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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.

LAFC’s Adama Diomande voluntarily enters MLS’s health program

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LOS ANGELES (AP) Los Angeles FC forward Adama Diomande has entered Major League Soccer’s substance abuse and behavioral health program.

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MLS announced Diomande’s voluntary decision Friday.

Diomande won’t play for LAFC at least until the program’s doctors complete their evaluation and he is cleared by program officials.

The 29-year-old Norwegian scorer has eight goals and seven assists in 25 appearances this season, including 15 starts. He has played a valuable complementary offensive role alongside MLS scoring leader Carlos Vela.

[ MORE: Report: Netherlands FA to meet with Sergiño Dest ]

Diomande is in his second MLS season after joining LAFC from Hull City. He also previously played under LAFC coach Bob Bradley in Norway.

LAFC (19-4-7) has clinched the Western Conference title, and it leads the overall MLS table by seven points despite a four-game winless streak.

Premier League Preview: Newcastle v. Brighton

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  • Early-season relegation battlers meet on Saturday
  • 18th-place Newcastle to host 16th-place Brighton
  • Brighton won at Newcastle, drew at home last season

Newcastle United and Brighton & Hove Albion, a pair of Premier League sides with just two wins from the first five weeks of the season between them, will meet at St. James’ Park on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and NBCSports.com) for what could prove to be a retrospective relegation six-pointer when May rolls around.

Each side replaced its manager — Steve Bruce for Rafa Benitez at Newcastle; Graham Potter for Chris Hughton at Bright — in the summer and neither of the new bosses has had a particularly enjoyable start to the 2019-20 campaign. Brighton won on the opening day of the season, but have taken just two points from the following four games. Newcastle lost their first two games, won their third, and have drawn and lost again since. It’s the kind of form that’ll see both sides stuck in the high-teens of the PL table if they don’t find their footing in the coming weeks.

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Things are particularly worrying for Newcastle, who didn’t they’d be without Benitez until the end of June and didn’t appoint Bruce until mid-July. Key players had already left the club and reinforcements for few and far between. Forward Joelinton joined for $50 million and is one of four players with a single goal scored thus far.

Last week was nearly fruitful for the Seagulls, until the conceded a stoppage-time equalizer and settle for a point at home against Burnley. Summer signing Neal Maupay bagged his second goal for Brighton earlier in the game, giving Potter a potential trump card over a handful of other relegation-threatened sides without a consistent goalscorer.

Injuries/suspensions

Newcastle: OUT – Matt Ritchie (ankle), Florian Lejeune (knee), Dwight Gayle (calf); QUESTIONABLE – DeAndre Yedlin (groin)

Brighton: OUT – Leandro Trossard (groin), Jose Izquierdo (knee), Ezequiel Schelotto (knee)


Projected lineups

Newcastle: Dubravka – Krafth, Schar, Lascelles, Dummett, Willems – Almiron, Hayden, Shelvey, Atsu – Joelinton

Brighton: Ryan – Duffy, Dunk, Webster – March, Stephens, Propper, Burn – Gross, Maupay, Murray


What they’re saying

Joelinton, on Andy Carroll: “It’s always great to have experienced players in the group, and he’s one of them. He can help the club, he can help the young players. Andy Carroll has scored a lot of goals in the Premier League, and it’s great to be playing alongside him. He’s a calm guy. I still haven’t spoken to him a lot because my English isn’t great! But every day he’s trying to help. He’ll help me before the games, he’ll give me positional advice and suggest what I’ve done both good and bad.”

Graham Potter, on the trip to Newcastle: “Newcastle away is a tough game just like all the others. We don’t target particular matches — it’s about what we need to do to get a positive result. They have an experienced manager who I came across last year and he’s someone I have a lot of respect for. They have good quality players and we know it can be a hostile environment, it’s a big club and we know we have to play well to get something.  Steve has a lot of games under his belt – he’s had a lot of success and he’ll understand the challenge that lies ahead.


Prediction

Newcastle haven’t scored multiple goals in a game yet this season, and they’ve conceded twice as many as they’ve scored (four). It’s hard to trust them to be anything resembling consistent from game to game. It wouldn’t be surprising if they battled to a boring 0-0 draw, or conceding three times before halftime. It’ll probably be closer to the former, a 1-1 stalemate.

AC Milan announces internal anti-racism task force

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MILAN (AP) AC Milan has announced it will establish an internal task force to address racism in Italian football.

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The club says the task force will be supported by “an external consultancy” and “develop a program of activities to increase awareness, monitor and address racist behavior on social media and in the stadium, and drive the adoption of global best practices on diversity and inclusion.”

The move comes after reports of racist chants directed at Milan midfielder Franck Kessie, who is black, during a match at Hellas Verona last weekend.

Milan says the anti-racism initiative will be launched during Saturday’s derby against Inter Milan.

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Inter striker Romelu Lukaku was subjected to racist chants in a match at Cagliari this month.

Milan CEO Ivan Gazidis, who is South African, says: “Italian football needs to wake up and take a strong stance against racist behaviors. AC Milan will take a leadership position on this issue. . We believe that we have a moral obligation to do everything we can to address this issue.”

Slow start dooms Southampton again: ‘We lost the game in first half’

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Slow starts are, ironically, quickly becoming the story of Southampton’s Premier League season. It happened again on Friday, resulting in a 3-1 home defeat to Bournemouth in the Premier League‘s budding south coast rivalry

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Through six games, Saints have conceded the first goal four times. In those four games, they have taken just one point. When scoring the game’s first goal, they have two wins and two clean sheets.

It would appear that Ralph Hasenhuttl‘s side is set up to play one way, and one way only. Speaking after Friday’s defeat, Hasenhuttl lamented his side’s slow start, conceding that the game was all but lost when they fell 2-0 behind in the 35 minutes — quotes from the BBC:

“The finish was not important anymore. If you lose 2-1 or 3-1 it does not make too much difference. We lost the game in the first half.

“In the second half, we were sharp. Had about 26 shots to six from Bournemouth but the most important stat is the goals. They scored three, we scored once.

“We weren’t aggressive enough and too easy in the first half. It is not easy to be 1-0 down after 10 minutes. We had a lot of blocked shots and misses near the post. It was a good performance in the second half but without a result.

“For the second goal was had a lot of players in our attacking box so it was not easy to defend.

“We showed a good reaction because we knew we needed to be brave. We changed our shape and were aggressive for the second ball. It gave us 64% possession and we had a lot of shots. Maybe we didn’t deserve to take something because of our first half.”

Southampton’s next chance to start a game quickly will come in an away bout with Tottenham Hotspur next Saturday.