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Serie A reluctantly tries English model: festive fixtures

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ROME (AP) For a competition that has always held holidays as sacrosanct, Serie A is taking a big break from tradition this week.

Following the successful example of the English Premier League, the Italian league will play Serie A and Italian Cup matches over four of the next five days.

“The concept is simple. Professional soccer is an entertainment product and offering it during the holiday period is a great opportunity for those in charge,” Roma general manager Mauro Baldissoni told The Associated Press.

“The Premier League has shown that it works to offer this product during the holidays – both in terms of stadium attendance and international TV viewership.”

The opening two matches of the week will be held in the country’s two biggest stadiums: Lazio hosts Fiorentina in Rome’s Stadio Olimpico on Tuesday in the Italian Cup quarterfinals, then it’s a Milan derby at the San Siro in another quarterfinal a day later.

On Friday, in Serie A, league leader Napoli visits Crotone. On Saturday, there’s a slate of nine league matches, beginning at 12:30 p.m. local time (1130 GMT) with Fiorentina vs. AC Milan, and concluding with evening matches featuring Inter Milan hosting Lazio and Juventus visiting Hellas Verona.

More Cup matches are scheduled for Jan. 2 and 3, then Serie A again on Jan. 5 and 6.

Veteran coach Fabio Capello believes the scheduling is already problematic because of too many night matches – starting with the week’s first game, Lazio-Fiorentina, at 9 p.m. local time (2000 GMT).

“It’s too late,” Capello told Italian daily La Repubblica. “That means leaving the stadium at midnight in the cold with many people having to work the next day. If you’re going to play on a holiday, you’ve got to start earlier and help the fans out.”

In the past, Serie A’s winter break began before Christmas and lasted until after Jan. 6, which is Epiphany, a major Catholic feast day and the end of the holiday period in Italy.

This season, the break will be from Jan. 7-20.

“It doesn’t change much for the players,” Baldissoni said. “They’ll still have a break in January.”

Still, the Italian schedule has not gone quite as far as the Premier League, which has no break at all and games on Dec. 26, 27, 28, 30 and 31, plus Jan. 1, 2, 3 and 4 – meaning teams will play three matches in little more than a week.

“In England, the last match on Boxing Day (Tuesday) starts in late afternoon. It would be good not to just copy but also improve on the copied product,” Capello said.

But for a league struggling with attendance, fan violence and racism, Italy is providing an opportunity for families to go to the stadium while school is on break.

An average of 22,177 fans attended Serie A matches last season, ranking the league fourth in Europe behind the Bundesliga, English Premier League, and La Liga.

The German, Spanish, and French leagues still won’t play during the last week of the year. But other sports like the NBA and NFL do.

“Not taking advantage of this period and leaving it to other leagues means losing competitively in the international market so we’ve decided to get involved during this period,” Baldissoni said.

It’s a timely move, considering the Italian game is in dire need of a boost after the Azzurri’s failure to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in six decades.

“It’s a way to try and boost the brand value of Serie A,” Baldissoni said.

It also coincides with the most competitive Serie A in years. The top four clubs – Napoli, six-time defending champion Juventus, Inter and Roma – are within seven points of each other.

Serie A recently made a switch and assigned its international TV rights for the next three seasons to IMG for 370 million euros ($440 million) per season, nearly double the value of the previous deal with MP and Silva.

Next month, the league is planning to assign a new deal for its much more lucrative domestic rights with a price tag expected to exceed 1 billion euros.

So feedback on attendance, TV viewership, and advertising for the holiday games will be highly scrutinized.

“It’s an experiment,” Baldissoni said. “Let’s see if it works here like it does in England.”

Surging Galaxy ride Ibrahimovic magic to 3-1 win (video)

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a man on fire, and the LA Galaxy are rounding into form.

The Galaxy overcame an early deficit in Chester to clobber the Philadelphia Union 3-1 on Saturday behind a goal and an assist from their world-class striker.

[ MORE: Neymar on diving ]

Romain Alessandrini had two assists, while Michael Ciani and Ola Kamara also scored for LA. CJ Sapong scored for Philly, assisted by Borek Dockal.

Unbeaten-in-seven LA moves into fourth in the West with the win, while Philadelphia remains three points back of sixth in the East.

Ibrahimovic has now scored in six of his last seven matches, and has 12 goals an two assists in 21 matches overall.

Let’s start with the assist, which we must’ve seen two dozen times when the big Swede was with Paris Saint-Germain.

Ibrahimovic takes a difficult pass out of the air with absurd touch, then waits for the right time to send an impeccable through ball into the path of Kamara.

As for the goal, you almost feel for Mark McKenzie.

The Union’s Homegrown defender has to choose between Alessandrini darting into his box and allowing Ibrahimovic a lick of space.

He gives it, understandably, then rushes to close down Ibrahimovic.

It wasn’t fast enough. Boom.

Americans on both sides, Weah scores as PSG fall to Bayern (video)

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Two hopes of the USMNT’s future — one more immediate than the other — squared off in the International Champions Cup on Saturday.

Paris Saint-Germain teenager Timothy Weah, 18, went 90 minutes and scored his side’s only goal in the 3-1 loss in Austria.

[ MORE: Neymar on diving ]

On the other side of the field was 62nd minute substitute Chris Richards, far less known to the American supporter.

Richards is on loan from FC Dallas, where he’s a Homegrown Player. The 18-year-old center back is going to play for Bayern’s U-19 side following a successful trial in April.

Both Bayern and PSG were without key pieces, as Weah went up against a decent Bayern back line of Juan Bernat, Javi Martinez, Josip Stanisic, and Rafinha.

Arjen Robben, Sandro Wagner, and Franck Ribery were the biggest names in Bayern’s XI, while David Alaba, Kingsley Coman, and Serge Gnabry came off the bench.

For PSG, Gianluigi Buffon started as did Adrien Rabiot.

Weah’s goal is below, and here’s what he had to say about it:

“It’s an amazing feeling and getting a well-done job. Me scoring goals, I was really happy to get my first goal for PSG and first goal in this competition. We’re going to Singapore with our head on our shoulders. We’re going to be really humble and keep playing.”

Klopp talks Pulisic, Liverpool’s spending

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Jurgen Klopp admits he’d love to work with Christian Pulisic again, but isn’t going to butt his nose into Borussia Dortmund’s business.

Speaking ahead of Liverpool’s International Champions Cup match against BVB, Klopp was asked about his interest in the American teenager.

[ MORE: Josef Martinez bags 3 more ]

Klopp was quick to point out that Pulisic is under contract to Dortmund and not for sale, as much as he’s aware.

From The Liverpool Echo:

“He had not his best season last year but he was still a decisive player but it’s important in that age group that there’s no rush. He still has 14 or 15 years to play in his career and that’s good and he wants to be the best Pulisic he can be. For this, there is still space for development.

“If – at one point – he will join us, I don’t know. I like him, it’s not that that could be the problem, but we respect contracts still and there’s no market I know about at the moment. We did our business and Dortmund are doing theirs. All good.”

Also all good? Klopp’s evolution on spending after blasting other Premier League clubs for big money buys in the past.

Klopp said he would quit football if transfer fees like Paul Pogba‘s became the norm. Well, they have, and no club has spent as much money as the Reds this summer.

“That’s the problem these days, hey? Whatever b.s. you say, nobody will forget it. On the other side, it’s still kind of true. I couldn’t have imagined since then that the world would change like it has. Two years ago £100million was a crazy number. Since then the world has changed completely.”

He said he’s going to do whatever it takes to make Liverpool successful, and Klopp now has the world’s most expensive goalkeeper and most expensive defender in his squad.

Lodeiro brace gives Seattle’s faint playoff hopes a lifeline

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In Major League Soccer’s forgiving playoff structure, there’s almost always a way back into the mix.

When your team has a talent like Nicolas Lodeiro, your chances get magnified quite a bit.

[ MORE: Josef Martinez bags 3 more ]

Lodeiro scored twice, once from the spot, and Seattle debuted its new Designated Player in a 2-0 Cascadia Cup win over Vancouver on Saturday.

Seattle is now eight points back of the West’s final playoff spot with 15 to play in its season. And the Sounders join Portland on three Cascadia Cup points, with the Timbers beating Seattle in the other cup match of the season.

Raul Ruidiaz came off the bench for the Sounders, and showed early glimpses of why Seattle wanted the World Cup participant from Peru.

The ‘Caps finished the match with 10 men thanks to a red card on Efrain Juarez, who saw yellow and then made contact with the referee.

The second goal took a vicious turn on its way to making goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic look capital-A awkward.