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USL League One readies for Opening Day

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The start of any new league is an arduous process, and can be akin to a labor of love even for those in executive positions.

On the heels of our discussion with the Canadian Premier LeagueProSoccerTalk headed south of their border to chat up Steven Short, the senior vice president of USL League One.

[ MORE: Latest on Emiliano Sala ]

The USL rebranded its top league as the USL Championship and its college-aged U-23 league the PDL as USL League Two, making way for a new group of professional sides in USL League One.

Short headed USL League One’s journey from zero teams to 10, with the debut season coming in late March and at least two more teams set for 2020 debuts in the Rochester Rhinos and Penn FC.

Following the USL League One journey has been a pretty wild ride; It’s a huge challenge and extremely complicated, and began with Short and his crew traveling across the United States to evaluate markets.

He jokes that he could write a book about the process, and we’d certainly encourage that.

“What we’ve learned is how far our game really reaches,” Short said. “We had a chance to sit down with fans in 40-plus markets, have a beer with them, talk about what they want in a team, and build a league from the ground-up. For us to do that on our journey across the country is something special that we’ll always remember.”

“No path was exactly the same, but they all ended up with the same result.”

Short said there were three important parts of the criteria for a market, starting with ownership “that’s local and in the market and knows how to run a business within that market.”

The league looked at stadia, and whether the market has enough population to properly support a team.

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The league announced teams with varying amount of surprise attached to their markets. Getting NISA head Peter Wilt to leave the nascent league to start Forward Madison FC in Wisconsin was a huge get, and luring the 26-year-old Richmond Kickers into the fold was equally notable.

Eyebrows were raised when the league became the home for MLS reserve sides Toronto FC II and Orlando City B, as well as a new team in the same vein for FC Dallas in the form of Frisco-based North Texas SC. And eyebrows nearly popped off the collective forehead when the Chattanooga Red Wolves arrived on the scene, a direct rival to established Tennessee side Chattanooga FC.

Throw in teams in Tucson, South Georgia, and Lansing, and you’ve got storylines for days. And some big questions.

For one, how do you govern a league where some teams are aiming to become the next big club in American soccer, while others are perfectly content as developmental sides for another league’s big teams?

“From Day One the focus of the league was putting a competitive and entertaining product on the field, winning on and off the field, whether that’s identifying players to move up to the first team, or putting 4-6,000 people in the stadium on any given day and creating an inclusive atmosphere that the whole city wants to get behind,” Short said. “I wouldn’t say that it is respective only to the three MLS teams in our league, but we look at every expansion club and they know what our league wants to be. We work with our clubs to find out what they want out of it.”

There’s also the matter of managing that same group of diverse ambitions on both a day-to-day and big picture basis. The odds are that at least one of the clubs is going to have a wildly successful first season, inspiring supporters to dream of a move to the USL Championship. And others may find that their first foray into professional players yields a substandard team.

So, is the view more macro or micro?

“Depends on the day,” Short said. “Yes you’re looking at holistically what it will take to launch the teams, and March 29 for our first match and how we as a league can make sure the fans can have an amazing environment, and showcase our teams to American soccer. And daily we’re in communication with the clubs to make sure they have what they need. … We’re not favoring one over the other. Everything leads to the long-term vision of the league.”

[ MORE: Latest on Emiliano Sala ]

Short noted his excitement to communicate with the Rochester Rhinos about building a new home and getting back to the pitch in 2020, as well as the buzz building around new teams.

“You have brand new teams like you’ll see in Greenville and Madison, and you’ll see teams like South Georgia Tormenta taking the step to the professional level,” he said. “Richmond and Toronto who made the move into League One from the Championship. There’s a diverse crowd that only adds to this league.”

USL League One kicks off Friday, March 29, with South Georgia Tormenta FC v. Greenville Triumph SC in what the league will certainly hope becomes a geographic rivalry. The clubs are located within a 4-hour drive.

Man City’s attempt to block UEFA investigation denied in court

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MONTREUX, Switzerland (AP) Manchester City lost its attempt Friday to block an investigation into allegations it deceived UEFA while violating rules that monitor soccer club finances.

[ MORE: Berhalter: No “like-for-like” replacement for Pulisic ]

The Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled that City’s appeal against UEFA’s handling of the investigation was inadmissible. The two-time defending Premier League champions tried to stop UEFA’s club finance panel from handling a referral by investigators to impose a punishment.

“At CAS we can only hear appeals against final decisions,” said Matthieu Reeb, the court’s secretary general.

UEFA investigators had called for a severe penalty — that City be excluded from the Champions League for one season.

The file will now proceed to UEFA’s club finance judges. Any sanction they impose can also be challenged at CAS.

The latest UEFA investigation started after leaks of City’s internal correspondence and documents to German news outlet Der Spiegel last year.

The leaks implied City deceived UEFA for several years, including by hiding information that revenue from potentially overvalued commercial deals came from the club’s owners in Abu Dhabi to curb losses.

[ MORE: Report: LA Galaxy want Cavani to replace Zlatan ]

City has never disputed the authenticity of the documents.

“There was absolutely no examination of the merits,” Reeb said of the three-judge panel’s ruling. “We cannot say whether the decision of the alleged breach of financial fair play rules are real or not.”

Friday’s ruling extends a long-standing conflict between City and UEFA in the era of “Financial Fair Play” rules which began in 2009 after consultation with clubs. The project was intended to protect clubs from reckless overspending.

UEFA rules limit cash injections from wealthy owners, which critics say penalize emerging clubs with big ambitions. Commercial deals such as shirt sponsorships that are suspected of being inflated are also assessed for the fair market rate.

City was deducted $22 million of Champions League prize money by UEFA in 2014 in the first round of FFP judgments.

Report: Bruce hopes to bring Xhaka to Newcastle in January

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Steve Bruce has prioritized a loan move to bring Granit Xhaka to Newcastle United in January, according to a report from Sky Sports.

[ MORE: Berhalter: No “like-for-like” replacement for Pulisic ]

Xhaka, now the former captain of Arsenal after his recent confrontation with the club’s fans, is expected to leave Arsenal in January and Bruce hopes that Fabian Schar, a longtime teammate of Xhaka with the Swiss international team, will be able to persuade the 27-year-old midfielder to choose the Magpies over what will surely be a long list of clubs desperate to acquire his services.

According to the report, a number of clubs in Italy have already expressed an interest in signing Xhaka — whether or loan or permanently — therefore Bruce and Co., are likely to face plenty of competition. However, the chance to remain in the Premier League and prove his detractors — many of them Arsenal fans — wrong could be appealing to Xhaka.

[ MORE: Report: LA Galaxy want Cavani to replace Zlatan ]

Xhaka, who is not currently injured, hasn’t made an appearance for Arsenal since the incident occurred late last month. Schar recently said that he “can’t wait to give [Xhaka] a hug” next time the two players see each other.

VIDEO: Each PL team’s best and worst player of October

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PST’s Joe Prince-Wright looks at the best (and worst) player of October for each Premier League team as the league enters its final international break of 2019.

[ MORE: Berhalter: No “like-for-like” replacement for Pulisic ]

With Liverpool and Leicester City flying high, picking the Reds’ or Foxes’ best player presented plenty of worthy candidates. As for terribly underperforming sides like Tottenham Hotspur, West Ham United and Southampton, it was a challenge for the opposite reason, though JPW wasn’t short on options when it came to worst performers.

Hit Play on the above video to see who graded out well — and not so well — for your club, and feel free to agree or disagree all you want in the comments below.

Unhappy in Madrid, Bale ‘more excited’ to play for Wales

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Thanks to the ongoing FIFA-mandated international break, life is currently pretty good for Gareth Bale, who says he “definitely have a bit more excitement playing for Wales” compared to when he’s playing — or not playing — for his club, Real Madrid.

[ MORE: Sterling backs Gomez after boos were heard at Wembley ]

Bale confirmed on Friday what the entire world has known for a couple of years now: that he’s thoroughly unhappy at not being allowed to leave Madrid this summer; that he never truly adapted to his home since the summer of 2013; and that his on-field performance has suffered for those reasons, as well as his extensive injury history — quotes from the BBC:

“With Wales, I’m speaking my own language and feeling more comfortable. I definitely have a bit more excitement playing for Wales.

“I’ve been with most of the players, especially the older ones, since we were in the Under-17s. It’s like playing with your mates down the park on a Sunday.

“But it still doesn’t change what I give on the pitch. I always give 100 percent wherever I am, and that’s what I always strive to do.”

As for how Bale has been painted by the Spanish media, he says he only pays attention to the negative coverage when his friends since him “funny pictures or whatever they write,” but it’s clear he feels like an outsider and that’s a key reason he was so keen to leave the club and country when a(n even more) mega-money offer came from China this summer.

“I’ve heard some stories but I don’t really take notice. My friends tend to send me some funny pictures or whatever they write.

“I find it hilarious to be honest, especially some of the pictures and stuff my friends send me. On one, it said ‘triple bogey’ and I’ve never had a triple bogey. At least give me an albatross! It’s funny.”

Unfortunately for Bale, he’ll have to continue playing nice with manager Zinedine Zidane, until January at least.