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Garber wants MLS to become more of ‘selling league’

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ATLANTA (AP) The commissioner of Major League Soccer wants his teams to get in the selling business.

In his annual state of the league address leading up to the MLS Cup final, Don Garber said the transfer deals that sent teenagers Alphonso Davies and Tyler Adams to the German Bundesliga should be a model for all clubs.

“We need to become more of a selling league,” Garber said Friday at a downtown Atlanta hotel. “We’ve been buying for so long. But as we’ve gone through the analysis, it’s hard to justify the investment we’ve made in players and the investment we’ve made in domestic development. We have to have something that turns the model around or it’s going to be unsustainable.”

Davies, an 18-year-old Canadian who played this season for the Vancouver Whitecaps, is joining Bayern Munich as part of an MLS record $22 million transfer. Nineteen-year-old midfielder Tyler Adams of the New York Red Bulls also is moving to the Bundesliga, moving to sister club RB with Leipzig under a five-year arrangement.

Garber noted that Atlanta United, which is hosting the title game against the Portland Timbers , could be exploring transfer deals for stars such as league MVP Josef Almiron and Miguel Almiron.

“In world soccer, players get sold,” the commissioner said. “If something happens in Atlanta, I’m sure they will do whatever they can to have higher attendance and even more popularity next year, even if they sell one of their stars.”

Garber also signaled a new playoff format next season. A likely change is from two-legged series in the conference semifinals and finals to a total knockout format hosted by teams with the better record. That probably would move the MLS Cup back to November for the first time since 2011.

“We want to make the regular season more and more important, where winning in March is as important as winning in September and October,” he said. “The system we’re looking at will place a very, very high emphasis on the regular season.”

Atlanta United has shattered most MLS attendance records during its first two years, averaging more than 53,000 per game this season. Another mark is expected to fall Saturday night with a projected crowd of 73,000 for the championship match.

Garber said Atlanta and the Seattle Sounders, both of which share large stadiums with NFL teams, have given the league reason to look beyond its normal model of wanting teams with soccer-only stadiums that seat around 20,000.

The Sounders averaged more than 40,000 per game in 2018. No other team reached 27,000, and only a handful even had the capacity to reach that level.

“Every now and then, you have something that shocks you,” Garber said. “What happened in Seattle (which entered the league in 2009) was the first example of that. What happened here in Atlanta continues to astound me. We’re more open to thinking about it. We have two examples of success with large stadiums. But the model is still focused on smaller stadiums.”

Garber said a key to Atlanta’s success was making United feel like a joint partner with the NFL’s Falcons in $1.5 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium, a retractable-roof facility that opened last year.

Each team has its own locker room with all the bells and whistles. The stands were designed to accommodate both a football field and the wider soccer pitch. The football lines are removed from the artificial turf for all United games.

“Arthur Blank and his organization have embraced this team and put it on par with the way his family looks at the football team,” Garber said of United’s owner. “When I walked into the stadium, I saw a giant painting of a United player right next to a giant painting of a Falcons player. They’ve managed to find ways to share the building, rather than make United a tenant in the building. That’s something to look at moving forward.”

The league will grow to 24 teams next season with the addition of an expansion franchise in Cincinnati , while Nashville, Tennessee, and Miami are scheduled to come aboard in 2020.

The Miami club, led by David Beckham , has endured a tortuous search to find a site for a new stadium, but Garber said approval last month from the city’s voters on a proposed development adjacent to Miami International Airport is a major step toward finally getting the long-planned franchise to the playing field.

MLS is also planning a 27th franchise in Austin, Texas, which was initially set to be the new home of the Columbus Crew. MLS is working to finalize a deal with the Haslem family, which owns the NFL’s Cleveland Browns, that would keep a team in Ohio’s capital city and lead to a new downtown stadium .

Garber said MLS is likely to grant a 28th franchise in the next year. St. Louis, Phoenix, Detroit and Sacramento, California, are among the contenders.

Whoever is left out in this round of expansion may not have to wait long for another shot at a franchise. Garber said he expects the owners to begin discussing the feasibility of taking the league beyond a 28-team alignment at a board meeting next week.

“I don’t anticipate an announcement coming out of that,” the commissioner said. “But there’s no doubt in my mind that we can support more than 28 teams in Major League Soccer.”

Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 . His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/paul%20newberry

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

USWNT’s 28-game run snapped in hammering by France

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Kadidiatou Diani scored twice and France ended the U.S. national team’s 28-game unbeaten streak with a 3-1 victory Saturday in Le Havre, France.

The top-ranked United States had not lost since falling 1-0 to Australia in 2017, The Americans were 25-0-3 over the span.

Marie-Antoinette Katoto also scored for third-ranked France. It has won eight straight matches.

It was the first of 10 matches the United States will play before the World Cup. The Americans are the defending champions and could meet France again in the tournament’s quarterfinals.

France went up in the ninth minute on Diani’s goal off a cross from Delphine Cascarino. Diani scored again in the 57th minute to make it 2-0. The 23-year old plays for Paris Saint-Germain.

Katoto, Diani’s PSG teammate, added a goal in the 78th minute.

Mallory Pugh scored for the United States in the final moments.

U.S. coach Jill Ellis had to tinker with her starting lineup and rested stars Megan Rapinoe, Tobin Heath and Julie Ertz as a precaution because of minor injuries. Also held out was Kelley O’Hara, still recovering from ankle surgery.

Defender Tierna Davidson came in for Emily Fox in the 53rd minute, marking her first appearance since she fractured her left ankle in a match for Stanford in September.

Davidson decided to leave the Cardinal with a year of eligibility remaining to focus on making the World Cup team. She was the first overall pick in last week’s National Women’s Soccer League draft by the Chicago Red Stars.

The match at La Stade Oceane was sold out with over 25,000 in attendance. The stadium is one of the nine venues that will host World Cup games. The Americans’ next visit to the stadium will be for the final match of the World Cup group stage against Sweden.

“I’m not worried,” Ellis said following the loss. “We know who we are and what we can do.”

Next up for the United States is a match against Spain on Tuesday at Estadio Joss Rico Perez in Alicante. The U.S. women trained in Portugal ahead of the two-match European trip.

Serie A: Roma climb into 4th; anti-racism showing at Inter

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s action in Italy’s top flight…

[ MORE: What we learned in the Premier League, Week 23 ]

Roma 3-2 Torino

Nicolo Zaniolo announced himself as one of Europe’s most promising young talents, with the opening goal in Roma’s 3-2 victory over Torino, a game in which the 19-year-old was the best, most dangerous attacker for the whole of 90 minutes.

Zaniolo was initially denied by Salvatore Sirigu, but the young Italian managed to collect the rebound and put it home on the rebound, all while on the ground. Aleksandar Kolarov made it 2-0 not long after the half-hour mark, and Roma appeared to be on their merry way to a third straight victory.

The score was 2-2 by the 67th minute, thanks to Tomas Rincon and Cristian Asnaldo. Stephan El Shaarawy had other ideas, though, as he slammed home the winner, courtesy of a perfect through ball from Lorenzo Pellegrini, in the 73rd.

Now fully recovered from a disastrous start to the season (just five wins from their first 15 games), Roma sit fourth in the table, a point ahead of capital rivals Lazio.

Inter Milan 0-0 Sassuolo

Elsewhere in the top-four, third-place Inter Milan were held to a scoreless draw by 12th-place Sassuolo, but the game’s real story took place in the stands.

With Inter serving the second of its two-game ban on fans being allowed inside the San Siro due to racist chants, more than 10,000 local children were invited to attend as part of an initiative against discrimination. Brothers Universally United hung anti-discrimination signs around the stadium and the players word “BUU No to discrimination” on their shirt sleeves.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Udinese 1-2 Parma

Sunday’s Serie A schedule

Frosinone v. Atalanta — 6:30 a.m. ET
Fiorentina v. Sampdoria — 9 a.m. ET
SPAL v. Bologna — 9 a.m. ET
Cagliari v. Empoli — 12 p.m. ET
Napoli v. Lazio — 2:30 p.m. ET

La Liga: Atleti cut into Barcelona’s lead; Real Madrid move into 3rd

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s action in Spain’s top flight…

[ MORE: What we learned in the Premier League, Week 23 ]

Huesca 0-3 Atletico Madrid

Atletico Madrid cut Barcelona’s lead in the title race to two points with a resounding victory away to 20th-place Huesca. Barcelona will host 15th-place Leganes on Sunday.

Lucas Hernandez opened the scoring in the 31st minute, and while his finish inside a heavy fog would ultimately be enough for Diego Simeone’s side, Santiago Arias (52nd) and Koke (71st) tacked on insurance goals in the second half.

Real Madrid 2-0 Sevilla

In a battle of two sides level on points in a battle for third place, Real Madrid turned in one of their better performances on the season en route to a 2-0 victory over Sevilla.

Sure, Los Blancos didn’t break the scoreless deadlock until Casemiro unleashed his long-range blast in the 78th minute — thus the result was in doubt for much of the game — but Madrid were in complete control despite the goal coming late on. Sevilla managed just four shots over 90 minutes and held just 31 percent of possession.

Even still, the score remained tight at 1-0 until stoppage time, when Luka Modric 2018 Ballon d’Or winner Luka Modric put the game to bed.

Now in sole possession of third place — three points clear of Sevilla, but still seven back of Barcelona — Santiago Solari’s side appears to have righted the ship enough that they’ll cruise to a top-four finish.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Celta Vigo 1-2 Valencia

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Real Betis v. Girona — 6 a.m. ET
Villarreal v. Athletic Bilbao — 10:15 a.m. ET
Rayo Vallecano v. Real Sociedad — 12:30 p.m. ET
Levante v. Real Valladolid — 12:30 p.m. ET
Barcelona v. Leganes — 2:45 p.m. ET

USMNT youngster joins NYCFC on loan from Benfica

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NEW YORK (AP) U.S. national player Keaton Parks has been acquired by New York City FC on loan from the Portuguese club Benfica for the 2019 season.

The 21-year-old Texan is a versatile central midfielder. He joined Varzim of Portugal in 2015 when he turned 18 and then signed with Benfica in 2017.

He made his national team debut in May, entering in the 62nd minute of a 3-0 victory over Bolivia in Philadelphia.

New York sporting director Claudio Reyna said Saturday that Parks “comes to us highly motivated” and can “make a strong impact” in midfield.