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MLS Expansion: St. Louis, Phoenix both still in play

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MLS just can’t stop growing. Even before Atlanta United and Minnesota United make their MLS debuts, discussion is heating up about the next two expansion cities, set to begin play in 2020.

St. Louis, once thought to be the most likely destination for a new franchise, seemed to be dead in the water after the city’s Ways and Means committee shot down a proposal for public funds to help build a new stadium. Major League Soccer has expressed serious interest in St. Louis, but only if a stadium is built.

Suddenly, that has new life after the committee revived the bill, voting for it 5-4 after the proposal was revised to include a provision that taxes ticket sales to recoup some of the public funds used for the venue.

Now the bill will go to public vote, but not before a judge approves it, since the deadline for voting proposals to be included on the April ballot was Tuesday. “There is clearly more work ahead, but today’s result brings us much closer to a ballot measure that will allow city voters the opportunity to make St. Louis a future home for a Major League Soccer expansion franchise,” said Jim Woodcock, spokesman for chief investor group SC STL.

In addition, Phoenix is seriously in the mix after Major League Soccer invited USL team Phoenix Rising to submit an application.

Phoenix Rising, a rebranded version of Arizona United SC, is under new ownership led by Kona Grill CEO Berke Bakay and including Dodgers pitcher Brandon McCarthy. The club announced a soccer-specific stadium to be built in time for play in 2017.

Phoenix and St. Louis are two of 13 cities being considered for Major League Soccer expansion. The deadline to apply is January 31st, while the winners are expected to be chosen later in 2017. Other cities include San Diego, who is looking to build a new venue on the Qualcomm Stadium site after the Chargers moved to Los Angeles, and Charlotte, who is hoping to renovate American Legion Memorial Stadium in the city.

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.