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UEFA to boost Women’s Champions League with new group stage

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NYON, Switzerland (AP) In a move to raise the quality, profile and value of women’s soccer, UEFA is changing the Champions League format to include a group stage.

The 2021-22 edition will have a 16-team group stage with increased revenue from the sale of centralized broadcast and sponsor deals, the European soccer body’s executive committee decided Wednesday.

Top European leagues will likely have more entries – three instead of two – joining at an earlier stage, with at least 10 different countries to be represented in the groups.

“We expect the Women’s Champions League to take off more than it has today,” UEFA deputy general secretary Giorgio Marchetti said. “Certainly there is also more interest from the market.”

Currently, the Women’s Champions League is a 32-team knockout tournament with few games shown by national broadcasters. French club Lyon has won the past four titles.

This season’s winner will earn 460,000 euros ($510,000) in prize money – about 0.5% of what the men’s Champions League winner will get.

UEFA also confirmed its preferred qualifying path for Europe’s quota of 13 places at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, which FIFA must approve. The winners of 10 qualifying groups will advance directly to the final tournament. Three will advance through playoffs.

The playoffs in March 2022 will include the 10 group runners-up and the two best remaining teams from the next Nations League standings. The 12 playoff nations will be drawn into three four-team knockout brackets playing single-game semifinals and a final.

The 2020 Nations League groups will be drawn on March 3, on the sidelines of UEFA’s annual congress in Amsterdam.

Amid uncertainty across Europe about how video review, and the interpretation of offside and handball, are affecting referees’ decisions, UEFA will ask soccer’s law-making panel for clearer guidance.

The video assistant system, introduced by FIFA for the 2018 World Cup, will stay, UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin said, but “it is far from clear.”

“We have to make it (the technology) clearer. We have to make it faster. We have to make it less invasive,” he said.

UEFA plans to make a detailed proposal to the rule-making panel, known as IFAB, before its annual meeting on Feb. 29 in Northern Ireland.

Ceferin said the tight offside lines drawn by video officials were not giving the same clear, accurate decisions as goal-line technology succeeded in doing.

“Goal-line technology, it works perfectly but offside cannot work that way,” Ceferin said. “I still think that football needs uncertainty. The referees on the pitch have to take responsibility and not some people hidden somewhere in a van or in a building 500 kilometers from the venue.”

Ceferin declined comment when asked if Russia’s hosting of the 2021 Champions League final in St. Petersburg could be threatened by an expected decision next Monday by the World Anti-Doping Agency.

WADA’s executive committee has been advised by an expert panel to recommend banning Russia from hosting major sports events for four years as punishment for state authorities corrupting data and documents from the long-disgraced Moscow testing laboratory.

UEFA is not a formal signatory of the World Anti-Doping Code – FIFA is – and is technically not bound by any WADA decision.

“As a lawyer and the UEFA president,” Ceferin said, “I cannot comment on something that hasn’t been decided.”

Michael Bradley re-signs with Toronto FC

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Toronto FC captain Michael Bradley has re-signed with the Major League Soccer franchise.

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Bradley, 32, saw his previous contract run out at the end of the 2019 season but he has now agreed a new deal with the Canadian side and Toronto have squeezed him into their salary cap by using Targeted Allocation Money (TAM).

During his six season stint so far in Toronto, Bradley has led the team to three MLS Cup finals as TFC stunned MLS with a run to the final against Seattle in 2019. They lost on that occasion but beat Seattle in 2017 and Bradley’s displays, along with that of Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore and now Alejandro Pozuelo have seen Toronto become one of the most consistent teams in MLS.

Explaining his reasons for signing a new deal in Toronto, Bradley revealed that he wants to take them onto bigger and better things.

“I feel so attached to the city of Toronto, the club, the team. I love it here and I am really proud of what we’ve been able to do over the past six years,” Bradley said. “Beyond the success, I am equally as proud of the mentality and identity this club has taken on. The relationship between the club and the city, the club and the fans are both very special and I’m proud to have played a part in that. What we have in Toronto doesn’t exist everywhere. My family and I are so happy to remain in Toronto and we’d like to thank everyone at Toronto FC for ensuring that this process was done quietly and professionally behind the scenes. I’m looking forward to continuing to play in the biggest games and competing for trophies every year.”

Bradley still has plenty left in the tank, as last season showed, and despite rumors that he would link up with his father, Bob Bradley, at LAFC, he is staying in Ontario.

That’s great news for Toronto FC as despite plenty of criticism from USMNT fans over recent years, Bradley has continued to deliver consistency and leadership at BMO Field.

Premier League player Power Rankings

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Our latest Premier League player Power Rankings have landed.

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Matchweek 16 followed a similar pattern to recent weeks as players from Liverpool, Leicester City, Spurs and Man United dominated our top 20 with so many games played over the last seven days.

Remember: this is a list of the top 20 performing players right now in the Premier League. If they didn’t play in the last matchweek, they aren’t getting in this list!

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]  

Let us know in the comments section below if you agree with the selections.

1.  Jamie Vardy (Leicester) – Even
2. Heung-Min Son (Tottenham) – Up 7
3. Marcus Rashford (Man United) – New entry
4. Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) – New entry
5. Harry Kane (Tottenham) – Up 6
6. Jonjo Shelvey (Newcastle) – New entry
7. Jonny Evans (Leicester) – New entry
8. Sadio Mane (Liverpool) – Down 4
9. Dominic Calvert-Lewin (Everton) – New entry
10. Danny Ings (Southampton) – New entry
11. Aaron Wan-Bissaka (Man United) – New entry
12. Virgil Van Dijk (Liverpool) – Down 2
13. Caglar Soyuncu (Leicester) – Even
14. Dele Alli (Tottenham) – Down 11
15. Kevin De Bruyne (Man City) – Down 10
16. Raul Jimenez (Wolves) – Down 3
17. Christian Pulisic (Chelsea) – Down 1
18. Anthony Martial (Man United) – New entry
19. Diogo Jota (Wolves) – New entry
20. Nicolas Pepe (Arsenal) – New entry

Christian Pulisic named USMNT Player of the Year

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Who else could it be? Christian Pulisic has been named the USMNT player of the year for 2019.

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The Chelsea star, 21, excelled for club and country over the past 12 months and after taking a few months to settle into life in England, he’s now taking the Premier League by storm on a weekly basis.

Pulisic has now won this award for a second time after first winning it in 2017 and he becomes the youngest player in U.S. men’s national team history to win the award twice.

His achievements over the last 12 months are numerous, as he dragged a struggling USMNT to the 2019 Gold Cup final and also became the youngest player to reach double figures in goals for the USMNT.

MLS veteran Sacha Kljestan signs with hometown LA Galaxy

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Carson, Calif. (AP) Veteran midfielder Sacha Kljestan has signed with the LA Galaxy as a free agent.

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The 34-year-old U.S. national team contributor officially returned to his native Southern California on Wednesday.

Kljestan has scored 49 goals over 10 MLS seasons in a career that began as the fifth overall pick by defunct Chivas USA, the Galaxy’s former stadium partners. After a successful five-year stint with Belgium’s Anderlecht, he spent the past five seasons with New York Red Bulls and Orlando City.

The Huntington Beach native also has made 51 appearances for the U.S. team, playing in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Kljestan will provide veteran leadership for a Galaxy roster in transition after the departures of its top two goal-scorers: Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Uriel Antuna.

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