MLS confirms “advanced discussions” with Minnesota United; will evalute expansion past 24 teams

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Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber confirmed on Monday that league executives are in “advanced discussions” with North American Soccer League (NASL) club Minnesota United regarding the second-division club’s bid for an MLS expansion franchise, as outlined in a report by SI‘s Brian Straus last week.

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To recap, Minnesota United’s bid is highlighted by a proposed soccer-specific stadium in downtown Minneapolis and, which Straus reported last week is accompanied by a written Letter of Intent from MLS to the city of Minneapolis. The United group has been chosen by MLS over a second Minnesota bid, from the NFL’s Vikings, which would have involved the NFL team’s under-construction, 65,000-seat domed stadium.

From MLSsoccer.com:

The league confirmed on Monday afternoon that it is in “advanced discussions” with representatives from Minnesota United FC, though the final decision is not ready to be announced.

“We are in advanced discussions with Bill McGuire and his partners in Minnesota to bring a Major League Soccer expansion club to the Twin Cities and are particularly excited about their plans for a new soccer-specific stadium that will serve as the club’s home,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said in a statement released by the club. “We remain on track to announce the next MLS expansion market in the next 30-45 days, though no specific date for an announcement has been set.”

I’ll take a soccer-specific stadium over a cavernous NFL dome any day of the week, as well as the existing soccer infrastructure and fanbase. Kudos to MLS choosing the better proposal from the Twin Cities.

Expansion beyond 24 teams

However, on Monday, Garber stated that the league will evaluate its expansion plans.

“Over the course of 2015, we plan to evaluate potential expansion beyond 24 clubs,” he said.

First things first, MLS never planned to stop at 24 teams. “24 teams by 2020” was the stated goal — one they’ll reach with ease — but rarely in the context of “once we reach 24, we stop.”

What “24 teams by 2020” did do, however, was put the fear of being left out into the hearts of every prospective MLS market’s ownership group, local government and community of fans. MLS essentially said to all of those groups, “We’re going to admit four more of you (five, once Chivas USA disappeared) into our super-exclusive club, and we’re going to take the first five who offer 1) the most money, 2) a soccer-specific stadium the quickest, and 3) guarantee the highest number of season tickets to be sold.”

In other words, supply and demand.

It’s how the league managed to get a $110-million expansion fee out of a second Los Angeles franchise and $70 million from each Orlando and Atlanta. One would presume they’ll get a similar fee to that of Orlando and Atlanta out of Minnesota.

Who is team No. 25, and where do they stop?

Sacramento Republic, unless they’re team No. 24 ahead of David Beckham’s Miami project. As I speculated last week, Sacramento would enter MLS right alongside Minnesota, if not for Beckham having a temporary (permanent?) hold on an expansion bid.

It’s extremely obvious MLS will not have a balanced schedule with a single-table standings anytime soon, if ever. The North American continent is simply too large for a Florida-based team to fly to the Pacific Northwest for three games and California for four, not to mention the rest of the league’s cities.

Three divisions — preferably of 10 teams each — seems to make the most sense and/or be inevitable. With the correct teams joining the league in the future (more on that in a minute), MLS could easily fill three, 10-team West, Central and East divisions. Anything beyond 30 teams, and you’re probably granting undeserved franchises for the sake of filling out numbers.

Team 26? 27? 28? 29? 30?

Once we move past Sacramento and Miami, future MLS expansion speculation gets really fun. We can be practical and say, “These cities are most likely to attempt/achieve a move to MLS,” or have a little more fun and frame the conversation as, “In a perfect world, these would be the next [x-number] of teams in MLS.”

In my own perfect world, the following cities would be the next six awarded an MLS franchise, in the event suitable ownership groups could be found for each: St. Louis, San Antonio, Las Vegas, Indianapolis and a city in North Carolina, bringing the total to 30 teams.

St. Louis has the fifth-largest metro population without an MLS team (at this point of our projections) and could soon be without an NFL team, leaving the city with only MLB and the NHL. Adding St. Louis also gives MLS a solid three-way rivalry — something the league loves and desires — along with fellow Midwestern cities Kansas City and Chicago.

San Antonio and Indianapolis have done very well during their clubs’ short existences (2010 and 2013, respectively) in the NASL. Again, San Antonio makes a third Texas team, and we’re suddenly paying attention to the Texas Cup the same way we do the Cascadia Cup.

“A North Carolina city,” meaning somewhere near Raleigh, a booming soccer hotbed with three major Division I colleges — Duke, North Carolina and NC State — within 30 miles of one another. Currently, the city of Cary — positioned amongst all four universities — has an NASL team of its own.

Las Vegas is the biggest question of the above five teams. There’s always the issue of mixing sports and gambling, but let’s say the NBA leads the way in embracing sports betting, and it’s something MLS is comfortable with eight or 10 years from now, the biggest Vegas hurdle is cleared. They’ve made approaches before.

Also garnering consideration should MLS expand beyond 30 teams: San Diego, Austin, Nashville and Phoenix.

FA Cup: Manchester City edge out Arsenal in first meeting of season

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Nathan Ake scored the only goal in a tight, cagey affair as Manchester City edged out Arsenal to reach the fifth round of the FA Cup on Friday.

[ MORE: How to watch Premier League in USA ]

The two sides, who currently sit 1st (Arsenal – 50 points) and 2nd (Manchester City – 45 points) in the Premier League table, are yet to face another amid their ongoing title race. Friday’s cup tie was merely a table-setter for the main course(s) still to come over the PL’s final four months, but an instructive table-setter, for sure.

Premier League clash no. 1 is set for Wednesday, Feb. 15 at Emirates Stadium in north London, with the return fixture at Etihad Stadium on Wednesday, April 26.

As for the FA Cup tie, there was precious little to separate the sides aside from a single touch off the inside of Ake’s right foot in the 64th minute.

Manchester City will return to Premier League action when they visit Tottenham next Sunday (Feb. 5, 11:30 am ET), more than 24 hours after Arsenal visit Everton on Saturday (7:30 am ET). The Gunners can go eight points clear before the two-time defending champions next take the field.

Manchester City vs Arsenal
Photo: FotMob.com

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Manchester City vs Arsenal, FA Cup fourth round: How to watch live, stream link

Kick off: 3pm ET, Friday
TV Channel: ESPN+
Online: Updates via NBCSports.com


Key storylines & in-form players to watch 

The main storyline is easy: this is the first time we’ll see red-hot Arsenal test its mettle against the Premier League’s gold, er, silverware standard.

Arsenal will have a chance to run at Man City’s back line with Bukayo Saka, Martin Odegaard, Eddie Nketiah, and more, though there’s be even more juice in this match-up if Gabriel Jesus was healthy. Ex-City man Oleksandr Zinchenko may be ready for this reunion, too.

City’s won four-straight match-ups with Arsenal, but the last Gunners win came in… the 2019-20 FA Cup, when Arsenal knocked off the holders. That’s a top, top recent memory for the club, a North London outfit who will hope its a harbinger of what’s to come later this season. Plus, there’s silverware in play here, too, you know?!?

Will Pep Guardiola start Erling Haaland and Kevin De Bruyne? Man City’s next game isn’t until Feb. 5 versus Tottenham, but Guardiola may not want to give Mikel Arteta’s men a taste of the duo with a huge Premier League encounter looming Feb. 15 at the Emirates Stadium.


Manchester City team news, injuries, lineup options

Man City is pretty healthy and should be able to deploy whoever Pep Guardiola wants to see against Arsenal, though we know the Catalan wizard is sometimes careful with what he does in cup competitions against Premier League rivals.

Arsenal team news, injuries, lineup options

Gabriel Jesus will not be available to compete against his former club, while Reiss Nelson and Mohamed Elneny are unlikely to play.

2024 Copa America to be played in USA

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The United States will host the 2024 Copa America, which will once again feature six guest nations as part of a new “strategic collaboration agreement” announced by CONMEBOL and CONCACAF on Friday.

[ MORE: Report: Christian Pulisic wanted by AC Milan ]

Copa America last came to the U.S., in the summer of 2016 for Copa America Centenario, the 100-year celebration of the South American championship.

Back in 2016, the USMNT and Mexico were not required to qualify for the tournament, but the CONCACAF giants will not be given an automatic bid to Copa America 2024. They will also be forced to qualify as one of six CONCACAF through the 2023-24 Nations League. Previously, the other four bids from CONCACAF were awarded via various regional tournaments and and qualifying playoffs.

[ MORE: USMNT falls to Serbia in 2023 opener ]

The CONMEBOL-CONCACAF partnership also extends to the women’s game, where the Gold Cup is being revamped.

2024 CONCACAF W[omen’s] Gold Cup will include eight CONCACAF women’s national teams and four CONMEBOL guests

For women’s national teams, CONCACAF has invited the top four CONMEBOL national teams to participate in the 2024 CONCACAF W Gold Cup. The inaugural edition of this 12-team tournament, which is a key part of CONCACAF’s new women’s national team ecosystem, will be played in the United States.

The two Concacaf teams that will participate in the 2024 Summer Olympics (United States and Jamaica or Canada) will qualify directly for the 2024 Concacaf W Gold Cup. The remaining six Concacaf teams will be determined through the 2023 Road to Concacaf W Gold Cup.


2024 Copa America: What does it mean for USMNT?

First things first, it means playing more high-level, competitive games between World Cups. The USMNT has faced the likes of Brazil, Argentina, Colombia and other South American nations in friendlies over the years, but as things stand their only competitive fixtures come against CONCACAF competition — the Gold Cup and World Cup qualifying.

The timing of the tournament is beneficial for all national teams involved as well, at the halfway point to the 2026 World Cup — also set to be hosted in the United States (and Mexico and Canada) — just as EURO 2024 is the halfway marker for European nations. The 2023 Gold Cup is still on the schedule for this summer, with the final to be played at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles.

Only time will tell if the combined Copa America will become the new norm in the Americas, but given what we know about the profitability of international soccer, there will certainly be a “cross your fingers and hope all goes well” vibe in 2024.

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Report: Everton to appoint Sean Dyche as next manager

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Sean Dyche is set to be appointed as the new manager at Everton, replacing Frank Lampard, as the Toffees prepare for a potential relegation battle for the second straight season.

[ MORE: Report: Everton put up for sale by Farhad Moshiri, asking $615 million ]

An official announcement is expected from the club on Friday. The former Burnley boss has been out of work since the Clarets fired Dyche after nearly 10 years last April. Burnley were, of course, relegated from the Premier League anyway.

Marcelo Bielsa was reportedly the first manager contacted by Everton owner Farhad Moshiri, who’s looking to sell the club now as well, but the former Leeds boss declined the opportunity to wade into a relegation battle with a club currently unable to further invest in the first-team squad, whether that be this January or in the summer.

[ MORE: Premier League scheduleMidseason grades ]

After 20 of 38 games played this season, Everton (15 points) sit 19th in the Premier League table, ahead of last-place Southampton by five goals in the goal difference column. The good news: two points is all that separates them from safety in 17th place (Wolves). Furthermore, three points is all that stands in between Everton and 14th-place Leicester.


When did things begin to go wrong for Everton?

At the time of Rafa Benitez’s appointment in the summer of 2021, you had to go back to nearly the turn of the millennium to find a manager who 1) managed Everton for more than 40 games (all competitions), and 2) had a win percentage below 40 percent. David Moyes (42.05), Roberto Martinez (42.86), Ronaldo Koeman (41.38), Marco Silva (40.00) and Carlo Ancelotti (46.27) all matched or eclipsed the mark between the spring of 2002 and Benitez’s arrival.

Benitez’s tenure was generally viewed as an unmitigated disaster by Everton fans who were unhappy at the former Liverpool manager being hired in the first place. His win percentage (in just 22 games) was 31.82, a steep drop from his predecessors.

Lampard went a few points better worse than Benitez, checking in at 27.91. Going all the way back to the founding of the Football League in 1888, only one manager has produced a lower win percentage than Lampard in at least 40 games managed. Howard Kendall, like Lampard, lasted less than a full year from 1997-98, with a 26.19 win percentage.

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FA Cup fourth round schedule, how to watch live, predictions

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The FA Cup always delivers shocks and plenty of Premier League clubs have tricky tasks facing them in the fourth round.

After Aston Villa, Newcastle, Nottingham Forest and Bournemouth were all knocked out by lower league opponents in round three, plus Everton, Chelsea, Crystal Palace and Brentford knocked out by fellow Premier League sides, there are only 11 top-flight teams left in the last 32.

[ LIVE: Follow FA Cup scores, updates ]

The fourth-round draw’s already been conducted and Arsenal will tangle with Manchester City in a tantalizing tie, while Brighton against Liverpool has the makings of a classic and Manchester United will be on upset alert against Reading and so too will West Ham as they face a tough trip to third-tier Derby County.

Read on for FA Cup stream info, fixtures, and predictions.


FA Cup live scores, schedule, dates, how to watch

Dates: Fourth round (January 27-30)
Times: Below
Online: Live updates via NBCSports.com
How to watch: ESPN+


FA Cup fourth round schedule

All games 10am ET unless otherwise stated

Friday
Man City vs Arsenal – 3pm ET

Saturday
Accrington Stanley vs Leeds United – 7:30am ET
Walsall vs Leicester City – 7:30am ET
Fulham vs Sunderland
Bristol City vs West Brom
Sheffield Wednesday vs Fleetwood Town
Blackburn Rovers vs Birmingham City
Luton Town vs Grimsby Town
Ipswich Town vs Burnley
Southampton vs Blackpool
Preston North End vs Tottenham Hotspur – 1pm ET
Manchester United vs Reading – 3pm ET

Sunday
Brighton vs Liverpool – 8:30am ET
Stoke City vs Stevenage – 9am ET
Wrexham vs Sheffield United – 11:30am ET

Monday
Derby County vs West Ham – 2:45pm ET


FA Cup fourth round predictions – By Joe Prince-Wright

Friday
Man City 2-1 Arsenal

Saturday
Accrington Stanley 1-3 Leeds United
Walsall 1-2 Leicester City
Fulham 1-2 Sunderland
Bristol City 1-2 West Brom
Sheffield Wednesday 2-1 Fleetwood Town
Blackburn Rovers 1-1 Birmingham City
Luton Town 3-1 Grimsby Town
Ipswich Town 1-3 Burnley
Southampton 2-0 Blackpool
Preston North End 1-4 Tottenham Hotspur
Manchester United 2-1 Reading

Sunday
Brighton 2-2 Liverpool
Stoke City 2-1 Stevenage
Wrexham 1-2 Sheffield United

Monday
Derby County 1-1 West Ham


FA Cup third round replays

Tuesday 

Swansea City 1-2 (AET) Bristol City
Forest Green Rovers 1-2 Birmingham City (original tie postponed due to waterlogged pitch)
Wigan 1-2 Luton
Wolves 0-1 Liverpool
West Brom 4-0 Chesterfield

Wednesday

Leeds United 5-2 Cardiff City

Tuesday, January 24

Accrington Stanley vs Boreham Wood


FA Cup third round results

Friday

Manchester United 3-1 Everton

Saturday

Preston North End 3-1 Huddersfield Town
Reading 2-0 Watford
Tottenham 1-0 Portsmouth
Gillingham 0-1 Leicester City
Forest Green Rovers vs Birmingham City — PPD
Crystal Palace 1-2 Southampton
Hull City 0-2 Fulham
Middlesbrough 1-5 Brighton
Fleetwood Town 2-1 QPR
Ipswich Town 4-1 Rotherham
Bournemouth 2-4 Burnley
Blackpool 4-1 Nottingham Forest
Chesterfield 3-3 West Brom
Millwall 0-2 Sheffield United
Boreham Wood 1-1 Accrington Stanley
Shrewsbury Town 1-2 Sunderland
Brentford 0-1 West Ham
Coventry City 3-4 Wrexham
Luton Town 1-1 Wigan
Grimsby Town 1-0 Burton Albion
Sheffield Wednesday 2-1 Newcastle
Liverpool 2-2 Wolves

Sunday

Bristol City 1-1 Swansea City
Derby County 3-0 Barnsley
Cardiff City 2-2 Leeds
Stockport 1-2 Walsall
Hartlepool 0-3 Stoke City
Norwich 0-1 Blackpool
Aston Villa 1-2 Stevenage
Man City 4-0 Chelsea

Monday

Oxford United 0-3 Arsenal