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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.

Arsenal director Kroenke responds to supporter group letter

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A unified group of 16 supporter groups sent Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke a letter urging the head man to show “better leadership” in helping rebuild the squad and return the Gunners to the Champions League in what will be a third successive season outside Europe’s top competition.

His son Josh, currently serving as a member of the Arsenal board, responded to the letter by saying he “respects” the fans’ passion but also noting that it “hurts” to have his own called into question.

“As Arsenal fans, we have watched with frustration as the team’s football performances have declined over the past decade,” the letter from the fans read. “When Stan Kroenke began buying Arsenal shares, the club had just ­competed in a first Champions League final. Twelve years on, Arsenal are about to play in the Europa League for the third year running.”

The letter also hit out at the “soulless atmosphere” at the Emirates and attacked the “lack of strategy” when it came to player recruitment and investment into the squad, noting that money spent is not the issue, but instead the execution of the team build.

The younger Kroenke responded to the coordinated message, saying he takes his position with the club seriously because he can feel the emotion behind the decisions made.

“Is it hard to take? Absolutely,” Josh Kroenke said of the letter. “But I’m not in this business to make friends, I’m in it to win. If anyone is ever going to question anything about our ownership – which I view as a custodianship, the supporters trust us to be a custodian of the values — that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to win whilst also respecting the values and traditions of the club.”

“I was there in Baku [for the Europa League final] on behalf of KSE [Kroenke Sports & Entertainment], my father and family. I was down there on the sidelines, on the medal podium handing out second-place medals. I saw the look on our coach’s face, our players and all our staff. I felt and I saw what they felt. I felt the same way. The most important thing about being down on the pitch is understanding that there is a resolve there. There are some people who are also pretty pissed off that we had dropped that last match. That resolve should serve us well.”

Finally, Kroenke addressed the money available this summer, and highlighted the difficulties presented by the Europa League loss, which left Arsenal yet again on the outside looking in as Chelsea qualified for the Champions League. It wasn’t exactly an encouraging message for fans.

“If we’re going into the finer points I’d have to defer to these guys [managing director Vinai Venkatesham and head of football Raul Sanllehi]. I’ve always told them we need to be as aggressive as possible. It’s no secret that we have a Champions League wage bill on a Europa League budget right now. That’s a fact. And one that we’re figuring out how to face internally at the moment.”

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Haller nearing West Ham move, Lovren to AC Milan

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According to multiple reports across England, West Ham is close to its marquee Marko Arnautovic replacement as Sebastian Haller is nearly a Hammer.

Haller’s club Eintracht Frankfurt confirmed that the 25-year-old is on his way to London for a medical and will be a Hammer before long. His signature would represent a club-record fee of $55.9 million according to both the BBC and Sky Sports, far surpassing the $44.7 million paid for Felipe Anderson.

Haller is a goalscorer as well as a contributor, bagging 24 goals in 60 Bundesliga appearances for Eintracht Frankfurt in his two years with the club and also assisting 13 more. The analytics folks love the move.

With Lucas Perez, Arnautovic and Andy Carroll all having departed the club this summer, the addition of Haller is a much-needed boost to the West Ham attack that includes Felipe, Robert Snodgrass, and Javier Hernandez.


Divisive Liverpool defender Dejan Lovren, who infamously declared not so long ago that he is the best defender in the world, is rumored to be considering a move away from Anfield after last season’s Champions League winning campaign.

According to Nicolo Schira of Gazzetta dello Sport, Lovren is a target for AC Milan, although he would likely be asked to take a serious pay cut from his current Anfield salary. The report says that Liverpool wants at least $22 million for Lovren’s services, and that AC Milan would offer him a contract of $13.6 million over four years. That’s a significant drop from the $5.6 million a year he makes currently.

Still, if a deal can be struck, it may be enticing for Lovren considering his playing time at Liverpool has dipped in the past year. Now 30 years old, Lovren appeared in just 13 games for Liverpool last season, partially due to a pair of injuries but also having lost his place to Joel Matip. He was on the bench behind Matip for the final three matches of the Champions League run after starting the final next to Virgil Van Dijk the year before.


According to French publication L’Equipe, Southampton is in talks with OGC Nice to offload winger Sofiane Boufal. The Moroccan international joined Saints in 2016 from Lille but spent last season on loan with Spanish club Celta Vigo where hee scored just three goals in 35 league appearances.

With those struggles, his value has reportedly dropped to just $11.2 million, having been purchased for $21 million three years ago. L’Equipe says that while fellow French clubs Marseille and Bordeaux were interested, neither wanted to commit to a permanent transfer, with both wishing for a loan with an option to buy, whereas Nice has gone the extra mile.

Boufal was with the Moroccan squad in the Africa Cup of Nations this summer, appearing in three of their four matches, with all three appearances off the bench. He did not score or assist a goal.


Over the past few days there have been reports that should Leicester City cash in on Harry Maguire to Manchester United, they could pounce for Brighton defender Lewis Dunk as his replacement for about half the reported fee they would receive from the Red Devils. Now, with more time to think, that price may have spooked the Foxes.

According to Rob Dorsett of Sky Sports, Leicester City may decide to stick with internal replacements instead of spend big on a defender they don’t believe to be of accurate value in the market. Dorsett mentions 23-year-old Caglar Soyuncu and 22-year-old Filip Benkovic as possible options to receive more playing time.

Benkovic, a Dinamo Zagreb youth product who arrived at Leicester City last summer, received his Croatian international debut this summer as a reward for a solid loan spell at Celtic last season. Aside from an ankle injury that sidelined him for all of February, Benkovic was a regular in the Celtic lineup and helped them post a glittering defensive record en route to the Scottish Premiership title, conceding just 20 goals in 38 matches. Celtic also lost every Europa League match that Benkovic missed, while they won three and lost one of the four he played.

Soyuncu joined Leicester last summer as well, coming over from German side Freiburg, but only saw the field for six Premier League matches, starting four. Of the four matches he started, the club conceded just one goal in every game, and he also started the EFL Cup loss to Manchester City that saw the league champions score just once in regulation before losing on penalties.


Kieran Trippier is reportedly receiving interest from major European clubs and could be considering an exit from Tottenham this summer, despite the season drawing closer. According to Daily Telegraph reporter Matt Law, Trippier has particularly interested Atletico Madrid, who could be in for a $25 million move.

Given Trippier’s growth at Tottenham and importance to Mauricio Pochettino‘s setup, selling a player of Trippier’s quality for that low a price seems a poor decision for Spurs, but if the player has his head turned after a run to the Champions League final there may not be much the club can do.

A right-back by trade, Trippier was recently deployed by Pochettino as part of a three-center-back system that saw the England international transform into one of the most versatile defenders in the Premier League, maintaining a strong defensive stance but also swinging out wide to perform wing-back duties at times and becoming one of the Premier League’s best free-kick takers.

Trippier’s name has cropped up a few times this summer, but nothing remotely concrete has taken hold and it would at this point be surprising if Daniel Levy allows an England international in his prime with three years left on his contract to depart so cheaply.

Some of the best new 2019/20 kit releases so far

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One of the most enjoyable parts of the run-up to the new season is following clubs slowly trickle out their new home and away kits for the upcoming campaign.

Kit releases are becoming a bigger and bigger deal as kit makers pour more and more money into lucrative contracts. As we slowly make our way towards the new 2019/20 season, here are a few of the best releases across Europe so far. Obviously, these are extremely subjective, so if you feel one has been left out or strongly dislike one on the list, let us know what you think!

Arsenal away kit

The Gunners have produced some iconic kits in the past, and also some horrific ones, preferring on many previous occasions to be bold and risk it all, to mixed results. This season, Arsenal’s away kit is yellow, and unlike a number of swings & misses with yellow in the past, this one is fresh. The club brought in NBA star James Harden to model the new away kit, and it rules. The yellow isn’t too bright and the background V pattern keeps it interesting but not eye-popping which can be the trouble with yellow at times.

AS Roma away kit

Speaking of bold, Roma did risk it all this season with their away kit, and we’re glad they did. The Italian club unveiled a white kit with a lightning bolt splashed in the club’s maroon, yellow, and orange colors. It’s an outstanding choice done well, and proves one of this season’s most intriguing looks.

FC Barcelona away kit

While the Spanish giants’ home kit is a checkerboard pattern that doesn’t necessarily jump off the page, the away kit is another successful use of yellow. Like Arsenal’s, the yellow isn’t a staggeringly bright shade, instead allowing the diagonal sash to smartly take center stage. Check out new signing Frenkie de Jong unveiling the kit.

Bayern Munich home & away kits

Bayern Munich produced a fresh double this season, with a new-age home kit that looks fantastic plus a clean white away kit that jumps off the page. The home kit, as you can see on Benjamin Pavard below, is the typical Bayern Munich red with a subtle background that helps the kit pop, while the away kit is plain white that just looks outstanding, with the bottom of the shirt sporting a small dot pattern that gives it some form of uniqueness, as David Alaba shows off.

Celtic home kit

Hoops and collars are both often a feast or famine type of design, and while plenty of hoop kits have failed miserably in the past, Celtic nails both this season. As you can see below, they stopped the hoops above the shoulder, and that helps the green collar jump off the design. Along with the plain white shorts and green socks, this kit is a standout product.

Chelsea home kit

Like Bayern Munich, Chelsea went for the background pattern behind the club’s well-known main color, but the Blues went for a much bolder pattern, choosing to sport a randomized criss-cross that really pops behind the dark blue hue. As you can see youth product Mason Mount show off while announcing his new contract, the various sized lines are interesting but also not distracting.

Inter home kit

I audibly gasped when I saw this kit for the first time. Inter, always a leader in the kit department with the famed Pirelli logo, has produced a fabulous home kit for the upcoming campaign. Unlike last season which was just straight vertical stripes, this year’s kit has the stripes that break behind the sponsor logo and return to normal underneath, and it looks amazing, as does that particular shade of blue.

Marseille home kit

Puma knocked it out of the park for the French side, scaling back the blue to a white kit with blue pinstripes and the blue logo. It’s an outstanding look, as you can see on midfielder Morgan Sanson below. Coincidentally, they have some absolutely fire training gear to go along with it as well.

Nottingham Forest away kit

How about a Championship club to add to the mix? Nottingham Forest released a smart looking away kit that splits the two sides of the shirt into dark blue and black, and it works to perfection. Working with an already clean-looking sponsor logo and the white outline of the club crest without the red, the two-sided look is a great one. A cool touch to include the ladies squad in the kit release as well.

Wolverhampton Wanderers home & away kit

Wolves has quietly been one of the consistently best English kit producers, and they got it right again this year on both counts. The home kit is a simple yellow-orange with a subtle lined pattern in the background that looks great with the three adidas lines under the arm, while the away kit is black with diagonal yellow pinstripes that jump. Well done.

Ajax

As a bonus for making it this far down the list, here’s a bold choice that flat out doesn’t work. Ajax released its new 2019/20 away kit fresh off its run to the Champions League semifinal, and the combination of a weird forest green and an eye-burning traffic cone orange makes for a face-melting combination. Sorry, Daley Blind, but this is a hard pass.

Tottenham signs Mauricio Pochettino’s son to contract extension

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Mauricio Pochettino put his arm around the player as he always does when a Tottenham member signs a new contract. This one was different.

A proud dad smiled for the camera as son Maurizio put pen to paper on a new deal seeing him move up to the U-23 side. The 18-year-old has been with Spurs youth side since following his father from Southampton to the English capital four years ago.

The boy impressed in 21 appearances for the U-18 squad last season, deployed on the wing where he scored four goals and assisted another. He was part of the squad that took on his old club Southampton in the very first event held in the club’s new stadium, essentially a trial run before the true opening match for the senior side.

Unlike his father, who is Argentinian and played for the Argentina national team, Maurizio was born in Barcelona and therefore could choose to represent Spain if he so desires, or his father’s native Argentina – given, of course, he reaches those heights. First, it will be the Checkatrade Trophy he takes part in, with the Spurs U-23 squad set to take on Gillingham, Colchester United, and Ipswich Town in Southern Section Group A.

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2019/20 underway… #COYS

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