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.

Portugal vs Switzerland: How to watch live, stream link, team news

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Portugal and Switzerland meet Tuesday with a 2022 World Cup quarterfinal berth on the line in Lusail.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portuguese have a EURO during his tenure with the team but have never won the World Cup. That, of course, can change this month with Bruno Fernandes now the focal point of the attack.

STREAM LIVE PORTUGAL v SWITZERLAND

Switzerland, meanwhile, will feel it has as good a chance as any to make a run in the tournament having beaten Cameroon and Serbia while staying within a goal of world No. 1 Brazil in a close group stage loss.

Portugal opened the tournament with a slim and thrilling 3-2 win over Ghana, then topping Uruguay 2-0 before further dooming the Uruguayan side by falling 2-1 to South Korea in Al Rayyan

[ LIVE: World Cup 2022 schedule, how to watch, scores, hub ]

Here is everything you need for Portugal vs Switzerland.


How to watch Portugal vs Switzerland live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 2pm ET, Tuesday Dec. 6
Stadium: Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail
TV channels en Español: Telemundo
Streaming en Español: Peacock (all 64 matches)


Key storylines, players to watch closely

Portugal’s complete team is something to behold as Ruben Dias, Ruben Neves, and Bruno Fernandes give the side a robust spine that can be topped just as robustly by Cristiano Ronaldo when the great player is at his best in terms of defying the age 37.

The Swiss have seen Breel Embolo as a threat up top but the backs and midfield have so many tough nuts to crack with Granit Xhaka operating atop Manuel Akanji and Fabian Schar.


Portugal quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 9
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 8
How they qualified: Qualified from UEFA via playoffs
Coach: Fernando Santos
Key players: Cristiano Ronaldo, Ruben Neves, Bruno Fernandes, Joao Cancelo

Switzerland quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 15
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 12
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from UEFA (1st place)
Coach: Murat Yakin
Key players: Granit Xhaka, Xherdan Shaqiri, Yann Sommer, Remo Freuler

Follow @NicholasMendola

Morocco vs Spain: How to watch live, stream link, team news

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Morocco and Spain clash in a mouth-watering last 16 clash as the exciting Moroccan side will fancy their chances of causing an upset.

Remember: there is just 8 miles between Spain and Morocco and there is a lot of shared history and rivalry between these two nations.

STREAM LIVE MOROCCO v SPAIN

After winning Group F and going unbeaten, Morocco have been a pleasant surprise at this tournament. They have a talented core and their relatively new head coach Walid Regragui has done a superb job to knit them together as a unit and they have been so tough to break down.

As for Spain, they started the World Cup in stunning fashion with that 7-0 win against Costa Rica but their performances in a draw against Germany and a defeat against Japan left a lot to be desired. After finishing as runners up in Group E, Luis Enrique will be wary of an upset here as his side will have plenty of the ball but they have to regain their clinical edge.

[ LIVE: World Cup 2022 schedule, how to watch, scores, hub

Here is everything you need for Morocco vs Spain. 


How to watch Morocco vs Spain live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 10am ET – Tuesday, December 6 
Stadium: Education City Stadium, Al Rayyan
TV channels en Español: Telemundo
Streaming en Español: Peacock (all 64 matches)


Key storylines, players to watch closely

Morocco’s stars have shone at this World Cup with Hakim Ziyech so dangerous in attack, plus Achraf Hakimi exceptional at right back, while Sofyan Amrabat has been a rock in central midfield and Romain Saiss has led by example in defense. The main thing to love about this Morocco side is their unity and they are so tough to play against and are very well-organized. But when they get the chance to get on the ball, they are direct and their wide players come to life quickly.

Spain’s talents are well known as Gavi and Pedri run the show in midfield but Enrique needs more from his attackers. Morata has finished off chances well so far but the likes of Dani Olmo, Ferran Torres, Marco Asensio and Ansu Fati need to kick on if Spain are going to make a deep run in this tournament.


Morocco quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 22
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 6
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from CAF
Coach: Vahid Halilhodzic
Key players: Achraf Hakimi, Yassine Bounou, Youssef En-Nesyri, Romain Saiss, Hakim Ziyech
At the 2022 World Cup – Won Group F with 7 points from 9 (+3 GD)

Spain quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 7
World Cup titles: 1 (2010)
World Cup appearances: 16
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from UEFA (1st place)
Coach: Luis Enrique
Key players: Rodri, Pedri, Pau Torres, Jordi Alba
At the 2022 World Cup – Finished second in Group E with 4 points (+6 GD)


Brazil turns on samba style, dances into World Cup quarterfinals

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Five-time world champions Brazil turned in a five-star performance as they dismantled South Korea 4-1 in the round of 16 at the 2022 World Cup on Monday.

WATCH FULL MATCH REPLAY

Up next for Brazil is a quarterfinal clash with Croatia, who survived 120 minutes and penalty kicks to beat Japan earlier on Monday.

The goals came early, they came often, and they came in style.

Vinicius Junior opened the scoring in the 7th, with an exquisite, composed finish through a sea of bodies and Neymar, who returned from the ankle injury he suffered 11 days earlier, made it 2-0 from the penalty spot just six minutes later. That’s when the samba style came out, with the game effectively already in hand and 77 minutes of must-watch television entertainment left to deliver.

Richarlison, who already scored the probable goal of the tournament in Brazil’s opener, perhaps one-upped himself with a sensational piece of flair and skill (and a decent bit of passing from some equally brilliant teammates), making it 3-0 just before the half-hour mark and reminding the rest of the world that Brazil were pre-World Cup favorites for a reason.

Lucas Paqueta got goal no. 4 after another sensational, liquid counter-attack of yellow shirts washing forward in numbers. Vinicius lifted the final ball over a crowd and picked out the West Ham midfielder, who applied the perfect finish with the inside of his right foot.

[ LIVE: World Cup 2022 schedule, how to watch, scores, hub ]

Paik Seung-Ho scored a fantastic consolation goal with 15 minutes left in the second half, but that was the extent of South Korea’s joy, as they come up short of reaching the quarterfinals for the first time since co-hosting the World Cup in 2002, when they went to the semifinals.

Brazil vs South Korea
Photo: FotMob.com

[ MORE: World Cup schedule | World Cup odds ]


How to watch Brazil vs South Korea live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 2pm ET, Monday Dec. 5
Stadium: Stadium 974, Doha
TV channels en Español: Telemundo
Streaming en Español: Peacock (all 64 matches)


Key storylines, players to watch closely

Well, first off: Neymar. One of Brazil’s all-time heroes is missing a World Cup from his resume and rightly or wrongly, that’s a marker as to whether the player will be considered one of the best Brazilians to ever do it. When healthy he’s among the five best attackers in the world. But how healthy is he? And how much can Richarlison, Vinicius Jr. and company take pressure off the oft-fouled Neymar?

South Korea will have hope that Heung-min Son’s slow tournament is on the upswing after the Tottenham star played well late in delivering the win over Portugal to seal a group stage place. Look out for 26-year-old Napoli center back Min-jae Kim, whose name is dancing through the Premier League transfer rumor mill with renewed vigor following strong performances in Qatar.


Brazil quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 1
World Cup titles: 5 (1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002)
World Cup appearances: 22
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from CONMEBOL (1st place)
Coach: Tite
Key players: Neymar, Thiago Silva, Casemiro, Alisson Becker

South Korea quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 28
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 10
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from AFC
Coach: Paulo Bento
Key players: Heung-min Son, Young-gwon Kim, In-beom Hwang, Woo-yeong Jeong

Follow @NicholasMendola

Croatia eliminates Japan in 2022 World Cup’s first penalty shootout

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Croatia is through to the quarterfinals of the 2022 World Cup after defeating Japan in the tournament’s first penalty shootout (1-1 AET, 3-1 PKs) on Monday.

WATCH FULL MATCH REPLAY

After reaching the knockout rounds just once in their first five World Cup cycles as a nation, Croatia is through to the quarterfinals for the second straight tournament. Japan, meanwhile, will look to 2026 to achieve their first-ever knockout-round victory.

Scoring chances were at a premium in the first half, as each side managed just three shots, but the quality of chances was very high, evidenced by the xG numbers (0.74 for Japan and 0.61 for Croatia, again, on just three shots each). All three of Japan’s shots came from within seven yards of goal, as did two of Croatia’s three.

The breakthrough came, as so many goals have done at this World Cup, in the final moments just before the end of the first half. Japan won a free kick down the right side and though Croatia defended the initial ball in well enough, they didn’t manage to clear it and it fell to Maeda seven yards out.

[ LIVE: World Cup 2022 schedule, how to watch, scores, hub ]

Perisic made it 1-1 with a sensational, long-ranger header in the 55th minute. Dejan Lovren played a dipping cross from deep and it found Perisic near the penalty spot, leaving the Tottenham utilityman with so much still to do. The ball bounced once, just in front of the goalkeeper, beating with him both power and precision to the bottom corner.

Dominik Livakovic began the penalty shootout with two straight saves, first denying Takumi Minamino, and then Kaoru Mitoma. 2-0 to Japan after two rounds. Marko Livaja put Croatia’s third attempt off the post, but Livakovic followed that up with save no. 3 against Maya Yoshida. Mario Pasalic converted to make it 3-1 to Croatia after four rounds.

Runners-up in 2018, Croatia into the round of 8 in 2022.

Japan vs Croatia
Photo: FotMob.com

[ MORE: World Cup schedule | World Cup odds ]

Follow @AndyEdMLS


How to watch Japan vs Croatia live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 10am ET – Monday, December 5
Stadium: Al Janoub Stadium, Al Wakrah
TV channels en Español: Telemundo
Streaming en Español: Peacock (all 64 matches)


Key storylines, players to watch closely

Japan’s comeback wins against Germany and Spain have been a joy to watch and anybody who watched them before this tournament will not be that surprised. Moriyasu has created a squad which has a total ‘team first’ mentality and so many players are stepping up to deliver in midfield and attack. From Maya Yoshida captaining the side and dominating at center back to Mitoma, Doan, Endo and Tanaka dazzling in midfield and attack whenever they feature, this is a joy to watch. The energy Japan plays with is dizzying and they will create plenty of chances against Croatia. The big question: can they be more clinical?

As for Croatia, the likes of Dejan Lovren, Luka Modric and Ivan Perisic have been here before. They exude confidence and Josko Gvardiol is a fine young center back and the likes of Mateo Kovacic and Marcelo Brozovic add extra class. This is a side which always seems to overdeliver and they will be thinking another deep run at the World Cup is on the cards. Surely they can’t get to the final again, right?


Japan quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 24
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 7
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from AFC
Coach: Hajime Moriyasu
Key players: Maya Yoshida, Takehiro Tomiyasu, Ritsu Doan
At the 2022 World Cup – Won Group E with 6 points (+1 GD)

Croatia quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 12
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 6
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from UEFA (1st place)
Coach: Zlatko Dalic
Key players: Luka Modric, Andrej Kramaric, Mateo Kovacic
At the 2022 World Cup – Finished second in Group F with 5 points (+3 GD)