hinting the league was destined to go the way of WPS and the Women’s United Soccer Association (2001-2003), it would have been near-impossible to convince this type of partner that a team was worth the risk. Instead, Houston’s ready to start from the ground up.

“We share the vision for this league and look forward to playing our part in making it a great success,” Canetti said. “Part of our responsibility is to grow the game of soccer, and this new team will play a significant role in that effort.”

By adding a ninth team to the league, Houston’s already playing a significant part. Whereas Women’s Professional Soccer was losing partners at this point in its run, the NWSL has added a major one.

That won’t guarantee success, but the addition does push the league forward. Though they’re an expansion team, Houston immediately becomes one of the NWSL’s most viable franchises, one that could help it survive women’s soccer’s dreaded three-year curse.

Reina faces hearing over links with trio connected to mafia

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ROME (AP) Outgoing Napoli goalkeeper Pepe Reina has been summoned to a hearing at the Italian football federation over his association with people with links to the mafia.

Reina, along with Paolo Cannavaro and Salvatore Aronica, is to face the FIGC’s disciplinary committee after an investigation by Naples’ anti-mafia department.

It is reportedly one of the reasons why Napoli decided not to renew Reina’s contract, with the former Liverpool goalkeeper set to move to AC Milan on a free transfer.

The FIGC says Reina “has had and continues to have inopportune association and friendship with Gabriele Esposito, Francesco Esposito and Giuseppe Esposito.” It adds that that includes holidays and “an exchange of favors.”

Cannavaro, who had two spells with Napoli, retired at Sassuolo last year. Aronica also spent several years at the southern club before joining Palermo in 2013.

Iran names initial squad for World Cup

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TEHRAN, Iran (AP) Jalal Hosseini and Vouria Ghaffouri have both been left off Iran’s provisional 24-man squad for the World Cup.

Iran coach Carlos Queiroz did not say why Hosseini, a Persepolis defender, and Ghaffouri were not included.

There was space for midfielders Masoud Shojaei and Ehsan Hajsafi, however. Both played with Greek club Panionios against Maccabi Tel Aviv in August 2017. Iran does not recognize Israel and its supreme leader has threatened the country in the past. Both Shojaei and Hajsafi missed matches with the national team after the game.

Alireza Jahanbakhsh, a 24-year-old forward who plays in the Netherlands with AZ Alkmaar, is also in the squad, which was announced Sunday.

In the midfield, Queiroz chose Saeid Ezatolahi, although the Amkar Perm player will miss the team’s first World Cup match because he was given a red card in a game against South Korea in qualifying.

Nottingham Forest midfielder Ashkan Dejagah was also chosen.

Goalkeeper Amir Abedzadeh of Portuguese club Maritimo made the squad. His father, Ahmadreza Abedzadeh, was Iran captain and goalkeeper at the 1998 World Cup in France.

Iran will play in Group B at the World Cup with Portugal, Spain and Morocco. The team will play warm-up matches in Turkey and Greece before heading to Russia.

Goalkeepers: Alireza Beiranvand (Persepolis), Rashid Mazaheri (Zob Ahan), Amir Abedzadeh (Maritimo)

Defenders: Ramin Rezaeian (KV Oostende), Mohammad Reza Khanzadeh (Padideh), Morteza Pouraliganji (Al Saad), Pejman Montazeri (Esteghlal), Seyed Majid Hosseini (Esteghlal), Milad Mohammadi (Akhmat Grozny), Roozbeh Cheshmi (Esteghlal)

Midfielders: Saeid Ezatolahi (Amkar Perm), Masoud Shojaei (AEK Athens), Mehdi Torabi (Saipa), Ashkan Dejagah (Nottingham Forest), Omid Ebrahimi (Esteghlal), Ehsan Hajsafi (Olympiakos), Vahid Amiri (Persepolis), Saman Ghoddos (Ostersunds FK), Ali Gholizadeh (Saipa)

Forwards: Alireza Jahanbakhsh (AZ Alkmaar), Karim Ansarifard (Olympiakos), Mahdi Taremi (Al-Gharafa Sports Club), Sardar Azmoun (Rubin Kazan), Reza Ghoochannejhad (SC Heerenveen)

Six Premier Leaguers named to Argentina, but no Icardi

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Argentina’s World Cup roster features a number of the usual suspects, particularly up front, but Serie A’s top goalscorer has been surprisingly left off the list of 23.

[ MORE: Belgium goes to World Cup without Nainggolan ]

Manager Jorge Sampaoli’s squad was made official on Monday, which includes the likes of Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain.

The Albiceleste won’t be taking Inter Milan striker Mauro Icardi though, which has raised some questions about the decision.

Icardi led all scorers in Italy’s top flight this season, scoring 29 goals in 34 Serie A matches, while Paulo Dybala edged out the final striker spot in the Argentina squad.

Dybala is teammates with Higuain at Italian giants Juventus.

Meanwhile, six Premier League players were named into the South American nation’s squad, including goalkeepers Sergio Romero (Man United) and Willy Caballero (Chelsea), as well as Nicolas Otamendi (Man City), Marcos Rojo (Man United) and Manuel Lanzini (West Ham).

Men in Blazers POD: FA Cup recap, UCL final preview and more

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Rog and Davo recap a spite-fueled, snear-filled, peak Phil Jones FA Cup Final, preview this weekend’s Champions League tilt between Liverpool and Real Madrid and eulogize Big Sam… gone the opposite of too soon. Plus, World Cup rosters and MLS.

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