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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.

Fernandes scores first goal, says Ronaldo backed Manchester United move

Bruno Fernandes Ronaldo
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It’s probably not a surprise that a young Portuguese player would fancy Manchester United given the heroics of Cristiano Ronaldo at Old Trafford early his career.

Bruno Fernandes admits that those images danced through his head well before he signed with the Red Devils in January.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

It’s also not a shock that United would turn to their former player for a take on the playmaker before buying him from Sporting Lisbon.

Fernandes says he’s grateful that CR7 endorsed BF18. From Sky Sports:

“I know some people asked Cristiano what he thought of me and what I was like as a player and a person,” Fernandes said. “I know he spoke highly of me and gave me a good reference, so I sent him a message after to thank him for his kind words.”

Fernandes has 19 caps and two goals for Portugal, while Ronaldo has a few more with 164 and 99.

He now has a goal and an assist in four appearances for United. Ronaldo finished with 118 goals and 69 assists in 292 appearances for the Red Devils.

Here’s the finish:

Eden Hazard suffers fracture ahead of Man City in UCL, El Clasico

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Eden Hazard is set to miss the Real Madrid’s UEFA Champions League first leg against Man City with a broken fibula.

Hazard had only returned to the lineup for two matches following a three-month absence with an ankle injury.

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The 29-year-old has made just 15 appearances for Real since arriving in a big-money move from Chelsea, scoring once with five assists.

He has never appeared in less than 30 league matches over the course of his career, five times missing one or zero matches.

Of course, all of his absences show that Real is very comfortable playing and winning without Hazard. Zinedine Zidane’s men lost Sunday to drop behind Barcelona in La Liga, but that was just its second loss of the league season.

Real will be taxed in depth like its rivals, with Wednesday’s visit from Man City followed by an El Clasico at the Bernabeu on March 1. Barcelona hosts Napoli on Tuesday.

Whether you like the playmaker or despise him, there must be some sense of sympathy for his latest ailments (even if Man City and Barca fans will likely offer a Jerry Seinfeld-esque, “That’s a shame”).

Watch Live: Manchester United, Wolves host bottom three battlers

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A pair of Premier League basement dwellers face stiff tests in their bids to win another season in the top flight.

Manchester United hosts Watford on NBCSN while Wolves welcome Norwich City on CNBC as both home sides aim to improve the health of their top four hopes in 9 a.m. ET kickoffs.

[ WATCH: Man Utd-Watford | Wolves-Norwich ]

Lineups notes from both matches:

LINEUPS

Manchester United

Watford


Wolves

Norwich City

Three Serie A matches suspended due to virus deaths in Italy

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ROME (AP) Three Serie A soccer matches scheduled for Sunday in the northern regions of Lombardy and Veneto were suspended late Saturday after the deaths of two people infected with the virus from China.

On orders from the Italian government, the games called off were: Inter Milan vs. Sampdoria, Atalanta vs. Sassuolo and Hellas Verona vs. Cagliari.

Three other matches in Genoa, Turin and Rome on Sunday are going ahead as scheduled.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

A dozen towns in northern Italy effectively went into lockdown on Saturday after the deaths of two people infected with the coronavirus from China, and a growing cluster of cases with no direct links to the origin of the outbreak abroad.

“The government is working on urgent measures to decisively confront and contain the cases of coronavirus contagion,” read a letter from Sports Minister Vincenzo Spadafora to Italian Olympic Committee president Giovanni Malago shortly before midnight local time on Saturday. “Those measures also include the sports world in order to prevent risks and to better take care of the health of those involved in the events and competition.

“Following measures taken by the cabinet for protective reasons and maximum precaution, on orders of the government I’m asking you to suspend all sports events of every level and discipline planned for the Lombardy and Veneto regions on Sunday.”

The secondary contagions prompted local authorities in the Lombardy and Veneto regions to close schools, businesses and restaurants and to cancel sporting events and Masses.

The mayor of Milan, Italy’s business capital and the regional capital of Lombardy, shuttered public offices.

A 78-year-old man infected with the virus died in Veneto. A postmortem on a 77-year-old woman in Lombardy came back positive, though it wasn’t clear if illness from the virus caused her death.

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

Andrew Dampf on Twitter: https://twitter.com/AndrewDampf