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Secret recordings emerge as key evidence at FIFA bribe trial

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NEW YORK (AP) A turning point in the investigation of soccer’s governing body came with a 6 a.m. wake-up call by the FBI to the five-star Miami hotel room of a Brazilian sports marketing executive named Jose Hawilla.

A startled Hawilla, after learning he was a target of the probe, eventually decided to cooperate by wearing a wire – a coup for U.S. prosecutors at the ongoing U.S. trial of three former South American soccer officials charged in the corruption scandal that’s embroiled FIFA.

[READ: Key battles in the Manchester Derby]

The prosecutors have used the hours of the secretly recorded audio evidence to help bring charges against dozens of other soccer officials and marketing executives accused of paying them a fortune in bribes in exchange for their influence in awarding lucrative commercial rights to big tournaments. Several defendants have pleaded guilty since the case was announced in 2015.

U.S. authorities “know everything,” Hawilla said in one taped conversation with a colleague he was trying to protect, according to transcripts made public for the first time. “They have so much information that lying is the worst thing you can do.”

Jurors have heard Hawilla’s recordings and testimony at the trial of former national soccer federation presidents Jose Maria Marin, of Brazil, Manuel Burga, of Peru, and Juan Angel Napout, of Paraguay. All pleaded not guilty to conspiracy and other charges, with their lawyers arguing they were framed by untrustworthy cooperators like Hawilla seeking a break in their own cases.

The trial, which continued on Wednesday, is in its fourth week in federal court in Brooklyn.

Hawilla, a 74-year-old grandfather originally from Sao Paulo, testified that he became head of the Traffic Group marketing firm after several years as a sports journalist. He testified he learned from the start that to win contracts for commercial rights for major soccer tournaments, soccer officials expected to be paid off in a systematic way, a necessary evil some in the business accepted but he found “revolting.”

He said to get rights to the CONCACAF Gold Cup tournament in the early 1990s he paid bribes to two of the biggest names in the scandal, former FIFA officials Jack Warner, of Trinidad and Tobago, and Chuck Blazer, of the United States. Warner remains overseas fighting extradition, while Blazer became a cooperator before dying earlier this year.

A partner of Hawilla explained to him “we had to pay a bribe to Jack Warner and that, for sure, Chuck Blazer was going to find out about it and we would have to pay a bribe to him as well,” Hawilla testified in Portuguese through an interpreter.

He added: “I did not agree with the practice, but, unfortunately, you are practically forced to do that.”

Hawilla told the jury that he and other marketing executives he worked with paid tens of millions of dollars over the years to other top soccer officials in bribes papered over by falsified contracts. He named another soccer official from the Cayman Islands who’s pleaded guilty, Jeffrey Webb, as someone who took a $10 million bribe in March 2013.

The FBI arrested Hawilla about two months after the Webb bribe. By 2014, prosecutors contend, he was a full-blown informant, luring Marin into an April 2014 conversation in which the defendant negotiated a bribe by saying, “It’s about time to have it coming my way. True or not?”

Hawilla responded: “Of course. That money had to be given to you.”

In another tape, Hawilla appeared to upset two business partners by telling them he wanted to pull out of the scheme so he could clean up his business and sell it. One cautioned that anyone who bought it would have to understand that, “There will always be payoffs. There will be payoffs forever.”

The same person is overheard saying, “I want to co-exist with and make all the presidents rich,” even if it meant less money for him.

Asked in court why someone would think that way, Hawilla boiled it down to one word: “Demagoguery.”

Atletico Madrid roster for MLS All-Star Game includes Felix

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Major League Soccer fans will get a good luck at one of the hottest prospects in world soccer when the MLS All Stars take on Atletico Madrid in next week’s MLS All Star Game.

Joao Felix, the $142 million 19-year-old, is among the roster announced by Diego Simeone for the match.

[ MORE: Newcastle in for $28M Saint-Maximin ]

Felix scored 20 times with 11 assists in 40 matches for Benfica before moving to Atleti in the summer. Those numbers include a hat trick against Eintracht Frankfurt in the Europa League quarterfinals first leg.

The other stars will be there, too, provided no transfers happen in the interim. Koke, Thomas Lemar, Diego Costa, and Saul Niguez are in the squad.

New Atleti defender Kieran Trippier and longtime El Tri hero Hector Herrera will also be sure to help drive attendance in Orlando City.

The full roster is here.

Leagues Cup preview: MLS gets its next shot at Liga MX

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It’s not a typo; The s is very real.

The Leagues Cup — not the League Cup — is the new competition pitting Major League Soccer sides against some of the top sides from Mexico’s Liga MX.

The tournament has been expanded before it’s even seen a ball kicked in competition, as the second edition with go from eight to 16 teams.

[ MORE: Newcastle in for $28M Saint-Maximin ]

For now, though, we’ve got four American and four Mexican sides meeting over the next two months in a bid for North American supremacy not unlike a CONCACAF Champions League stripped of all the minnows.

Much like the CCL, the Mexican sides will be expected to triumph, even with all of the quarterfinals being staged in the United States.

Chicago Fire hosts Cruz Azul on Tuesday, followed by the LA Galaxy’s visit from Club Tijuana.

Wednesday will see the Houston Dynamo host Club America, and Tigres UANL at Real Salt Lake.

The winners meet Aug. 20, while the final will be played Sept. 18 in Las Vegas.

There’s a lot of promise in this, and it gives MLS another chance to make some statements about the distance between it and Liga MX. The Mexican sides have flat out dominated the CCL, and it’s not difficult to make the same prediction for this tournament.

But, like many tournaments, it also gives success-starved clubs a chance to give their fans something big and their players a tonic. For Bastian Schweinsteiger‘s Chicago, for one, it’s a huge opportunity. And for Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the Galaxy, it’s a look toward another piece of silverware for one of the world’s biggest trophy cases.

USMNT prospect Ledezma earns praise from van Nistelrooy

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Even for talents of the highest levels with top soccer education, sometimes a kid’s gotta learn how to eat.

Richard “Richie” Ledezma, 18, is in the midst of his first year at Eredivisie side PSV Eindhoven, a spot which beckoned after a five-match, one-goal season in the USL with Real Monarchs of the USL.

[ MORE: Chicago adds USMNT hero ]

Ledezma starred for U.S. U-20 team at the World Cup after his first half-season with PSV, which saw him play with the U-19s while trying to lose some weight.

From Goal.com:

“PSV help me with my nutrition, with my food and how I eat. It’s the quantity of food you eat, I guess,” he added. “Because I came a little chubby, when I got here, I guess. They all called me ‘fatty’ and stuff, so I was like, cool, you know? So no more McDonald’s.”

Goal’s James Westwood had a wide-ranging interview with Ledezma and also spoke with soccer royalty: longtime Real Madrid and Manchester United scorer Ruud van Nistelrooy was Ledezma’s coach with the U-19s.

“He’s making a difference in midfield with very quick-thinking passes, movement, can score a goal, play people in, he’s creating chances for the whole team.”

That’s not just good praise from a legend, but a solid sign for fans of the United States men’s national team. A proper No. 10 or playmaking midfielder could allow Gregg Berhalter or another future USMNT coach to use Christian Pulisic on the wings.

Ledezma has some work to do before he breaks into the first team of the Dutch runners-up, who have signed former Stoke City man Ibrahim Afellay and has Gaston Pereiro in the fold as well.

Newcastle reportedly in for $28M mercurial Nice attacker

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L’Equipe says that Newcastle United have returned to Nice in the hopes of landing Allan Saint-Maximin.

The Ligue 1 outfit wants $28 million for the playmaker, who could team up with Miguel Almiron and (maybe) Joelinton to give the Magpies a much-improved attack.

[ MORE: Chicago adds USMNT hero ]

Saint-Maximin, 22, has 10 goals and 10 assists across his last two seasons with Nice, and played everywhere in attack for Patrick Vieira: both wings, center forward, second striker, attacking mid… even some left and right midfield.

The player, however, has been a headache for Vieira at times, with the manager saying Saint-Maximin believes that he has enough talent to reach the highest level without the required amount of work.

That said, the youngster’s skill set is electric. He’s a March birth date, too, so a relatively young 22. That $28 million would be another transfer record broken for Newcastle, assuming it happens ahead of the Joelinton move.

Or… as Newcastle fan knows, neither could go through.