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MLS franchise ‘belongs in Charlotte’

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Charlotte, North Carolina is not one of the cities which has been high up the list for potential expansion franchises in Major League Soccer, but it should be.

That’s according to the owner of the NFL’s Carolina Panthers, David Tepper, who has revealed he is in “ongoing discussions” with MLS about bringing a team to Charlotte, NC.

The largest city in North Carolina, Charlotte already has a soccer team, the Independence which has been in the USL since 2014. And a previous bid for an MLS franchise, which was submitted to the league almost two years ago, was led by Marcus Smith, president and CEO of Speedway Motorsports.

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Tepper, a hedge-fund manager worth $11 billion, revealed to journalists that the president of the NFL’s Panthers, Tom Glick, (who was formerly involved at Derby County, Manchester City and with New York City FC) is pushing the cause for a team.

“We are having ongoing discussions with Major League Soccer,” Tepper said. “We’re talking about when they’ll take extra teams and when the time comes, we’ll be [ready]. We’re very much studying, very much focused on it. I personally believe that’s something that belongs in Charlotte.”

Charlotte has seen some big crowds for friendly games between big European clubs at the Bank of America Stadium in recent years, but can any North American city truly say MLS belongs there?

We’ve seen some big cities have teams and be far from successful in the past (Miami, Tampa and LA’s Chivas USA to name a few), but there’s no doubting the potential in Charlotte, especially with a billionaire NFL owner ready to back the team.

That scenario has worked out pretty well for Atlanta United under Arthur Blank…

But this all gets quite tricky when you start to break down the race for MLS expansion franchises. With Commissioner Don Garber previously stating that 28 teams is the magic number, that means there is only one spot remaining. And there are plenty of cities in the U.S. scrambling for that franchise.

FC Cincinnati are joining MLS for the 2019 season, while David Beckham’s Club Internacional de Futbol Miami and Nashville SC are slated to arrived for the 2020 season and Austin FC have been awarded a franchise for 2021.

That takes the total number of MLS teams to 27.

Given the fact that both Sacramento and St. Louis have put strong ownership groups together after some struggles and Detroit was previously named as aa finalist in the expansion race, all three are believed to be pushing hard for an expansion franchise.

MLS could have a real problem on its hands, although a $150 million expansion franchise fee would help with any teething issues it has.

Remember, MLS said Cincinnati, Nashville, Detroit and Sacramento were its four finalists for two expansion franchises back in November 2017. Cincinnati and Nashville have now been awarded teams, so Detroit and Sacramento are seemingly next up. Since then the league have mentioned strong talks in San Diego and St. Louis, and Las Vegas and Phoenix have also been mentioned in the conversation.

This is getting a little out of hand.

Expanding too quickly could be dangerous for the overall quality in MLS, but at this point why not expand to 32 teams?

When a list of 12 potential expansion cities was submitted in February 2017 it consisted of: Cincinnati, Sacramento, Nashville, Detroit, St. Louis, Charlotte, Raleigh/Durham, San Antonio, Tampa Bay/St Petersburg, San Diego, Phoenix and Indianapolis.

A lot has changed over the past two years with different ownership groups dipping in and out of the conversation, and plans for soccer-specific stadiums getting knocked back with certain bids.

Right now, if I had to select five cities that would get the next expansion franchises to make it to 32 teams, it would be Sacramento, St. Louis, Detroit, Charlotte and Phoenix. Geographically they all link up with other MLS markets well and in terms of Sacramento and STL, they have done plenty of work to get stadium deals and ownership groups in place.

There are no doubt intriguing times ahead in the MLS expansion race, as the success of recent expansion clubs Atlanta United and Los Angeles FC have set the benchmark for how the league should grow.

MLS should not rush this process, and it’s main focus should be on improving some of its current franchises before expanding beyond 27. When it does decide to expand again, the frontrunners are clear for all to see.

10-man Red Bulls hold off Atlanta United at home

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Atlanta United’s five-game winning streak went up in smoke as the New York Red Bulls pulled off an incredible 1-0 victory.

Playing down a man for around 65 minutes, the Red Bulls shutout Atlanta United’s high powered offense in front of 18,495 fans at Red Bull Arena. Tom Barlow, in just his second appearance with the Red Bulls, scored the game-winning goal in the 65th minute off a header at the far post, one that left U.S. Men’s National Team goalkeeper Brad Guzan rooted to his line.

[READ: Pep: Domestic Treble harder than UCL]

Tim Parker was shown a straight red card in controversial fashion, after grabbing Josef Martinez’s left arm with Martinez in front of him just outside the box. Martinez was clearly pulled back but continued running and eventually got a shot off that Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles parried away.

Referee Robert Sbiga then decided to call the play back and award Atlanta United a free kick outside the box. After what seemed to be consultation with his assistants, Sbiga then showed Parker a straight red card, likely for denial of a clear goal scoring opportunity (DOGSO) while Martinez was through on goal.

The outcome is a massive one for the Red Bulls. It’s been a rough season, with the loss of both Jesse Marsch and Tyler Adams and the poor form of Bradley Wright-Phillips up top. Wright-Phillips was out on Sunday and another attacker Andreas Ivan, went off with an injury in the first half as he was about to be substituted off anyways following the red card.

Alejandro Romero Gamarra, Kaku, has made his feelings known that he wants (or wanted) to leave the club. His form hasn’t been stellar this season either.

Meanwhile, Atlanta’s finally found its way back into the win column and is looking more like the juggernaut from last season, especially with five-straight shutout wins. It’s all back to zero today though, with the defeat at the Red Bulls on a perfect grass pitch up a man.

Mbappe hints he could leave PSG

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Kylian Mbappe accepted his award as the Ligue 1 MVP, dedicated it to Paris Saint-Germain president Nasser Al-Khelaifi, and then mentioned he could be off soon to another club.

Wait, what?

Yes, following Mbappe accepting his award, the French star and World Cup winner stated he hoped he could continue his career at PSG but left open the possibility of moving to another club that allows him to take the next steps in his career.

[READ: Kompany to join Anderlecht as player-manager]

“This is a very important moment for me, I arrive at a first or second turn of my career,” Mbappe said, via L’equipe. “I’ve discovered a lot of things here, I feel that maybe it’s time to have more responsibility. I hope it may be at Paris Saint-Germain, it would be with great pleasure, or perhaps elsewhere for a new project.”

Mbappe later clarified his comments, stating he was looking for more responsibility. “If it’s at PSG, that’s good. If it is elsewhere, it will be elsewhere for a new challenge.

“For me, it was time to say it. I am someone whole: when I say something, I think it. For me, it was the right time to say it. That’s it, I said it!”

It’s unclear why exactly Mbappe used this moment to put some pressure on PSG. Perhaps its to remind them that the club needs to be successful in its transfer endeavors this summer, so it can compete deep into the UEFA Champions League. With Neymar injured and a central midfield ravaged by injuries, PSG capitulated and somehow fell to Manchester United in the Champions League Round of 16, grabbing defeat from the jaws of victory.

There’s no reason why PSG can’t dominate the Champions League like it does Ligue 1, especially with the attacking trident of Mbappe, Neymar and Edinson Cavani. But of course, against better competition, the inferiority in mentality and in talent along the backline has started to show.

So, where could Mbappe go? There’s very few places that could effectively match both his salary and his competitive goals. It’s the usual suspects, Real Madrid, Barcelona, and perhaps Manchester City, should they be interested in it. More recently, while Man City has spent big, it’s been on signing multiple players on $50 million transfers, as opposed to one player on a $200 million transfer, for example.

It’s unlikely, but an intriguing option would be Liverpool. If the club somehow came up with the funds, imagine Mbappe playing alongside Sadio Mane and Mo Salah, with Roberto Firmino coming in to spell either of the three over the course of the season. Mbappe would likely make up that one-point difference between Liverpool and Man City, and if that’s what it takes for Liverpool to finally win the title, it could be worth the initial massive investment.

Messi finishes season leading La Liga in goals, assists, and more

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Lionel Messi turns 32 this summer, and after more than a dozen years of first team soccer, playing more than 50 games a season, the old man’s still got it.

The Argentine star, playing his first season in almost a decade without direct competition from Cristiano Ronaldo, scored twice as Barcelona tied Eibar, 2-2. The two goals gave him 34 for the season, by far the most by any player in the league, and his 50th in all competitions.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Messi also led La Liga this season with 13 assists, 136 shots, 85 shots on target and 70 through balls. In terms of successful dribbles, Messi’s 132 fell seven short of Celta Vigo’s Sofiane Boufal.

Messi’s 34 goals gave him his sixth Pichichi, the trophy given to the league’s leading scorer. Messi is now tied with legendary Telmo Zarra for the all-time record of most Pichichi’s, and Messi is now three ahead of Ronaldo.

As if Messi wasn’t already a legendary player, the man seems to be showing no signs of slowing down. It may have helped that he skipped matches with Argentina after the 2018 World Cup this past fall, keeping him fresh for Barcelona. Even so, the man looks as good, if not better, with age.

Messi already holds the record for most goals in league history, and at this rate, he’ll set it to a level that will be almost impossible to reach. While he’s going to be remembered for his incredible control on the ball, it doesn’t hurt that he’s been incredibly productive during his career, including in 2018-2019. Barcelona won the league title with ease and the club made the UEFA Champions League semifinal. If for some better defending, Messi could be contesting for another Champions League title.

Nani scores twice as Orlando City thrashes FC Cincinnati

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Nani may not be the star he once was while he played for Manchester United, but he’s still making a powerful impact in MLS.

The Portuguese international scored his sixth and seventh goals of the season as Orlando City ran circles expansion side FC Cincinnati, winning 5-1. Along with Nani, Tesho Akindele scored a brace and Dom Dwyer came off the bench and scored a header in the win.

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Aside from having a chance to record a big win over a struggling side, Orlando City may have been ultra motivated on Sunday. Orlando City manager James O’Connor has history with FC Cincinnati from his time at Louisville City, with intense rivalry matches taking place as well as arguments between O’Connor and former FC Cincinnati coach Alan Koch on the sidelines.

FC Cincinnati actually went up early with a Darren Mattocks finish past Brian Rowe, but it didn’t take long for Orlando City to respond. Akindele fired home from 20-yards out in the 37th minute to make it 1-1. Early in the second half, Nani scored on a penalty kick rebound to make it 2-1 to the hosts, and then he added a second off a cross from the right to blast the game wide open.

With the win, Orlando City moved just one point outside of a playoff place, while Cincinnati remains in the basement of the Eastern Conference. However, Orlando City has a difficult road ahead, with matches against the LA Galaxy, Montreal Impact and D.C. United to come.