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Girl soccer player challenges gender rules in Argentina

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CHABAS, Argentina (AP) At age 7, Candelaria Cabrera goes after the soccer ball with determination. She drives toward her rivals without caring much about getting hurt and deftly manages the bumps on the dirt field.

She wears a loose white jersey from Huracan de Chabas, her hometown, located 230 miles (370 kilometers) north of the capital, Buenos Aires. Printed on the back and on her red shorts is a number 4. She uses white boots and shin guards. Her long, copper colored hair tied in a ponytail distinguishes her from the rest of the players.

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“Cande,” as she is known by friends and family, is the only girl playing in a children’s soccer league in the southern party of Santa Fe province, birthplace of stars including Lionel Messi, Gabriel Batistuta and Jorge Valdano. Former Argentine coaches Marcelo Bielsa, Gerardo Martino and Jorge Sampaoli were also born there.

But a regional regulation that prohibits mixed-gender teams in children’s categories threatens to take her off the field – a ruling that has helped dramatize the inequality in opportunities for men and women in this soccer-crazed county.

“I had to sit down with her and tell her that there are some people who have to make rules in soccer and that these rules do not agree with what she wants,” said Rosana Noriega, Candelaria’s mother. “And, well, we both cried, and she said: `The people who make the laws are bad people.”‘

She was 3 years old when her parents gave her her first ball. They understood that it didn’t make sense to insist she play with dolls, even if there were “comments from other moms that they should not give her male toys because it would encourage her to be a lesbian,” Noriega recalled.

Two months ago, the regional soccer authorities notified Huracan that the team could no longer include Candelaria. She could only play on a girls’ team – which does not exist where Candelaria lives.

Noriega took to social media to speak out about her daughter’s case and was surprised to find that she was not the only one. Girls wrote to her saying they were facing the same problem in nearby towns and more distant provinces.

Of the 230 regional leagues recognized by the Argentine Football Association, only 68 have women’s teams. This is just one of the many disparities with men’s soccer. The most notable is financial: The best-paid contract in men’s first division is around $3 million a year. In contrast, women who play in their top category receive a travel voucher of $44.

Argentina’s female players, who will play in a November runoff game for the 2019 World Cup, have struggled financially when their payments were delayed. They also expressed discomfort when Adidas, the brand that sponsors a few members of the national teams of both genders, unveiled the new shirt for the Female America Cup this year with models rather than players.

“The biggest lack is that they don’t have younger players. They start playing at age 16, 17 and by then they’ve missed out on a bunch of issues that have to do with understanding the game,” said Ricardo Pinela, president of the Football Association’s Women’s Football Commission.

“The important thing is that every club in every corner of the country gives a girl the possibility of joining a female soccer team, to play with other girls, even if it’s just for fun, and from there generate the necessary structure that … sets them on equal standing as the male players”, he argued.

After Candelaria’s case became widely publicized, her regional league committed to reviewing the rule in an assembly at the end of the year – leaving her case in limbo until then.

While she’s officially now banned, the team has let her keep playing – at least until an opponent objects.

Candelaria’s most recent match ended with her team beating rival Alumni de Casilda 7-0.

“No one should say that a girl can’t play soccer,” she said.

Van Dijk presents $100k check to global organization

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Virgil Van Dijk is still making a contribution to Liverpool despite his inability to play in Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League match against Bayern Munich at Anfield.

[ MORE: CONCACAF Champions League returns Tuesday ]

The 27-year-old defender was recently named to UEFA’s Fans’ Team of the Year for 2018, and has been chosen to present $100,000 to the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The ICRC helps reunited separated families around the world. Here’s Van Dijk via LiverpoolFC.com:

“I can’t imagine not being able to see my kids or that they could be somewhere where you don’t even know where they are,” said the 27-year-old. “I can’t imagine and hopefully I won’t ever have to imagine that, but as I said, it is very special that the ICRC is helping these families.”

According to the Liverpool release, the ICRC reunited 1000 families including some 800 children in 2018.

Spain revamps Super Cup (and others should follow suit)

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Ever read a tournament concept and immediately think nearly every other league should adopt it?

La Liga is taking its version of England’s Community Shield — the Spanish Super Cup — and making changes that see the league season kick off in style.

[ MORE: CONCACAF Champions League returns Tuesday ]

Normally the winners of the Copa del Rey and La Liga meeting for a piece of hardware, the Spanish federation will now hold a four-team tournament abroad.

The tournament would include the Copa del Rey finalists and the two top league finishers (obviously extending to the third and fourth place teams if needed).

Flip it on its ear and imagine that MLS was kicking off its season not with myriad friendlies and the CONCACAF Champions League, but the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup winner, MLS Cup finalists, and Supporters’ Shield winner (especially if it was mandated that the cup finalists mixed it up in the semis).

For the Community Shield, you could include the Premier League winners, League Cup winners, FA Cup winners, and either the second place team or the “reigning Community Shield winner.” The gut reaction might be to rebel against “ugh, another game,” but if it’s taking the place of a Stateside friendly between second-choice sides? Come on!

CONCACAF Champions League returns with TFC, Houston

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The CONCACAF Champions League returns Tuesday night with a pair of Major League Soccer sides seeking a positive start to their seasons after substandard 2018s.

[ FA CUP: Man Utd bounces Chelsea ]

In the case of Toronto FC, their season went downhill in a big way after CCL success driven largely by Sebastian Giovinco. He’s gone now, as is Victor Vazquez, and TFC opens its bid to return to the final with a visit to Panama’s Independiente for the front end of a two-legged tie.

The Reds are almost even money to win, according to most oddsmakers, but anything can happen on a CONCACAF pitch in February.

Having helped the USMNT start life under Gregg Berhalter following its World Cup collapse, TFC captain Michael Bradley is prepared to engineer another turnaround following his club’s playoff-free 2018. From TorontoFC.ca:

“Nobody is sitting around worried about last year anymore,” added the TFC captain. “For me, that’s been the best part of this last week or so: coming into camp, looking around and feeling right away that there was an excitement and a real motivation of the guys to get going; to work and make sure that we use every day in the right way to push ourselves forward.”

Jozy Altidore is still out for Toronto, which should give new import Terrence Boyd the chance to star in Panama.

That match kicks off at 8 p.m. ET Tuesday, two hours before Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup champs Houston Dynamo enter the CCL with a visit to 5,000-capacity Estadio David Cordon Hichos in Guatemala.

That’s where they’ll meet Guastatoya. We don’t know a ton about the Guatemalan side, other than they won both the Clausura and the Apertura last season.

Familiar faces return for the Dynamo in the form of Romell Quioto and Alberth Elis, but there will be new talent on show. Defender Kiki Struna arrives from Palermo, while Marlon Hairston joins the Dynamo from Colorado, and could end up being a very productive player in Wilmer Cabrera’s system. Tommy McNamara also gets a new lease on life in Texas.

Klinsmann received $3.35M settlement from U.S. Soccer

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CHICAGO (AP) Jurgen Klinsmann received a $3.35 million settlement of his contract with the U.S. Soccer Federation, according to the USSF’s tax filing.

His replacement, Bruce Arena, was given a $300,000 settlement during the fiscal year that ended March 31, 2018, according to the filing, which was released Monday.

[ FA CUP: Man Utd bounces Chelsea ]

Klinsmann was hired in 2011 and in December 2013 was given a contract extension through December 2018. He was fired in November 2016 after an 0-2 start in the final round of World Cup qualifying in North and Central America and the Caribbean. His contract was settled for $3,354,167, the tax filing said.

Arena earned $899,348 in base pay during the fiscal year and a $50,000 bonus, according to the filing, which was first reported by The Washington Post. He quit after the U.S. loss at Trinidad and Tobago in October 2017 that ended the Americans’ streak of seven straight World Cup appearances.

Dave Sarachan, Arena’s top assistant, was the interim coach from October 2017 through last November. He had a base salary of $223,656 during the fiscal year.

Klinsmann’s top assistant, Andri Herzog, was given a settlement of $355,537 during the fiscal year. He is now Israel’s national team coach.

U.S. women’s coach Jill Ellis earned $291,029 in base pay during the fiscal year, which did not include a major tournament. He compensation was topped by under-20 men’s coach Tab Ramos, who had $295,558 in base pay plus a $30,000 bonus.

USSF CEO Dan Flynn, who has said he may be retiring, had $684,617 in base pay and $130,000 in bonuses. Chief operating officer Jay Berhalter, brother of new U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter, had $466,195 in base pay and $115,563 in bonuses.

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