Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images

Checking the Championship with two weeks to go

Leave a comment

There are two match days left before the Football League Championship playoffs, and there’s still no clarity outside of who will finish first.

The champion Wolverhampton Wanderers have a 12-point lead on second place, but there are three teams still alive for the second automatic promotion spot and technically seven who can make it into the playoffs.

[ MORE: LFC 2-1 Roma | Klopp reacts ]

May 6 is the final day, and all kickoffs will take place at 12:30 p.m. ET

Instant promotion battle

Cardiff City, Fulham, and Aston Villa are the three sides aiming to finish second, with Cardiff currently holding the advantage. Their 86 points are one more than Fulham, and four clear of Aston Villa.

2. Cardiff (86 pts, +28): at Hull City, vs. Reading
3. Fulham (85 pts, +34): vs. Sunderland, at Birmingham City
4. Aston Villa (82 pts, +31): vs. Derby County, at Millwall

Projection: Cardiff has a decent run-in, but Fulham’s path will carry it past them should the Bluebirds stumble at all. Aston Villa faces two sides aiming for the playoffs, and is probably plotting out its strategy for the playoffs themselves.

Playoff spots

Aside from the two above sides who fail to grab second, there are seven other sides within varying degrees of probability for a playoff spot. Middlesbrough and Derby County hold fifth and sixth now, but Millwall and Brentford are within a win of the Top Six and Preston North End, Bristol City, or Sheffield United could get in with a win and help.

5. Middlesbrough (72 pts, +20): vs. Millwall, at Ipswich Town
6. Derby County (71 pts,+19): at Aston Villa, vs. Barnsley
7. Millwall (69 pts, +12): at Middlesbrough, vs. Aston Villa
8. Brentford (68 pts, +12): at Barnsley, vs. Hull City
9. Preston (67 pts, +9): at Sheffield United, vs. Burton Albion
10. Bristol City (66 pts, +10): at Nottingham Forest, vs. Sheffield Utd
11. Sheffield United (66 pts, +7): vs. Preston, at Bristol City

Projection: Brentford is the only club without at least one date against a promotion hopeful, but everyone under 8th will be rooting for Derby to lose out (and probably Boro to draw Millwall?). Preston and Sheffield are likely staging a knockout match on Saturday. Expect Tony Pulis and Boro to avoid dropping from the Top Six, an Derby should manage its fate well even with Villa on the fixture list. Yet don’t be surprised if Brentford climbs into sixth even though the Bees have only claimed a point of six from their remaining opponents.

Wynalda named head coach, technical director of Las Vegas Lights

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Las Vegas Lights FC is staying very on-brand as it announces its new head coach and technical director.

After a season headlined by the lights, glitz and glamour off the field while fortunes on the field struggled, the Lights administration announced on Wednesday that it had hired Eric Wynalda to be its new manager. The former U.S. Men’s National Team striker takes over effective immediately, after Lights FC parted ways with Isidro Sanchez at the end of the 2018 USL regular season last Saturday.

[READ: Wenger could return to coaching in January]

Las Vegas made waves ahead of their expansion season by hiring controversial ex-Chivas USA manager Jose Luis Sanchez Sola, known affectionately as “Chelis.” However, just before the start of the season, Chelis was demoted in a way to technical director while his son, Isidro Sanchez, took over the reigns on the sideline. Chelis was eventually dismissed after a poor run of form and an altercation with a fan led him to receive an eight-game suspension.

However, the hiring of Wynalda perfectly fits within the ethos of the bright and loud club, trying to mimic the stereotype projected by Las Vegas. Wynalda’s comments and opinions on the sport in the U.S. have likely kept him from receiving MLS coaching offers, which is ridiculous because he’s proven to be a successful coach on the field. Not only a great scout of talent, Wynalda is the definition of a player’s manager, a coach that players want to run through walls for. He found success with Cal FC and in a short spell with the Atlanta Silverbacks, where he commuted back and forth from his home in Los Angeles.

Most recently, Wynalda has been out of a job since running for U.S. Soccer president, in which he was defeated early on during the election last February.

There’s likely to be a big overhaul of players this offseason at Las Vegas, but considering Wynalda’s eye for talent, there’s a good chance that the Llamas/Lights should be a more competitive side in 2019.

Mane undergoes hand surgery

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The “FIFA virus” is hitting Liverpool hard this month.

Sadio Mane, who reportedly broke his left thumb on international duty for Senegal, underwent surgery on Wednesday, Liverpool confirmed. The club did not include a timetable for Mane’s return in its press release, only saying, “Mane’s recovery will be monitored over the next couple of days ahead of the Reds’ return to action at Huddersfield Town on Saturday.”

With the injury, Mane joins Mo Salah, Naby Keita and Virgil Van Dijk as Reds to be injured during the international break.

As an attacker, it’s unlikely Mane really needs the use of his left hand other than to protect himself on aerial challenges on bumps from defenders, but depending on the recovery, it may just be a decision of how much pain Mane could tolerate. With matches against Huddersfield, Red Star Belgrade and Cardiff City to come, maybe this is a good time for Jurgen Klopp to rest some of his starters, including the walking wounded like Mane.

Fulham owner withdraws offer to purchase Wembley Stadium

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Wembley Stadium is set to stay in the FA’s hands.

[READ: USMNT 1-1 Peru: Player Ratings]

The FA announced in a press release Wednesday that Fulham owner Shahid Kahn had withdrawn his offer of $790 million to purchase Wembley Stadium. Kahn first became interested in buying the stadium in February 2017, when he and FA CEO Martin Glenn met at the Superbowl. What followed was an informal offer to the FA Board of Directors before a formal offer was made.

The offer has been valued at anywhere from nearly $800 million to nearly $1.2 billion. In a statement, Kahn said that his goal to purchase the stadium was to provide the FA with a large amount of capital which it could use to improve grassroots soccer around the country.

“The intent of my efforts was, and is, to do right by everyone in a manner that strengthens the English game and brings people together, not divides them,” Khan said. “Unfortunately, given where we are today, I’ve concluded that the outcome of a vote next week would be far from sufficient in expressing the broad support favored by the FA chairman to sell Wembley Stadium.”

The FA council was set to vote on the sale next week.

Although it cost the FA and British government more than $1.4 billion (adjusted for inflation) to renovate and rebuild Wembley Stadium, the arena hosted 33 events between July 2016 and June 2017 and in its latest published financial records, the FA recorded an after-tax profit of $21 million. So it seems that along with the sponsorships and broadcast deals, Wembley Stadium is a money maker, which makes it important for the FA to hold on to.

That being said, it’s hard to turn down a deal worth close to $1 billion, even if that’s a lump sum and they won’t receive further investments from stadium revenues in the future. In the future, maybe Kahn or another owner may make another offer, one that the FA council could accept.

Report: La Liga chief going to court to compel U.S. based games to happen

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The head of La Liga is considering taking extraordinary action to ensure that a planned match this year in the U.S. goes off as expected.

[READ: What did we learn about the USMNT?]

According to Spanish radio station Cadena Cope, La Liga president Javier Tebas is set to bring a lawsuit against the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) and its chief, Luis Rubiales to compel the federation to approve Barcelona’s match against Girona on January 26, which has been scheduled to be moved to Miami, Fla.’s Hard Rock Stadium.

In a way, it makes sense that Tebas and the Spanish league is considering every possible avenue to ensure that their 15-year marketing rights agreement with Relevant Sports, including league matches played abroad, can move forward as expected. However, it was clear after the announcement in August that all parties involved – especially La Liga, had not thought this through. FIFA, the RFEF, local fans and the Spanish league’s player’s union have all opposed the news, and on Wednesday Real Madrid formally sent a letter of it’s disapproval in moving La Liga matches abroad.

Tebas and La Liga would prefer for this to be resolved legally sooner rather than later, so they can market the Barcelona match in Miami and begin negotiating with the other federations that need to approve. But there’s a decent chance that the other parties – FIFA, and U.S. Soccer – could fail to rubber stamp what would be a first-of-its-kind event. In any case, watch this space.