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Spanish league launches campaign to show support for U.S. game

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MADRID (AP) The Spanish league is launching a campaign hoping to show that American fans are behind its plan to host a regular-season soccer game in the United States.

The league and its U.S. partners on Thursday began asking fans to sign an online petition to show their support for the planned Barcelona-Girona game near Miami in January.

“In an effort to showcase the public support to bring this match to the U.S., we are launching a petition campaign to encourage U.S. soccer fans to make their voices heard,” the league and sports and entertainment group Relevent said in a statement. “The (hash)BringUStheGame campaign will show the sports world that this match is good for the fans and good for the game in America, and that U.S. Soccer risks alienating millions of fans if they choose to block this game.”

The league’s idea to play games in the U.S. to promote its brand has been met by criticism from soccer officials and some fans and clubs in Spain. The dispute has become a tug-of-war among the several stakeholders, with all sides trying to weigh-in and defend their ground.

The FIFA Council recently opposed the plan after receiving a request to take a stance from CONCACAF and the federations in the United States and Spain, which have a say on whether the game can be played, along with UEFA. FIFA’s permission for the match is not mandatory but its opposition was a setback for the league.

The league said it is prepared to appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport if FIFA somehow prohibits the match, and it is also ready to go to court in Spain if the local federation denies its request to play abroad. The Spanish federation already hinted it opposes the match but hasn’t yet made a final ruling.

Staging the game in the United States is seen as an important step for the Spanish league to continue expanding internationally and to close the gap on the powerful Premier League. The Spanish league has a 15-year deal with Relevent to promote soccer and bring games to the United States. The group operates the International Champions Cup, a tournament played around the globe during the European offseason in July and August.

“All of America’s top sports leagues – the NBA, NFL and MLB – have played regular season games all over the world to reach international fans and have great success popularizing these sports globally,” said Relevent founder Stephen Ross, owner of the NFL’s Miami Dolphins. “We hope all of our partners in the soccer community recognize and support the positive impact of bringing the highest level soccer to the U.S. will have on turning more people on to the sport.”

The Jan. 26 game would be played at Hard Rock Stadium, home of the Dolphins.

The league said it will use social media to spread the new “grassroots campaign,” asking fans to upload videos expressing their support and engaging their friends.

“We just want to give an opportunity for fans to talk about this game because we feel that so far the conversation has been very one-sided,” Boris Gartner, CEO of LaLiga North America, told The Associated Press. “We want to give a voice to the fans.”

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

Euro 2020 Roundup: France thrashes Moldova, Portugal fails to score

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France showed on Friday that it hasn’t lost its mojo, as it tore apart Moldova on the road, 4-1, in its Euro 2020 qualifying opener.

Antoine Griezmann, Raphael Varane, Olivier Giroud and Kylian Mbappe all scored in the win for France, which jumps well ahead in the Group H standings. For Giroud, it tied him for third in all-time scoring for Les Bleus.

Elsewhere, Portugal suffered a surprising result in a scoreless draw with Ukraine. The defending European champions failed to score, despite starting Bernardo Silva and Cristiano Ronaldo up top. It’s the third straight time that Portugal has started off a qualification campaign without a win.

Here’s a look at the other scores around Euro 2020 qualifying on Friday:

Bulgaria 1-1 Montenegro

Albania 0-2 Turkey

Andorra 0-2 Iceland

Luxembourg 2-1 Lithuania

Indicted UCLA men’s soccer coach, former USMNT defender resigns

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LOS ANGELES (AP) UCLA men’s soccer coach Jorge Salcedo has resigned in the wake of his indictment in the college admissions scandal.

School spokeswoman Liza David said Friday that Salcedo quit after being on leave since the charges became public last week.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Salcedo appeared in court last week after he was accused of taking payments totaling $200,000 in exchange for helping one male and one female applicant gain admission to UCLA under the false pretense that they were soccer recruits when they didn’t play competitive soccer.

He was one of nearly 50 people charged in the scandal that involved prestigious schools like Yale, Stanford, Southern California and Georgetown.

UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero said in a statement Friday that the school is conducting an internal review of the student-athlete admissions process.

“I understand and share the outrage that this news has sparked,” Guerrero said. “The behavior described in the allegations is disturbing and unacceptable.”

Salcedo, a former UCLA All-American and national champion, was the second-longest tenured head coach in program history. During his 15 years, the Bruins made two appearances in the national championship game. Prior to his coaching career, Salcedo played professionally in Mexico and the U.S. He played in the LA Galaxy’s inaugural season, also featuring for the Columbus Crew, Chicago Fire and Tampa Bay Mutiny. He went on to record three caps for the U.S. Men’s National Team.

Assistants Matt Taylor and Phil Marfuggi have taken over the men’s team.

Salcedo is scheduled to appear in federal court Monday in Boston, where the charges originated.

Atlanta’s Martinez scores as Venezuela shocks Argentina

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It was supposed to be Lionel Messi’s big night in his return to the Argentine National Team after a nine month break. Instead, it may have reminded him why he left in the first place.

Atlanta United’s Josef Martinez scored a second-half penalty, Newcastle United’s Salomon Robson opened the scoring and the Vinotino of Venezuela shocked Argentina, 3-1 in a friendly match played at the Wanda Metropolitana in Madrid. For all the starpower of both sides, MLS was represented, as Martinez’s club teammate Gonzalo “Pity” Martinez started for Argentina alongside Messi.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

The result was another blow to coach Lionel Scaloni as he tries to rebuild an aging Albiceleste side with a frail defense. Meanwhile it is a huge boost for Venezuela ahead of this summer’s Copa America in Brazil.

It only took six minutes for Rondon to put Venezuela on the board. Tottenham’s Juan Foyth was unable to deal with the Newcastle striker as a terrific direct pass from leftback Roberto Rosales found its way to Rondon, who provided a calm finish.

Just before halftime, Jhon Murillo curled home a delightful strike to put Venezuela up 2-0. Pity Martínez was substituted at halftime and while Lautaro Martinez pulled a goal back for Argentina, it was not to be Argentina’s night. Foyth again was to blame as he took down Darwin Machis in the box, setting up Josef Martinez to put the final nail in the coffin.

England kicks off Euro 2020 qualification in style

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It’s been nine months since the 2018 World Cup, but England looked as if it picked up where it left off in Russia.

The Three Lions opened their Euro 2020 qualification on the right foot with a 5-0 win over the Czech Republic on Friday at Wembley Stadium. Raheem Sterling carried his terrific form in front of goal into the international game, finishing with a hat trick. Meanwhile, Harry Kane scored once and picked up a hockey assist on England’s opener as he set the play in motion.

[READ: USMNT ratings vs. Ecuador]

It was the kind of performance England fans have longed to see against Europe’s weaker sides, though in the past England had been unable to break those opponents down. On Friday, just about everything went to plan.

In the opening minutes, England set the tone with their attacking 4-3-3 approach, especially with fullbacks Kyle Walker and Ben Chillwell getting up into the attack. Kane unlocked the Czech Republic defense in the 24th minute with a terrific pass to find Jadon Sancho in space in the box, which you can see in the graphic below. Sancho quickly slid a ball across the face of goal that Sterling slid home to put England up 1-0.

Just before halftime, Sterling was involved again as he was bundled down in the penalty box, leading to a penalty kick. Kane stepped up and cooly dispatches the ball in for England’s second.

In the second half, as the Czech Republic tried to push forward, that left space open in behind. Dele Alli slid a ball into the box for Sterling, who’s initial attempt was blocked. However, the ball popped out to his left and Sterling curled a strike home with terrrific poise. Sterling put a bow on his terrific performance with a strike that took a heavy deflection off Ondrej Celustka and found the net.

Less than two years after winning the FIFA Under-17 World Cup, Callum Hudson-Odoi made his England debut replacing Sterling. The debut is significant, as Hudson-Odom hasn’t started a league match yet.

In the 84th minute, a Chelsea connection led to England’s fifth goal. Sancho dribbled through the middle of the field diagonally before finding Hudson-Odoi out left. The youngster cut inside and fired a strike on goal that was saved by Czech goalkeeper Jiri Pavlenka. But the rebound off Pavlenka’s save was somehow put into his own goal by Czech defender and former Chelsea signing Tomas Kalas.