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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.

Why USMNT’s Christian Pulisic was subbed off v. Canada

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Christian Pulisic was not a happy man when he was subbed off in the second half of the USMNT’s damaging defeat to Canada in the CONCACAF Nations League.

[ MORE: What now for Berhalter, USMNT?

He didn’t look injured and after walking off the pitch he was visibly upset as Gregg Berhalter spoke to him on the bench.

But there’s a perfectly simple explanation for this: Pulisic was sick.

[ MORE: USMNT player ratings ]

USMNT head coach Berhalter revealed why he subbed out Pulisic in the 60th minute of their 2-0 defeat to Canada in Toronto on Tuesday, as Pulisic was suffering from “cold and flu-like” symptoms.

“He wanted to continue. You could see the disappointment in his face, and we had to make that decision,” Berhalter said. “We made the decision based on being not sure how much he had left. We wanted to inject some energy into the team.”

[ MORE: 3 things we learned

Now, Berhalter is obviously telling the truth here, but perhaps it was a convenient excuse as Pulisic wasn’t playing his best.

Pulisic, 21, struggled against Canada and missed the USMNT’s best opportunity, as he was played in by Jordan Morris and hit his shot from 10 yards out straight at Canadian goalkeeper Milan Borjan.

In truth, it was a tough chance with the way the ball was played to him, but Pulisic knew he should have done better and moments later he was on the bench and then the USMNT were 1-0 down.

Things aren’t going Pulisic’s way right now and Tuesday night summed that up.

There is a ridiculous amount of pressure on his shoulders to single-handedly lift the USMNT out of a two-year long slump, and given the fact he has only played a handful of minutes for Chelsea over the past two months, getting a cold as he heads back to England is far from ideal.

Berhalter’s reasoning for taking off Pulisic makes sense, as he is the one U.S. player who is talented enough to make something out of nothing. But right now we aren’t seeing the best of Pulisic, and that’s probably down to his lack of playing time at Chelsea.

It’s too early to say whether or not that will impact his form for the USMNT in the months ahead, but there’s no doubting the Stars and Stripes need their best player to stand tall for the game against Canada in Orlando next month.

La Liga want to move Barcelona v. Real Madrid to avoid protests

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MADRID (AP) The Spanish soccer league wants Barcelona’s game against Real Madrid to be moved out of the Catalan capital to avoid coinciding with a planned separatist rally.

[ MORE: La Liga scores, schedule

Separatist groups in Catalonia have called for supporters to rally in Barcelona on Oct. 26 when Barcelona is scheduled to host Madrid in the “clasico” match.

The league runs the top two tiers of Spanish soccer. It has called on the Spanish soccer federation (RFEF) – which controls regulations and fixtures for professional and amateur games – to shift the match to Madrid. The league has also requested for the return match to be switched from Madrid to Barcelona.

The league said Wednesday it has “requested the competitions committee of the RFEF to meet and change the location of El Clasico because of exceptional circumstances beyond our control.”

Catalonia has seen violent protests for the last two days with police clashing with protesters angered by the Supreme Court’s decision to sentence nine separatist leaders to prison.

The federation said the clubs have until Monday to respond to the request to change venues.

Catalan independence flags are a regular feature at Barcelona’s home games at the Camp Nou Stadium.

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

Report: Sacramento finally gets MLS expansion franchise

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After years of trying, it appears that Major League Soccer is finally heading to Sacramento.

Sacramento Republic FC have long been one of the best runs franchises in the lower leagues in the United States of America and both city officials and their new ownership group have backed this push to join MLS.

It seemed certain that Sacramento would get a team in 2016 and 2017, but they’ve been left behind as plenty of other cities have been awarded expansion franchises.

A report from the Sacramento Bee states that the franchise will be announced on Monday in a ceremony in downtown Sacramento.

“Sources said league officials will hold a press conference in downtown Monday followed by a fan event in the afternoon, celebrating the franchise award. The announcement will mark the successful conclusion of a laborious five-year effort by Sacramento community leaders and various investors to secure a franchise in MLS.”

New majority owners LA billionaire Ron Burkle (who also owns the Pittsburgh Penguins) and Hollywood producer Matt Alvarez joined Sacramento businessman Kevin Nagle this spring to get the finances in line for a new soccer-specific stadium and to pay the expansion fee which is close to $200 million.

Sacramento released a statement on the speculation, after Burkle, Alvarez and Nagle had been working closely with MLS in recent months to iron out the details of arriving in North America’s top-flight.

“We share the great excitement and anticipation in our community about Sacramento’s bid to join Major League Soccer. We will continue to respect the MLS expansion process and remain confident about the future of our club and our city. We look forward to sharing more information in the days ahead.”

Nagle and Warren Smith set up Sacramento Republic FC, who began play in the United Soccer Leagues in 2014, and have built an impressive fanbase.

Burkle and Alvarez were the final pieces of the jigsaw as their cash investment will allow the construction of a $250 million 20,000 capacity stadium long planned in the Railyards district of downtown Sacramento, while the city will also add funding to the effort as they add their second major league franchise.

Sacramento Republic will have an instant rival in MLS too, as the San Jose Earthquakes are located just 120 miles south-west.

With St. Louis awarded an expansion franchise in August and to begin play in 2022, MLS is now up to 29 teams with Nashville and Miami joining for the 2020 season, plus Austin FC arriving in 2021.

MLS Commissioner Don Garber seems keen to get the number of teams to 30, with Charlotte, Phoenix, Detroit and Las Vegas all pushing hard to become the 30th franchise in the coming years.

Sacramento’s journey to MLS has been a long one, but now they are about to celebrate.

Bulgaria detains four fans following racist acts

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SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) The Bulgarian government says it has detained four soccer fans linked to making racist gestures, including Nazi salutes, during a European Championship qualifying match against England.

[ MORE: Bulgarian FA chief resigns ]

Bulgarian fans also directed monkey noises at England’s black players during the match, which was halted twice in an effort to stop the racist abuse. England won the match 6-0.

The Ministry of Interior says police have “detained four people, whose involvement in what happened is being clarified.”

The ministry says any evidence collected will be handed over to prosecutors.

In the fallout from Monday’s game, the president of the country’s soccer federation has resigned and the Bulgarian special police forces have raided the federation offices.

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