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The Canadian Premier League is building buzz

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Maybe he’s just new on the job, but a conversation with Canadian Premier League commissioner David Clanachan is like an imperial stout from one of Ontario’s many breweries: It gets you buzzing really quickly.

[ MORE: MLS State of Play ]

Sure, the man who knows how to politick, crediting NBC and EA Sports for the uptick in soccer popularity in North America, but it’s more than salesmanship for the former Tim Horton’s chief operating officer (Tim’s is an inescapable Canadian coffee chain).

But in discussing the construction of Canada’s new league, there’s an unavoidable energy that tracks from the ground up (and there’s little doubt their publicity and communications crew has won its mission). From the league’s very open trials in seven cities — announcing cut lists after Day One of each — to several other notable announcements, there’s an optimism in a new North American soccer league that hasn’t been felt in some time.

“You’d think in sports mad North American it should be easy to do, and many have tried but it hasn’t worked in Canada,” Clanachan says of trying to build a new league. “The bottom line is we took a very different approach. We’re building from the community level in everything we’ve done. You surround yourself with a group of storytellers who really know the game and how it shows that great passion. That’s driven by the movement and passion of the spectators. Soccer supporters are there whether their team is in third-last or first. They are all in.”

And so when the CPL started with teams in Calgary, Edmonton, Hamilton, Halifax, Langford, Winnipeg, and York, it made sure those fan bases got a different taste of pro sports.

Who had the hardest shot or best agility at the Winnipeg trials? It’s all right there. Who made it to the second day of trials in Quebec? Just look at the list. Why did the league choose one uniform designer for all the teams? They’ll tell you, plainly.

Transparency is a big claim, but one the CPL has so far embraced in a big way.

“I talk about that incessantly with our people,” Clanachan said. “From everything when we announced the league and the league identity, people were blown away with us being very transparent. We believe that to really build it is to take people with you on the journey. It helps people understand who we are and what we want to do. Then it just became about continuing the momentum.”

Clanachan has said he dreams of a 2-3 division league with promotion and relegation one day, but is focused very much on keeping his seven teams strong at the start.

Clanachan (canpl.ca)

He credits club owners’ ownership of the league with helping idea sharing, saying the NBA is a good model for intra-league support.

And he thinks the relative lack of jobs for Canadians, especially in MLS, is only going to help his league start stronger.

“When you look at the entire MLS, there are only four Canadians that are playing meaningful minutes and only 28 total, and that’s the largest pro league close to this country,” Clanachan said.

Four, really?!?

“That’s what our guys are telling me.”

I expected him to be wrong, but there are only four Canadians in the Top 200 for minutes in MLS despite three teams playing North of the U.S. border. The number expands to eight over 300, but point well-taken.

And the open trials reflect that. NCAA college stars, MLS draft picks, and players from smaller European clubs dot the open tryout list, and these are just the names hungry to get on the radar of coaches who clearly have their own lists of players.

“Players from Singapore, Japan, South Korea are all getting attention, and they’ve paid their own way,” Clanachan raves. “Two nights ago Canada played Dominica. Our whole staff went. One of the starting forwards for Dominica was at our York trials last week. Dominica’s a very small country, let’s be honest, but a lot of people want to live in these countries, Canada and the U.S.”

And so, it follows that Canada is going to have fan enthusiasm and a decent level when it begins its way into the North American soccer landscape.

“What I took from Tim Horton’s is we built it community by community,” he said. “When you do it that way, you make a lot of deposits, and they’re with you when the withdrawal comes when you want support. And they are there in spades. Because they see you with them every day.
“When these owners came looking for me, I heard two words ‘legacy’ and ‘Canadians.’ And that to me was not the typical, ‘Well we gotta make money at this.’ Because people who go into sport to make money are going into it for the wrong reasons. They’ve gotta be into it for development of the sport. It rang a true bell. You look at why we’re having success: We’ve haven’t kicked a ball yet and people are over the moon. We’ve sold thousands of season tickets without announcing a roster. And it’s all calculated.”
The league kicks off in April. The league web site is canpl.ca.

U.S. U-20 MNT sets up rematch with Mexico in CONCACAF U-20 Championship

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CONCACAF’s two soccer giants will duke it out for the region’s Under-20 title on Wednesday, in a rematch of the 2013 final.

Toronto FC’s Ayo Akinola’s lone goal in the 51st minute was enough to lift the U.S. U-20 Men’s National Team over Honduras, 1-0, in the semifinals of the CONCACAF Under-20 Championship. The win sets up a final with neighbor Mexico, which is in fine form just like the U.S. heading into the final.

[READ: UEFA Nations League recap]

CONCACAF switched its format this year, hosting 34 of the region’s 41 teams in a much larger tournament than before, taking place at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. Both the U.S. and Mexico walked through the group stage: The U.S. beat the U.S. Virgin Islands 13-0 and even Trinidad and Tobago, 6-1, while Mexico routed Aruba, 10-0.

In the second stage of the competition, the U.S. and Mexico both topped their groups, the U.S. routing Costa Rica, 4-0 before the Honduras result on Monday, while Mexico beat El Salvador and tied Panama.

After a disastrous 2011 U-20 run, which saw the U.S. miss out on World Cup qualification, the program has rebounded, sending teams to the 2013, 2015 and 2017 U-20 World Cups. This year’s squad could be better than some of the previous ones, with many players even eligible for the 2021 World Cup cycle. Ulysses Llanez has been a revelation up front, Akinola has continued his terrific form from the U.S. U-17s with seven goals in this tournament, and Philadelphia Union defensive pair Matthew Real and Mark McKenzie have been solid along the backline.

Amazingly, this isn’t even the U.S.’ best squad if it had everyone to pick from. On-loan defender Chris Richards joined halfway through the competition from Bayern Munich, Indiana University’s Trey Muse wasn’t called in, and European-based players such as Josh Sargent and Jonathan Amon are still eligible, as is now U.S. Men’s National Team regular Tyler Adams.

Mexico as always will be a difficult opponent to beat. The star of the show is 18-year-old Diego Lainez of Club America, who has already been capped by El Tri, while Jose Macias has scored 10 goals in the tournament.

The U.S. and Mexico square off on Wednesday at 5:00 p.m. ET.

Report: Ibrahimovic could return to AC Milan

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic could be a one-season wonder in Major League Soccer.

After a spectacular 22-goal, 10-assist campaign for the LA Galaxy, Gazzetta Dello Sport reports that Ibrahimovic is waiting for the phone to ring from AC Milan sporting director Leonardo, with a potential six-month deal in Milan on the table. Ibrahimovic and Leonardo have history – Leonardo was at Paris Saint-Germain when Ibrahimovic joined…from AC Milan, where Ibrahimovic played for two seasons, from 2010 through 2012.

[READ: Oscar Pareja departs FC Dallas for Tijuana]

The 37-year-old striker is now 18 months removed from tearing the ACL in his right knee and showed few injury worries during his time with the Galaxy, where he started in 24 or 27 matches after joining in May. The report in Italy claims that Zlatan could earn upwards of $2.3 million for his six-month stint at Milan, which is more than he earned in base salary in one season in the U.S.

If this is the end of Zlatan’s time in MLS, he leaves having proven that he took the league seriously but also how embarrassingly bad the LA Galaxy’s defense was in 2018. There’s just no way that a team with 22 goals from Ibrahimovic should miss the playoffs.

The big Swede joins the likes of Didier Drogba and Wayne Rooney as recent European imports who had an instant impact in MLS. However, Ibrahimovic won’t be remembered alongside players such as David Beckham, Robbie Keane, Thierry Henry and David Villa, all of whom had huge long-term impacts in MLS and for their clubs.

UEFA: FFP rules must be “strong and clear”

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Current UEFA general secretary Aleksander Ceferin is making a robust statement about his intentions to hold teams accountable under Financial Fair Play.

In the wake of reports from Football Leaks, published through Der Spiegel, alleging that both Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain had overvalued sponsorships to get around FFP rules, Ceferin told the BBC that the same type of corporate actions may not continue under his watch.

[READ: Ceferin says European Super League is “fiction”]

“I don’t want to speak about Man City or PSG but for any club the rules have to be strong and clear,” Ceferin said. “We will act by the book, by the regulations. We know that we have to modernize. We know we have to check the rules and regulations all the time. We know that the situation in the football market is changing all the time. So that’s also part of our thinking for the future – do we have to do something about the regulations to be more robust? Yes.”

The new Football Leaks allegations aren’t exactly breaking news. UEFA ruled in 2014 that Man City had broken FFP rules, eventually settling with the club for around $63 million in today’s dollars, the same price Man City soon paid Liverpool for Raheem Sterling. The settlement helped Man City avoid being barred from the UEFA Champions League as well as help avoid UEFA losing key sponsorships and advertising revenue with one of the big clubs out of the spotlight.

FFP is a double-edged sword for UEFA. It was instituted by former UEFA president Michel Platini as a way to curb overspending and keep clubs from spending so much they became insolvent – look at Rangers or Valencia, for example. However, the way the rules were implemented, it almost forced the status quo to remain the same, just as billionaires from the Middle East and Asia were prepared to pump billions into their clubs, without having to worry about debts.

In order for PSG and Man City to become giants, the clubs needed to invest massively, and while both teams may have broken FFP rules, if they’re operating within their means, it should be allowed. Ceferin’s statement is bold, but it’s one that he’ll have to back up with action if a big club breaks FFP rules again. Is UEFA willing to jeopardize advertising revenue to keep the likes of Man City, or Barcelona or PSG out? We’ll see.

Portugal unaware of joint World Cup bid with Spain, Morocco

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LISBON, Portugal (AP) A Portuguese official says Spain has made no approach about the possibility of presenting a three-way bid to host the 2030 World Cup with Morocco.

Education Minister Tiago Brandao Rodrigues, who oversees sports, says he has “no formal knowledge of any official announcement about a three-way bid.”

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

He also says he believes FIFA does not allow joint bids from separate confederations – in this case, UEFA and the Confederation of African Football.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez supposedly conveyed the bid offer to Moroccan counterpart Saad Eddine El Othmani during a brief visit to the north African country.

Bids to host the 2030 World Cup are being considered by countries in South America and England.