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What’s the long-term plan for MLS, USL, and USL D-III?

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The Premier League previews have yet to begin, Major League Soccer is on its All-Star break, and international soccer is gone for a spell, so allow this writer to take you on a tangent.

For about as long as the promotion and relegation war cry has methodically danced around social media, I’ve had a difficult time believing Major League Soccer expansion would stop anywhere short of a similar system to the one employed by the rest of the world.

[ MORE: Phoenix, SD get Garber bump ]

As MLS partnered with the USL raised its maximum number of teams to its present stated goal of 28, it became clear that one of two things would happen:

  1. The number of teams would grow
  2. The league would eventually employ a system of pro/rel

Whether that’s years or decades away, it’s hard to say. What’s easy is that MLS knows it can capture the interest of two markets that are currently keeping it arm’s length at best by switching up its system: Soccer fanatics ignoring the growing quality of MLS play because pro/rel is their priority, and casual sports fans curious about an experiment.

I’d put myself at about 90 percent confident of that before something clicked following this article on SocTakes which lays out the growth of the USL and the challenges still facing its individual owners.

The strength of any group of teams lies within its league, and I’m not talking about the chemistry between its group of owners. The people who control and work for the actual league have to possess power, with a reservoir of funds, and avoid the arrogance that comes with the first two.

Make no guarantees on the third part, especially given that the second part of the famous “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” line is “Great men are almost always bad men.” That’s not a shot at anyone specifically, just a judgment on the nature of business here.

The only option outside of the pro/rel model that includes league growth eliminates plenty of draw for the top flight: Either clubs begin playing each other once a year, with no return date until the next season, or they expand the conferences with limited interplay and another unbalanced schedule.

Nuh-uh.

Clearly the USL is building up power and reserves, as MLS has done that already. Most of its top-end teams aren’t amongst the MLS B-sides and have the look of top-tier sides (FC Cincinnati, Sacramento Republic, Phoenix Rising).

At some point, the MLS-B sides are going to disappear or head to USL D-III (or IV). The bottom half of USL average attendance is littered with those squads, even with high-performing on-the-field sides Real Monarchs and Red Bulls 2.

Neutral fans don’t want that. Shoot, I wouldn’t want to market that my local team is facing a must-win match against some MLS club’s guys 25-40.

[ MORE: Garber “hopeful” Crew will stay in Columbus ]

So MLS “stops” at 28 teams. There’s 20-26 in USL, who will announce promotion and relegation between it and D-III. USL D-III will have another 20, and the way out of that place will be promotion.

That’s where the experiment begins, with USL teams and the American soccer landscape seeing if pro/rel really is something that drives crowds.

This happens out-of-the-way of MLS, as owners continue to build up reserves to eventually serve as parachute payments for relegated teams.

That money becomes available because MLS lifts its cap and entire salary structure. Teams like the LA Galaxy, Red Bulls, and NYCFC can spend and sell as much as they like and are buttressed by their academies.

This lifts parity, once considered the jewel of the league, and makes the race to avoid the bottom a real thing. The MLS teams are still superior in salary and talent to the USL teams, so instead of Bottom 3 down, Top 3 up, MLS deploys some sort of promotion/relegation playoff similar to Germany.

Naturally, the teams toward the bottom of MLS are going to be the ones who refuse to spend. So, yeah, it could be a San Jose having to deal with upstart FC Cincinnati for the right to get a top flight spot? Something tells me the spending will increase. Fight or flight (back to the bottom).

Can it all be so simple? I really do think so. Maybe MLS can continue to expand, a couple of markets at a time, for 10 years. It can add to the schedule, maybe 40 games, but there’s a finite number of games it can add and have each team play home-and-away.

And wait til you tell a team owner from the East that it might not see Zlatan Ibrahimovic for the two or three seasons he’s here because of an unbalanced schedule. I don’t want to be in the room for that.

MLS is growing in renown, and will continue to do so for some time, but it’s not going to reach its potential without building legitimate powers via letting big spenders spend. The Supporters’ Shield will become a bit less interesting for some clubs, but the final playoff spots and the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup will become even more prestigious.

As for the pro/rel part, it’s one of the things keeping nascent leagues alive with hope, and clubs/fans outside its system refusing to play ball. It makes too much sense and, over time, we’ll find out it was the plan all along. And the arguments from the peanut gallery, including this King Peanut, will keep things buzzing while it waits for its roll out.

The longer the league waits, the better chance a competitor tries and it gets some momentum. With the NASL lawsuits on the stove now and NISA without a leader, there’s no competition. That’s not to say an upstart rival league couldn’t be squashed by MLS, but why risk it?

It’s going to happen, really. Otherwise, why would Alexi Lalas say things like this to his boss?

Report: Huddersfield Town looking to BVB (again) for manager

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If your hiring process isn’t broke, don’t fix it?

Huddersfield Town has reportedly requested permission to speak with Borussia Dortmund II boss Jan Siewert, going down the same route they traveled in appointing recently-fired manager David Wagner.

[ MORE: Bundesliga 2nd half preview ]

Bild has gone as far as reporting that Siewert, 36, will join the Terriers for a fee of approximately $400,000.

The 47-year-old Wagner had not managed a first team when Huddersfield hired him from BVB II in 2015. All he did was lead the club into the Championship and then the Premier League before successfully keeping the Terriers in the top flight.

That all changed this season, with Wagner and the club mutually parting ways this week with the Terriers buried in last place and the manager linked to a possible opening at Leicester City.

Siewart was an assistant manager at Bochum before joining BVB II. He’s managed RW Essen in the Regionalliga West, and was an assistant manager for Germany’s U-17 and U-18 sides.

Huddersfield has a murderous run of fixtures left, as points look to be at an absolute premium in erasing an 8-point gap on 17th.

Premier League Preview: Liverpool v. Crystal Palace

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  • Reds open weekend with 4-point table lead
  • Palace four pts clear of drop zone
  • Reds won 2-0 at Palace in August
  • Liverpool leads all-time 27W-11D-14L

There’s a bit of a rub to the easy storyline here, that league’s stingiest defense hosts one of the least productive attacks when Liverpool entertains Crystal Palace at Anfield on Saturday (Watch live at 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

The Reds have allowed just three goals at home this Premier League season, but Palace has scored 14 of its 20 league goals away from Selhurst Park.

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

The Eagles have also won their last two away matches, beating Man City and Wolves.

What they’re saying

Jurgen Klopp on Andy Robertson signing a new contract“I remember when we signed him back in the summer of 2017, I spoke a lot about ‘his story, his journey’ and how much I loved it and thought it pointed to the type of person and player he would be for us. He has exceeded these expectations. He might be from Glasgow originally, but everything about him screams Liverpool.”

Palace’s Andros Townsend on playing up top“I have thoroughly enjoyed it. At first, I didn’t think it would work. I remember me and Wilf [Zaha] speaking to each other and thinking, ‘how is this going to work? We will get bullied by the centre halves.’ But for one reason or another, it has just clicked and we have enjoyed it. We have both been involved in a lot more of the play, and everything went through us two and we thrived off of that, and ended up doing very well.”

Prediction

The Eagles get on the board against Liverpool, helped by their fullback pair of Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Patrick Van Aanholt, but don’t have enough to outlast the Reds. 2-1 Liverpool.

Premier League odds: Chelsea matchweek away favorite at Arsenal

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The reality an away-team win could be in both clubs’ interest might be the place to start with this week’s Super Sunday matchup.

Chelsea is the +135 away favorite on the Premier League odds with host Arsenal coming back at +205, while the draw is priced at +260 on the three-way moneyline and there is a 3.0-goals total for Sunday at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

[ MORE: Bundesliga 2nd half preview ]

Chelsea, which has three consecutive one-goal wins in its last three away matches, could all but eliminate Arsenal from top-four contention (and the automatic berth in the 2019-20 Champions League), and a Gunners side thinned-out by injuries and turmoil might welcome the chance to put more of its eggs in the Europa League basket.

Eden Hazard (+400 first goal scorer, -125 anytime) will likely feature for Chelsea now that Alvaro Morata is shipping off to Atletico Madrid of Spain. Chelsea by 1 Goal (+350) and Either Team 2-1 (+350) offer good value in Winning Margin and Correct Score Group props at online sports betting sites.

Elsewhere this weekend, Wolverhampton (+130) has won or drawn against Leicester City (+245, draw +225) in nine of their last 10 home matchups and the inconsistent Foxes’ last six away matches have all finished UNDER 2.5 goals. There is a little more value with looking at Wolverhampton 1-0, 2-0, or 2-1 (+185) in Correct Score Group props, and Raul Jimenez (+500 first goal scorer, +200 anytime) should be a factor offensively.

Liverpool (-500) and Crystal Palace (+1500, draw +600), in relative terms, both have strong scoring trends with the Reds having scored at least three goals in their last three home games and the Eagles having netted twice in each of their last three away games. Liverpool win/yes (+150) and Yes/Over 2.5 (+125) are the percentage plays in Both Teams To Score props.

Newcastle United (EVEN) and Cardiff City (+335, draw +230) are both in the relegation zone and reeling of late, with Newcastle winless in five games while Cardiff has banked only one win its last seven games (all competitions). Newcastle has injuries to key cogs such as Jamaal Lascelles (hamstring) and Isaac Hayden (back). Those factors make Cardiff enticing on the double chance (+180), while tie/no (+800), that is betting on a 0-0 draw, has good value in Both Teams To Score Props.

Huddersfield Town (+2000) hosting Manchester City (-650, draw +700) for a Sunday  matchup right after sacking manager David Wagner begs the question of how to divine some Man City betting values. The any other score (+175) in Correct Score Group props covers the possibility of City scoring four or more goals in a win where it also concedes; it’s the same payout as No/Over 2.5 in Both Teams To Score props.

And Fulham (+425) hosts a Tottenham (-125, draw +255) side in its first game since learning Harry Kane (ankle) will be out until March. The overall trends, though, show that Fulham’s last six home games against Tottenham have gone OVER 2.5 goals, and the visiting Spurs have won seven of their last nine away games. Kane’s absence could make Tottenham try new modes of attack and winger Dele Alli (+600 first scorer, +200 anytime) could capitalize.

For more odds information, betting picks and a breakdown of this week’s top sports betting news check out the OddsShark podcast with Jon Campbell and Andrew Avery. Subscribe on iTunes or Spotify or listen to it at OddsShark.libsyn.com.

Pep: Fernandinho is amazing, but we need to find him relief

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Pep Guardiola says Manchester City has “three or four” targets in mind as long-term replacements for Fernandinho.

[ MORE: JPW’s PL picks ]

There is no debate that the club has been markedly better with the 33-year-old in the center of the park, with City losing both of its Premier League matches that the Brazilian missed this season (Palace and Leicester City back-to-back).

“I think with the way we play we need a guy who has of course physicality, is quick in the head and reading where our spaces to attack are,” Guardiola said Friday ahead of a Sunday visit to Huddersfield Town.

“As many things as he can do, the better. I know it is not easy to find one player who can do everything. [You have to deal with] the price, the agents and the club if you want to buy the players so we will see.”

The 49-times capped Fernandinho has been one of the more overlooked players during his time at City, posting big performance scores even before Guardiola arrived at the Etihad Stadium.

But how long can he continue to thrive in that role? Certainly not too much longer if City can’t give him some relief. That’s no indictment on the player, rather a 33-year-old who plays with such physicality and piles up minutes across all competitions.