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.

World record-holding manager Gutendorf dies at 93

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The world record holder for most teams managed has died at the age of 93.

Rudi Gutendorf, who managed in the United States with the NASL’s St. Louis Stars (1968), last managed in 2003 when he led the Samoa national team.

[ MORE: Maguire shining for Man Utd ]

Those are two of 55 teams he led onto the pitch, 22 of which were national teams. He led teams from CONCACAF (Trinidad and Tobago), CAF (Ghana), CONMEBOL (Chile), OFC (Fiji), and AFC (Australia).

The German-born Gutendorf did a lot of his club work in Europe, leading clubs as big as Hamburg, Schalke, Real Valladolid, and Hertha Berlin.

Gutendorf managed Rwanda in the wake of the country’s dark civil war. From DW.com:

“Such hate, you cannot believe. I was able to unite these two tribes to play football, and good football,” he said in a 2013 interview of the mixed Rwandan team of Hutu and Tutsi players.

What a fascinating career Gutendorf had, and the stories he’s told.

Man Utd’s Maguire “showed what a man he is” versus Leicester

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Manchester United is still working to find its form as a team, but center back Harry Maguire continued his run of fine performances when the Red Devils beat his former team on Saturday.

United beat Leicester City 1-0 on the day, a Marcus Rashford penalty the difference, but Maguire and fellow new back Aaron Wan-Bissaka were again exceptional.

[ RECAP: Man Utd 1-0 Leicester City ]

Ashley Young has been through a few iterations of Manchester United, and the long-time club offered up lofty words to credit Maguire’s contributions to the team.

“Again he showed today what a man he is,” Young said. “You know, I think the manager’s said about him, he talks non-stop, he’s a real leader and he can play as well.”

Maguire won five aerial battles and two tackles while completing 83 percent of his passes and managing two shots against his former side (WhoScored). On the season, only Anthony Martial has consistently been more important to the team.

He also did not record a loss of possession, and seemingly was unbothered by plenty of criticism from the traveling fans. From The Manchester Evening News:

“I don’t think it bothers (Maguire) whatsoever,” said Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. “You’ve got to be that way and when you play, when you coach, when you manage, we don’t get carried away when we win a game that we maybe didn’t deserve to win, but we don’t get in the dumps when we don’t win.”

Solskjaer also loved Maguire and Victor Lindelof for their performance against pesky Leicester star Jamie Vardy.

“I’ve got loads of admiration for Vardy,” Solskjaer said. “I think he’s my type of centre forward, runs in in behind, harasses and you’ve got to be spot on with the decision-making, when to stay up, when to drop off, and both of them proved their worth today. There were a couple of races and Harry did well.”

Maguire didn’t love being on the other side of Vardy, either.

“It was tough playing against Jamie,” he said. “I’ve played with him for two years and he is a top player who can terrorize defenses when he is on his game. … We knew it was important to get the win, especially after the international break. We have to build on a solid base and we want to keep clean sheets, especially at Old Trafford. We are always going to score goals with the attacking talent we have.”

United hosts Kazakhstan’s Astana on Thursday in the Europa League before visiting West Ham United on Sept. 22.

Watch Live: Bournemouth v. Everton

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Dominic Calvert-Lewin gets the start up top as Everton looks to take down hosts Bournemouth at the Vitality Stadium on Sunday (Watch live at 9 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Alex Iwobi, Gylfi Sigurdsson, and Richarlison join Calvert-Lewin in attack for the Toffees, who can go fourth with a win.

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

Bournemouth enters the day in 16th, a point ahead of the bottom three, but can rise into the top half with a win. Early season vibes.

LINEUPS

Bournemouth: Ramsdale, Rico, Ake, Cook, Stacey, Solanke, Billing, L. S. Cook, Wilson, King, Wilson. Subs: Boruc, Surman, Lerma, Ibe, Fraser, Simpson, Mepham.

Everton: Pickford, Digne, Mina, Keane, Coleman, Delph, Schneiderlin, Iwobi, Sigurdsson, Richarlison, Calvert-Lewin. Subs: Stekelenburg, Holgate, Walcott, Sidibe, Bernard, Davies, Kean.

USWNT legend O’Reilly scores stunner on night to honor her career

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USWNT hero and North Carolina Courage playmaker Heather O’Reilly gave her special day its just desserts.

The 34-year-old New Jersey native scored a sweet goal late in North Carolina’s 6-1 demolition of Orlando Pride on Saturday night, which just so happened to be the evening chosen to celebrate her 17-year career.

[ MORE: Fan banned from all NWSL games ]

O’Reilly dribbled down the left before cutting to the middle and slashing a shot across the goal and inside the far post.

She has 231 USWNT caps with 47 goals, a Women’s World Cup crown, three Olympic gold medals, three top-flight domestic titles, two Women’s College Cups, and an FA Cup with Arsenal Ladies.

The Courage have four matches left in the regular season and look set to again be the No. 1 seed, so O’Reilly may yet have more memorable moments left in her playing career.