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Growth is still the name of the game in MLS

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Major League Soccer embarks this weekend on its 24th season with, appropriately enough, 24 teams.

FC Cincinnati joins the league this season, with Nashville and Miami teed up to start next year and Austin coming aboard in 2021. MLS has added 11 teams in the past decade.

So it’s no wonder Commissioner Don Garber says MLS is still very much “a growth story.”

One more expansion club, to be announced by the end of this year, will bring the league to 28. Sacramento and St. Louis are the front runners.

The league won’t necessarily stop there, Garber told The Associated Press.

“The future plan is something we’re going to be working with our expansion committee on over the next year or so, and try to determine whether or not Major League Soccer is going to grow past 28,” he said. “There’s been no decision whatsoever in that regard and I’m not sure when exactly that ultimate decision will get made.”

Apart from expansion and everything that goes with it, the league also needs to make sure it is properly developing talent, wisely managing rosters and ensuring the right designated players are coming into the league, Garber said.

Cincinnati opens its first MLS season on Saturday night against the Seattle Sounders. Cincinnati did well in the lower-division United Soccer League last season, compiling a 23-8-3 regular-season record. Season ticket sales have so far surpassed 20,000.

The Philadelphia Union host Toronto FC in the league’s opening match of the season on Saturday afternoon.

KEY DEPARTURES: MLS has raised its profile on the international transfer market and in recent months has moved several rising stars to high-profile European teams. Canadian teenager Alphonso Davies left the Whitecaps for Bayern Munich, former Red Bulls midfielder Tyler Adams went to RB Leipzig, Miguel Almiron left MLS Cup champion Atlanta for Newcastle United and Crew goalkeeper Zack Steffen is headed to Manchester City in July.

NEW COACHES: The league welcomes four new coaches this season. Ok, so Caleb Porter isn’t new, he led the Portland Timbers to the MLS Cup in 2015. But he sat out of the league last season after parting ways with the club. He joins the Columbus Crew, the team Portland beat for the league title. Also new is Matias Almeyda, the reigning CONCACAF Coach of the Year who is taking over the San Jose Earthquakes, and Guillermo Barros Schelotto, a former MLS MVP and recently the Boca Juniors manager who is now coach of the LA Galaxy. Frank De Boer, who has stints at Ajax, Crystal Palace and AC Milan under his belt, assumes the reins at Atlanta United following the departure of Tata Martino for the Mexican national team.

SHORTER SEASON: MLS is shortening its season by a month this year, going to single-elimination playoffs and setting the MLS Cup final on Nov. 10 – its earliest finish since 2002. Because the league has expanded to 24 teams, MLS is also expanding the playoffs to include 14 teams, seven from each conference.

The all-knockout postseason replaces the two-leg format for the conference semifinals and finals that the league started using in 2003.

Garber said the new format will reward teams for top regular-season records because they’ll get greater home-field advantage. The shorter season will also ensure down the road that MLS wraps up before the start of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, set to start on Nov. 21.

YOUNG TALENT: Atlanta’s Pity Martinez, the reigning South American Player of the Year, leads the 2019 class of fresh faces. Others to watch include attacking midfielder Marco Fabian, a Mexican national team regular who will play for the Philadelphia Union. Vancouver added an intriguing player in 22-year-old midfielder In-beom Hwang of South Korea. The average age of the newcomers to the league is 25, down two years from four seasons ago.

One not-so-young newbie but nonetheless a player to watch is Nani, the 32-year-old former Manchester United winger who agreed to a three-year contract with Orlando.

QUICK RECAP: Atlanta, in just its second year, won the MLS Cup last year, beating the Timbers 2-0 in front of a crowd of more than 73,000 at Mercedes Benz Stadium. Atlanta’s Joseph Martinez was the league’s Most Valuable Player, while setting the league record for most goals in the regular season with 31.

RANDOM NOTABLES: Colorado Rapids goalkeeper Tim Howard is retiring after this season. The 39-year-old former standout for the U.S. national team has made 257 saves in 75 appearances with the Rapids. He joined Colorado in 2016. San Jose Earthquakes forward Chris Wondolowski is on the verge of matching Landon Donovan’s all-time league scoring record. Donovan had 145 and Wondolowski is sitting at 144.

Sheffield United – Chelsea stream: How to watch, start time, prediction

Sheffield United - Chelsea preview
Photo by John Walton/PA Images via Getty Images
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Sheffield United – Chelsea stream: Frank Lampard’s Chelsea begins life defending third place on the Premier League table when it visits Sheffield United at Bramall Lane on Saturday (Watch Live at 12:30pm ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com).

The Blues’ 60 points are one more than Leicester City and two clear of old rivals Manchester United.

Also of interest to Chelsea and USMNT fans: The Blues have posted a 20-minute video of every Christian Pulisic touch since Project Restart began earlier this Summer.

Sheffield United beat Wolves at midweek to pull within a point of sixth-place. If Blades stumble, there are three teams within a win of pushing them back beneath the Europa League places.

SHEFFIELD UNITED – CHELSEA LIVE


Team news

John Fleck and Luke Freeman are out, while John Lundstram is on the bench for Sheffield United as David McGoldrick comes into the starting lineup.

Billy Gilmour is out for the season with Jorginho coming in to replace him, while Mateo Kovacic is back fit and named on the bench by Frank Lampard. N’Golo Kante remains out and Tammy Abraham replaces Olivier Giroud in the starting lineup.

 

What they’re saying

Blades boss Wilder to our own JPW after a 1-0 win over Wolves: “We like to think we’ve brought something in terms of our attitude and our performances to get the results that we’ve got. We had a stretched squad and really had to dig in to get a result. I don’t think you get the result and the performance tonight if you haven’t got something with the ball and I think we did have something with the ball and out of it everybody did a job and tried to stop a very, very talented side from gaining momentum and dominating us. Second half, especially, we looked and it felt like we were really desperate to go and get a winner. Regardless of how late its come, we’ve been rewarded for that attitude.”

Chelsea’s Frank Lampard on Christian Pulisic earning Eden Hazard comparisons: “Having played with Eden, he had special talent straight away and draws players towards him to open up space to others. Christian is more direct. He has the ability to break a line and run forward which is a great trait in the modern game. Why I shy away from it the other night is because Eden has been here and done it over a period of time to an incredible level. Christian has it in his hands to make a real impact over time. It’s great to see him [doing well] but there’s a lot of development to come. Christian is taking responsibility to change games.”

Odds and ends (Full matchweek odds here)

The Blades are +425 underdogs according to DraftKings, with Chelsea -148.

A two-goal game for Tammy Abraham was only enough for a Chelsea point at Stamford Bridge when the sides met in a 2-2 draw earlier this season.

Prediction

Chelsea’s had one more days’ rest than the Blades and that seems plenty given the congestion this time of year. Give the Blues a 2-1 win.

How to watch Sheffield United – Chelsea

Kickoff: 12:30 pm ET Saturday
TV Channel: NBC
Online: Stream via NBCSports.com

Farke, Tettey speak after Norwich City relegation

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Norwich City’s long road to relegation started to feel inevitable in recent weeks. It was punctuated by a 4-0 loss to Michail Antonio West Ham United on Saturday.

The club’s fifth Premier League tenure will end after just one season after the club’s typical defensive shortcoming were on full display at Carrow Road.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

“We are unbelievably disappointed,” said manager Daniel Farke, via the BBC. “When I came here we needed to develop young players and sell them to keep the club going. We were able to do this. Then the second season no-one expected anything but we were able to stage a miracle that no-one expected. We won the Championship title with a special brand of football. We were not able to add a third miracle in-a-row against all odds.

“I’m really disappointed for this and for all our supporters. We wanted to beat the odds again but when the dust settles the outcome is more or less what was expected. …  That’s what I expected.”

Farke hopes he can stay with the club and bring it back into the Premier League.

“Our situation as a club is quite comfortable because we don’t have any financial pressure at all and our young players are under long-term contracts. We can invest a bit more into the squad. Hopefully in the medium or long-term future we are an established Premier League club and we will need all our key players to do that.”

Norwich veteran Alexander Tettey found it difficult to label his emotions, even if the result was long coming to Carrow Road.

The Norwegian mainstay has been with the Canaries since 2012, enduring promotion and relegation with the club.

“It’s very hard for me to talk,” Tettey said. “That was a tough game for us. We came out trying to be positive but when we don’t do what we have to do on the pitch we are punished. … We’ve been in games sometimes but we don’t have the mentality or character to get those wins. It’s been a tough journey, it’s a young group but they will now have that experience.”

A bitter day at Carrow Road, even if it was long in front of the club.

NBC Sports Premier League schedule

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The new NBC Sports Premier League schedule for the 2019-20 season has been released, with time and dates for the upcoming matchweeks confirmed and here’s how you can watch it all live on TV in the USA.

[ WATCH: Premier League video ] 

With games spread out across multiple days and many in separate time slots, there are lots of changes to your regular schedule as the league returns on June 17 after being suspended on March 13 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Games will be played in empty stadiums and at home venues.

The full TV schedule for the games this month are below, plus you can watch every single second of every single game live online via NBC Sports.com, the NBC Sports App and by purchasing the “Premier League Pass” via NBC Sports Gold and the new Peacock streaming service from NBC.

Below is the new schedule for the Premier League on NBC Sports from June 17 to July 22 , as we will release the dates and times for the final matchweek of the 2019-20 season when they become available and how to watch them in the USA.


Premier League: How to watch, schedule in USA (all times EST)

Matchday 29

Wednesday, June 17: Aston Villa 0-0 Sheffield United
Wednesday, June 17: Man City 3-0 Arsenal

Matchday 30

Friday, June 19: Norwich 0-3 Southampton
Friday, June 19: Tottenham 1-1 Man United
Saturday, June 20: Watford 1-1 Leicester
Saturday, June 20: Brighton 2-1 Arsenal
Saturday, June 20: West Ham 0-2 Wolves
Saturday, June 20: Bournemouth 0-2 Crystal Palace
Sunday, June 21: Newcastle 3-0 Sheffield United
Sunday, June 21: Aston Villa 1-2 Chelsea
Sunday, June 21: Everton 0-0 Liverpool
Monday, June 22: Man City 5-0 Burnley

Matchday 31

Tuesday, June 23: Leicester 0-0 Brighton
Tuesday, June 23: Tottenham 2-0 West Ham
Wednesday, June 24: Man United 3-0 Sheffield United
Wednesday, June 24: Newcastle 1-1 Aston Villa
Wednesday, June 24: Norwich 0-1 Everton
Wednesday, June 24: Wolves 1-0 Bournemouth
Wednesday, June 24: Liverpool 4-0 Palace
Thursday, June 25: Southampton 0-2 Arsenal
Thursday, June 25: Burnley 1-0 Watford
Thursday, June 25: Chelsea 2-1 Man City

Matchday 32

Saturday, June 27: Aston Villa 0-1 Wolves
Sunday, June 28: Watford 1-3 Southampton
Monday, June 29: Crystal Palace 0-1 Burnley
Tuesday, June 30: Brighton 0-3 Man United
Wednesday, July 1: Everton 2-1 Leicester
Wednesday, July 1: Bournemouth 1-4 Newcastle
Wednesday, July 1: Arsenal 4-0 Norwich
Wednesday, July 1: West Ham 3-2 Chelsea
Thursday, July 2: Sheffield United 3-1 Tottenham
Thursday, July 2: Man City 4-0 Liverpool

Matchday 33

Saturday, July 4: Norwich City 0-1 Brighton
Saturday, July 4: Leicester 3-0 Crystal Palace
Saturday, July 4: Man United 5-2 Bournemouth
Saturday, July 4: Wolves 0-2 Arsenal
Saturday, July 4: Chelsea 3-0 Watford
Sunday, July 5: Burnley 1-1 Sheffield United
Sunday, July 5: Newcastle United 2-2 West Ham
Sunday, July 5: Liverpool 2-0 Aston Villa
Sunday, July 5: Southampton 1-0 Man City
Monday, July 6: Tottenham 1-0 Everton

Matchday 34

Tuesday, July 7: Crystal Palace 2-3 Chelsea
Tuesday, July 7: Watford 2-1 Norwich City
Tuesday, July 7: Arsenal 1-1 Leicester City
Wednesday, July 8: Man City 5-0 Newcastle
Wednesday, July 8: Sheffield United 1-0 Wolves
Wednesday, July 8: West Ham 0-1 Burnley
Wednesday, July 8: Brighton 1-3 Liverpool
Thursday, July 9: Bournemouth 0-0 Tottenham
Thursday, July 9: Everton 1-1 Southampton
Thursday, July 9: Aston Villa 0-3 Manchester United

Matchday 35

Saturday, July 11: Norwich City v. West Ham, 7:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN
Saturday, July 11: Watford v. Newcastle United, 7:30 a.m. ET, Gold/Peacock
Saturday, July 11: Liverpool v. Burnley, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN
Saturday, July 11: Sheffield United v. Chelsea, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBC
Saturday, July 11: Brighton v. Manchester City, 3 p.m. ET, NBCSN
Sunday, July 12: Wolves v. Everton, 7 a.m. ET, NBCSN
Sunday, July 12: Aston Villa v. Crystal Palace, 9:15 a.m. ET, NBCSN
Sunday, July 12: Tottenham v. Arsenal, 11:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN
Sunday, July 12: Bournemouth v. Leicester City, 2 p.m. ET, NBCSN
Monday, July 13: Man United v. Southampton, 3 p.m. ET, NBCSN

Matchday 36

Tuesday, July 14: Chelsea v. Norwich, 3:15 p.m. ET
Wednesday, July 15: Burnley v. Wolves, 1 p.m. ET
Wednesday, July 15: Man City v. Bournemouth, 1 p.m. ET
Wednesday, July 15: Newcastle v. Tottenham, 1 p.m. ET
Wednesday, July 15: Arsenal v. Liverpool, 3:15 p.m. ET
Thursday, July 16: Everton v. Aston Villa, 1 p.m. ET
Thursday, July 16: Leicester v Sheffield United, 1 p.m. ET
Thursday, July 16: Crystal Palace v. Man United, 3:15 p.m. ET
Thursday, July 16: Southampton v. Brighton, 3:15 p.m. ET
Friday, July 17: West Ham v. Watford, 3 p.m. ET

Matchday 37

Saturday, July 18: Norwich City v. Burnley, 12:30 p.m. ET
Sunday, July 19: Bournemouth v. Southampton, 9 a.m. ET
Sunday, July 19: Tottenham v. Leicester, 11 a.m. ET
Monday, July 20: Brighton v. Newcastle, 1 p.m. ET
Monday, July 20: Sheffield United v. Everton, 1 p.m. ET
Monday, July 20: Wolves v. Crystal Palace, 3:15 p.m. ET
Tuesday, July 21: Watford v. Man City, 1 p.m. ET
Tuesday, July 21: Aston Villa v. Arsenal, 3:15 p.m. ET
Wednesday, July 22: Man United v. West Ham, 1 p.m. ET
Wednesday, July 22: Liverpool v. Chelsea, 3:15 p.m. ET

Pair of Deeney penalties lead Watford comeback win

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Troy Deeney converted two penalties as Watford surged closer to Premier League safety with a 2-1 comeback win over Newcastle United at Vicarage Road.

Down 1-0 on a Dwight Gayle goal, the Hornets scored twice in the second half to move six points clear of 18th-place Bournemouth.

STREAM WATFORD – NEWCASTLE LIVE

Newcastle remains 13th with 44 points.


Three things we learned

1. (Of course) Deeney delivers: Watford captain Deeney has had a remarkable run at Vicarage Road and this season had plenty of storylines. But it was Deeney who had to go to the penalty spot twice to (possibly) seal his beloved club’s status in the Premier League. The two goals will feel good but not as good as another season in the top flight.

2. Magpies architect of own demise: The Magpies looked very good in the first half but their defending in the second half was abject, right down to two silly penalties. Matt Ritchie put himself in a bad spot to allow Kiko Femenia to win an early second half penalty and Javi Manquillo’s takedown of Ismaila Sarr 30 minutes later was laughable. The Magpies didn’t deserve the points based on the second half chances conceded anyway.

3. Newcastle worn out: Steve Bruce rested Miguel Almiron last match and Allan Saint-Maximin is probably looking upon that with greedy eyes. Newcastle’s best players have had to go and go again, and they just look a bit off it. A visit from Spurs on Wednesday is next.

Man of the Match

There were a few candidates for the Hornets, but we’ll go with the “Deeney of the defense” in Craig Dawson. He broke up a number of Newcastle opportunities.


Watford – Newcastle recap

Miguel Almiron came close to getting a leg on Allan Saint-Maximin’s fourth-minute cross.

A corner led to another Almiron shot, this one stopped well by Ben Foster.

Watford nearly had it 1-0 in the 17th. when Danny Welbeck’s shot was pushed off the near post by Martin Dubravka and saved off the line by Jamaal Lascelles.

Newcastle kept knocking, though, and took the lead through in-form Gayle, who showed up at the back post to poke in Federico Fernandez’s redirected corner kick.

Foster denied a breaking Saint-Maximin in the 35th minute as the Magpies looked good money for another goal.

That’s not to say Watford didn’t manufacture some chances, including a few quality set piece chances in the final few minutes of the first half.

The Magpies cleared an unholy goal mouth scramble off a 42nd-minute set piece and Almiron broke up the pressure with a long dribble into the Watford half.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Kiko Femenia hit the deck under Matt Ritchie’s challenge to win a 52nd-minute penalty, Deeney dispatching it past Dubravka to make it 1-1. His seventh goal is also his 130th in a Watford shirt.

Fernandez nearly gave the game to Watford with a miserable pass, but Dubravka stopped Deeney’s wasted direct shot.

Saint-Maximin forced an own goal out of Watford but the linesman’s flag was raised in the 67th.

The Magpies conceded the inevitable second goal when Manquillo wrapped up Sarr with a dozen minutes to play.