MLS expansion: Las Vegas eliminated, leaving Sacramento, Minneapolis in race for 24th team

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The dream of the greatest away day weekend week in the history of professional sports has been snatched out from under the noses of Major League Soccer fans before it ever became a reality.

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The city of Las Vegas, devoid of a major-league sports team in its history, has been eliminated from contention for an MLS franchise during the current round of expansion, MLS commissioner Don Garber confirmed in a letter to Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman on Thursday.

“Unfortunately, given the timing of your expansion rollout and the uncertainty as to when we might be able to move forward in Las Vegas, we are no longer considering Las Vegas as an expansion market until after 2018,” the letter said.

[ MORE: Strike is “imminent” as players stand firm in CBA negotiations, say players ]

Garber recently said publicly that MLS was seriously looking at Sacramento and Minneapolis — as well as Las Vegas, St. Louis and San Antonio, not so seriously — for the final expansion franchise as the league aims to be at 24 teams by 2020. Atlanta and Los Angeles FC are scheduled to enter MLS as expansion teams in 2017, while David Beckham’s Miami project (arrival date TBD) struggles to gain traction in South Florida.

The group in Sacramento is being spearheaded by USL club Sacramento Republic FC, who recently received a further round of financial backing from Jed York, CEO of the NFL’s 49ers. Republic FC won the 2014 USL PRO championship, U.S. Soccer’s third division, in its first year of existence and signed an agreement for a stadium location should an MLS franchise be awarded to the city.

Meanwhile, the city of Minneapolis has two groups vying to be named MLS’s 24th franchise — Minnesota United FC of the North American Soccer League and the NFL’s Vikings. United FC would look to build their own soccer-specific stadium, while the Vikings group would play their games in the NFL team’s new 65,000-seat stadium, due to be completed in 2016.

[ MORE: Former MLSer Geoff Cameron shares his thoughts on ongoing CBA battle ]

Both Sacramento and Minneapolis seem, at this point, vastly superior options to Beckham’s Miami project. Not only are their new stadiums close to being done or agreed upon well in advance, each city is already home to a lower-division team, giving them a fanbase and soccer infrastructure to build upon before an MLS franchise is ever announced. If I’m the MLS commissioner, that’s extremely appealing to me.

The clock is officially ticking on Beckham, as Sacramento and Minneapolis are both deserving to join MLS. The league would be just fine putting the Miami project on hold for a few years and welcoming Sacramento and Minneapolis with open arms in 2018 or 2019.

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.