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CONCACAF Champions League preview: Eyeing MLS chances

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The CONCACAF Champions League’s quarterfinals kick off late Tuesday evening, and a trio of Major League Soccer teams are two rounds from playing for a spot in the Club World Cup.

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That tournament in the United Arab Emirates remains nine months away for now, where the CCL winner will join the winners of the UEFA Champions League, the Copa Libertadores, the Asian Champions League, African Champions League, Oceania Champions League, and the winners of the UAE’s top flight.

MLS placed two semifinalists last season, though both Vancouver and FC Dallas failed to cement a spot in the final. Seven of the nine CCL-era tournaments have been all-Mexican, excepting Real Salt Lake’s loss in 2011 and Montreal’s loss in 2015.

Back to the present: One tie does not include an MLS side thanks to FC Dallas’ poor performance against Cinderella side Tauro of Panama. Tauro plays Club America beginning Tuesday at Estadio Azteca.

Of the three MLS sides left, who has the best chance of coming out on top? You be the judge (but it’s probably TFC).

Toronto FC

Opponent: UANL Tigres (4th place, Liga MX)

First leg: Wednesday in Toronto
Second leg: March 13 in San Nicolás

Watch out for… a pair of names who made their mark in Europe; Enner Valencia and Andre-Pierre Gignac have combined for 29 goals to lead Tigres’ attack. You’ll also remember longtime USMNT midfielder Jose Francisco Torres, but — again — TFC’s hopes are pinned to its back line keeping a handle on a pair of strong finishers (and dangerous, experienced Eduardo Vargas.


Seattle Sounders

Opponent: Chivas Guadalajara (16th place, Liga MX)

First leg: Wednesday in Seattle
Second leg: March 14 in Guadalajara

Watch out for… Don’t be misled by Guadalajara’s table status; The Mexican powers have drawn their last four matches. Their leading scorer is Alan Pulido, and Mexican national team star defender Oswaldo Alanis is at the back with Carlos Salcido. Also in the mix is a familiar name: hyped 21-year-old Orbelin Pineda.


New York Red Bulls

Opponent: Club Tijuana (6th place, Liga MX)

First leg: 10 p.m. ET Tuesday in Tijuana
Second leg: March 13 in Harrison

Watch out for… a very American roster, relative to the rest of the league. The newcomer is forward Rubio Rubin, who earned his first start on Feb. 25 and came off the bench for 32 minutes a week later. Alejandro Guido gets minutes mainly off the bench. Michael Orozco hasn’t been playing much, nor has young Fernando Arce, Jr.

Zidane quizzed on Pogba: “We know what we want to do”

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Zinedine Zidane’s open flirtation with Paul Pogba continues, as the Real Madrid manager was asked about Manchester United’s star midfielder again on Saturday.

“We need to respect everybody, but the only thing I can say from the club is we know what we want to do,” Zidane said. “Something could happen before the end of August. We could have some changes.”

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On paper the purchase of Pogba makes sense to reloading Real, but the problem here is the sheer amount of paper the Madrid side has spent on players this season.

While sales of James Rodriguez, Dani Ceballos, and Gareth Bale could put Real in okay position regarding Financial Fair Play, buying Pogba would move the needle hard in the other direction considering the club has bought Ferland Mendy, Eden Hazard, Eder Militao, Luka Jovic, and Rodrygo.

Plus, Florentino Perez likes to buy only one Galactico per transfer session, and Hazard is undoubtedly this summer’s model.

That said, Real has assets that United could use in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s overhaul of the Old Trafford set.

UEFA gives partial stadium bans to Bulgaria, Romania for fan racism

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NYON, Switzerland (AP) Bulgaria will have to close part of its national stadium for European Championship qualifiers against England and the Czech Republic because of fan racism.

UEFA issued the order, saying Bulgarian fans were racially abusive during a 2-1 loss to the Czech Republic and a 3-2 loss to Kosovo last month.

Bulgaria hosts England on Oct. 14 and the Czech Republic on Nov. 17.

Romania has also been ordered to close part of its home stadium for a future under-21 game after UEFA ruled its fans behaved in a racist manner during the European under-21 championship last month.

Another racism case against Latvia was dropped.

UEFA also handed out various fines to Romania, Ukraine, and Greece for rowdy behavior by fans.

Transfer rumor roundup: Everton join Zaha chase; Matuidi to Man Utd?

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A roundup of Saturday’s biggest transfer rumors from around the world, including those involving a few Premier League clubs…

[ MORE: PL refs told to defer to VAR more, go to the monitor “sparingly” ]

Wilfried Zaha is one of the most wanted men in England, with Arsenal reportedly hot on his trail all summer. An deal between the Gunners and Crystal Palace is yet  to transpire, though, which has perhaps left the door open for Everton to sneak through and sign the 26-year-old Ivory Coast international.

Arsenal would obviously pay more in wages, but are yet to meet Palace’s valuation of their talisman. If Everton is the club that calls with the requisite figures on offer, it wouldn’t be the worst landing place for Zaha. With Arsenal yet to make a meaningful signing this summer, and the likes of Aaron Ramsey and Laurent Koscielny already gone or on their way out, the 2019-20 season could see the Gunners take a step back, opening the door for — you guessed it — Everton to break into the top-five… or -four.


Speaking of Ramsey, his arrival at Juventus has perhaps made Blaise Matuidi surplus to requirements, which means he could be available for cut-rate price.

Manchester United seem to be perennially in need of influential central midfielders, especially this summer after the departure of Ander Herrera and the failure of a signing that was Fred last summer. Man United have reportedly been in contact with Juve about the 32-year-old, as have Paris Saint-Germain and Everton.


Sergej Milinkovic-Savic is another midfielder who’s been linked with United, but he’ll likely just as much as, if not more than, the $59-million fee paid for Fred. Milinkovic-Savic seemed a surefire target for the world’s top clubs after a star’s showing at last summer’s World Cup in Russia, but the 24-year-old remained at Lazio and is still yet to move 12 months later.


Patrick Cutrone was one of Europe’s breakout stars of the 2018-19 season, now the 21-year-old AC Milan forward is reportedly high atop Wolverhampton Wanderers’ shopping list this summer. He won’t come cheap — Milan are expected to demand nearly $30 million — but he could offer some serious insurance in the event of an injury to Raul Jimenez.

PL refs told to defer to VAR more, go to the monitor “sparingly”

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Premier League interim chief executive Richard Masters says that referees have ben instructed “to use the referee review area a bit more sparingly” and rely on the numerous video-assistant referees (VAR) at their disposal to make simple calls upon review when video review is instituted in the PL next month.

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Following the 2019 Women’s World Cup, where far too many trip to the monitor were made by the center referees, the PL is keen on ensuring that “the Premier League or English football [is not] interrupted, or the pace of the game [is not] changed.” It sounds very much like a “less is more” approach  — quotes from the BBC:

“I think fans want to see those clear and obvious mistakes changed and put right. But they don’t want to see the Premier League or English football interrupted, or the pace of the game changed.

“I think the only difference you might see is the referees using the referee review area a bit more sparingly and relying more on the VAR for the more subjective decisions.

“But we are putting something new into the Premier League and if it needs to be refined or improved or tweaked we will look at it when the moment arises.”

In theory, this should work quite well for the PL. Many of the decisions that referees go to the monitor to review themselves could easily be made by the “fifth official.” If it’s obvious to the VAR and he/she can make the call with 100 percent certainty, the center ref should always take their decision in the name of keeping the game flowing. If the VAR isn’t so sure, or it’s a more subjective call that should be made by the person making 99 percent of the game’s calls, go to the monitor. But do so quickly.