CONCACAF Champions League starts group play on Tuesday

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Starting Tuesday in Montréal, five Major League Soccer teams again try to do what none of their counterparts have done before: Win CONCACAF Champions League. Though MLS teams have claimed confederation championships before, none have done so since the competition changed format in 2008. Since then, only one MLS team has even made the final, with Real Salt Lake coming closest to breaking Mexico’s monopoly of CONCACAF’s crowd.

This year, D.C. United, New York Red Bulls, Portland Timbers, and Sporting Kansas City have U.S. Soccer’s spots. Add in the Impact as Canada’s champions, and Major League Soccer has another five-team allotment.

As is the case each tournament, the biggest challenges will be from Mexico. Cruz Azul, winners of last season’s competition, are back, as is Pachuca, who finished second in the Clausura. León, winners of Mexico’s last two tournaments, are one of the competition’s favorites, as is Club América, whose attacking tandem of Oribe Peralta and Raúl Jiménez may be the best in CONCACAF.

Given the quirks of the format, Major League Socccer’s teams will avoid Mexican opposition until at least the quarterfinals, but with only three MLS entrants making it past group stage last season, “first things first” will be the rule thought the competition’s opening round.

Here’s what the group stage looks like for the five MLS teams:

D.C. United (Group 4)

Aug. 20 – vs. Waterhouse (Jamaica)
Sept. 16 – at Waterhouse
Sept. 24 – vs. Tauro (Panama)
Oct. 21 – at Tauro

Montréal Impact (Group 3)

Aug. 5 – vs. FAS (El Salvador)
Aug. 20 – at FAS
Sept. 17 – vs. New York Red Bulls
Oct. 22 – at New York Red Bulls

New York Red Bulls (Group 3)

Aug. 26 – vs. FAS
Sept. 17 – at Montréal Impact
Sept. 23 – at FAS
Oct. 22 – vs. Montréal Impact

Portland Timbers (Group 5)

Aug. 19 – at Alpha United (Guyana)
Sept. 16 – vs. Olimpia (Honduras)
Sept. 23 – vs. Alpha United
Oct. 21 – at Olimpia

Sporting Kansas City (Group 2)

Aug. 19 – at Real Estelí (Nicaragua)
Sept. 18 – vs. Saprissa
Sept. 23 – vs. Real Estelí (Nicaragua)
Oct. 23 – at Saprissa

Report: Newcastle activates $12m release clause of ex-Arsenal youth

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Reports out of Turkey say Newcastle United have finally struck the transfer market for a new No. 10.

[ MORE: West Ham adds Diop ]

Aksam reports that Rafa Benitez got the Magpies hierarchy to activate a near $12 million release clause for Besiktas midfielder Oguzhan Ozyakup.

The 25-year-old was part of Arsenal’s youth set-up until 2012, making two League Cup appearances in 2011-12 before moving to Besiktas.

Dutch-born Ozyakup is 35-times capped with a goal for Turkey, twice captaining the Crescent-Stars.

Ozyakup lost playing time to Talisca this season, and registered just four assists in 24 appearances. In 219 appearances for Besiktas, he’s posted 27 goals with 50 assists.

Like the move for Newcastle?

Lukaku pens inspiring post on hard-scrabble upbringing

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Manchester United and Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku has an inspiring and emotional post in The Players’ Tribune which tugs at the heart strings and explains his competitive fire.

[ MORE: West Ham adds Diop ]

Lukaku talks about how his family’s poverty caused him to become a fierce competitor in the hopes of meeting his dreams head-on and providing for his family.

The Belgian, 25, scored twice in his side’s 3-0 World Cup-opening win over Panama earlier this week, and is now far removed from his youth, but he tells his story as if it lives fresh in his mind.

From The Players’ Tribune:

There were even times when my mum had to “borrow” bread from the bakery down the street. The bakers knew me and my little brother, so they’d let her take a loaf of bread on Monday and pay them back on Friday.

Lukaku also talks about racism in football, his debut for Anderlecht, and that aforementioned competitive drive. It’s 100 percent worth the read.

West Ham signs club record center back from Toulouse

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West Ham has reportedly set a club record with its latest signing under new manager Manuel Pellegrini.

Issa Diop is the player, the 21-year-old Toulouse captain and center back costing the Irons around $29 million.

[ MORE: Arsenal signs Leno ]

Diop scored three goals with an assist and eight yellow cards in 31 Ligue 1 matches this season, giving the young defender 95 apps, six goals, three assists, and 23 yellows since debuting with the senior team at 18.

Capped by France at every level below the senior team, Diop’s 2.2 interceptions per game ranked sixth in Ligue 1.

Toulose finished 18th in Ligue 1, but won its promotion/relegation playoff to stay in the French top flight.

From WHUFC.com:

“I am very happy to sign for such a historic, English club, and I hope to show my best here. I am a very ambitious player and West Ham is a very ambitious club, as we’ve seen with the appointment of the new coach. I hope to help the team win lots of games and make the fans happy.”

Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show: Episode 3

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In the third episode of Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show, England pulls out a massive win while VAR finds its way into the World Cup spotlight.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ] 

There will be plenty more to come over the next few weeks, with the show coming via the Men In Blazers.

Click play on the video above to watch the first episode in full.