UEFA has ‘grave concerns’ over FIFA plan to hold World Cup every two years

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UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin has “grave concerns” about FIFA’s plans to stage World Cups every two years and is astonished by the lack of consultation by Gianni Infantino’s governing body, according to correspondence obtained by The Associated Press on Friday.

[ MORE: USMNT World Cup qualifying schedule ]

Responding to a letter from Football Supporters Europe executive director Ronan Evain, Ceferin backed the group’s “extremely valid and important” concerns about the potential damage caused to domestic and regional competitions from doubling the frequency of World Cups.

The push by Infantino to transform the international calendar so every year would feature a men’s or women’s World Cup is opening up a new rift with UEFA at a time when the financial impact of the pandemic is being felt across global football.

“UEFA and its national associations also have serious reservations and grave concerns surrounding reports of FIFA’s plans,” Ceferin wrote to Evain in the letter seen by the AP.

The plans first surfaced in May when Saudi Arabia’s national federation nominally proposed at the congress in May for FIFA to explore biennial men’s and women’s World Cups – despite not having a women’s team to compete in international events. The Saudis have emerged as one of the closest allies of Infantino, who has made at least two visits this year to see Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

While FIFA says it is in a consultation phase still, Infantino has been deploying Arsene Wenger to push the case. The former Arsenal manager is now chief of global football development at FIFA, advancing views at odds with those from his previous career.

While Arsenal manager, Wenger complained about the African Cup of Nations being held every two years – especially as it disrupted the European season.

[ MORE: Three things we learned from El Salvador 0-0 USMNT | Player ratings ]

“For years now, we have asked them to organize this cup at least every four years and during the summer,” Wenger said in 2005. “But it’s still every two years and during the winter. I don’t know why.”

In 2012, Wenger reiterated: “I would rather plan without an African Nations Cup every two years.”

The AP sought renewed comment from FIFA over the last two weeks to discuss plans for World Cups every two years, but an official was not made available for comment.

FIFA did provide a statement late Friday.

“There are no predetermined objectives, and FIFA has an open mind in search of better solutions for the common good of the game,” the governing body said.

The objectives for biennial World Cups were set out by Wenger in an interview with French newspaper L’Equipe on Friday, although FIFA said his work was still a “consultation process.”

While Wenger has been making the case in the media, Ceferin claims not to have had the same presentations from FIFA.

“Considering the major impact this reform may have on the whole organisation of football,” Ceferin wrote, “there is widespread astonishment that FIFA appears to be launching a PR campaign to push its proposal whilst any such proposals haven’t been presented to confederations, national associations, leagues, clubs, players, coaches, clubs and all the football community.

“As one concrete example amongst so many, it is imperative to highlight the concerns shared across the footballing world regarding the impact a biennial FIFA World Cup would have on the international match calendar and, prominently in this context, on women’s football.”

Major women’s tournaments, such as the World Cup and continental events like the European Championship, are currently held in odd-numbered years. The men’s World Cup and Euros are held in even-numbered years. FIFA’s new vision for football would mean every year would feature a men’s tournament, which would deny the clear summer focus to promote the growth of the women’s game. A World Cup would also clash with the Olympics, unlike now.

[ MORE: USMNT reaction: Gregg Berhalter, Tyler Adams react to WCQ opener ]

“If realized, the new schedule will have an adverse impact on the balance between local, domestic, continental, and international competitions,” Evain wrote earlier to Ceferin in another letter seen by the AP. “This will likely undermine tournaments such as the Asian Cup, Africa Cup of Nations, Copa America, European Football Championship, Gold Cup, and Nations Cup, which hold just as much importance to matchgoing fans as the World Cup itself.”

Evain said he was working with fan groups from the other five soccer confederations to contest the FIFA proposals.

“Most fans look forward to the World Cup precisely because it is a unique event that only occurs every four years,” Evain wrote. “As we pointed out with regards to the restructuring of UEFA club competitions, they do not have an unlimited amount of time, money, or enthusiasm to expend on flights, accommodation, and tickets – or TV subscriptions.

“There is no doubt that football is in desperate need of reform-across the UEFA region and beyond. As things stand, the game is unequal, expensive to watch, and for the millions who do not have access to adequate grassroots facilities, difficult to play. But doubling the number of World Cups will not solve any of these problems. In fact, it will inevitably make them worse.”

Ceferin assured Evain that UEFA would “closely scrutinize and hold to full account” FIFA.

“Your letter and the concerns it raises on behalf of supporters across Europe regarding FIFA’s potential plans to hold the FIFA World Cup every two years, are extremely valid and important,” Ceferin wrote.

“Allow me to assure you that UEFA stands with you and the fans on this important issue,” Ceferin added. “We must work together to defend the interests of the game and reinforce the position of fans as key stakeholders.”

VIDEO: USMNT’s Aaronson scores late Salzburg winner in UCL qualifier

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Brenden Aaronson played the part of hero on Tuesday, as the 20-year-old USMNT midfielder scored the game-winning goal for Red Bull Salzburg in their UEFA Champions League playoff round qualifier.

[ MORE: Ronaldo denies transfer rumors; calls reports “disrespectful,” “just talk” ]

Aaronson’s name is one (of many) that USMNT fans are likely to become quite familiar with over the next 15 months leading up to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. He’s only been at Salzburg since January, but Aaronson has quickly established himself as a full-time regular for the Austrian giants and he moves closer to his next step up the European ladder with each standout performance and shining moment.

Salzburg fell behind to Danish side Brondby after four minutes on Tuesday, but Karim Adeyemi, another of the club’s sterling prospects, made it 1-1 just before the hour mark. Aaronson entered the game as a halftime substitute before going on to score the winner in the 90th minute.

Now, 90 minutes is all that stands between Aaronson and his first taste of UEFA Champions League competition. After arriving from the Philadelphia Union last winter, Aaronson played 121 of 180 minutes in Salzburg’s round-of-32 defeat to eventual winners Villarreal.

UEFA Champions League results

Red Bull Salzburg 2-1 Brondby
Monaco 0-1 Shakhtar Donetsk
FC Sheriff 3-0 Dinamo Zagreb

UEFA Champions League schedule (Wednesday)

Benfica v PSV Eindhoven
Malmo FF v Ludogorets Razgrad
Young Boys v Ferencvaros

USWNT stars Heath, Press leave Manchester United

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USWNT stars Tobin Heath and Christen Press have departed Manchester United after spending the 2020-21 season with the Women’s Super League (WSL) side on one-year contracts, the club confirmed on Thursday.

[ MORE: USWNT roster confirmed for Tokyo Olympics ]

Heath and Press each signed with Manchester United last fall during the COVID-19 pandemic after electing not to participate in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) Challenge Cup when the league returned from a three-month shutdown. The USWNT stars each scored four goals for Manchester United — Press in 17 appearances and Heath in 11.

Manchester United finished 4th in the WSL this season, but the Red Devils mounted a bit of a title challenge for close to three-quarters of the season before eventually falling away down the stretch.

[ MORE: USMNT’s World Cup qualifying schedule revealed ]

Expansion side Racing Louisville hold the NWSL rights to Heath and Press after selecting the USWNT duo in the expansion draft last winter.

Both Heath and Press were named in Vlatko Andonovski’s 18-woman squad for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics, where the USWNT is once again expected to take home the gold. It is most likely that they will decide and/or announce the next step of their respective careers following the Olympics.

Follow @AndyEdMLS

Top 25 players in the USMNT pool right now: Pulisic still No. 1, then who?

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The United States men’s national team pool both showcased its star quality and the limits of its depth over the past two weeks.

Both the USMNT and the U.S. U-23 team told both stories in different ways.

While Jackson Yueill showed that MLS can produce and develop leadership, grit, and skill, the U-23s were largely poor over 360 minutes that saw them second-best to Costa Rica, Mexico, and Honduras while even with the Dominican Republic until late.

[ MORE: USMNT’s Dike linked with Everton ]

Gregg Berhalter’s senior team might’ve been playing a Jamaica team that didn’t know itself well and a Northern Ireland that was far and away its B-team, but Christian Pulisic and Sergino Dest shone brightly while the midfield’s missing key components in Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie saw the unit operate a step below its preferred standards.

But in ranking the top 25 players in the pool, you realize just how good the Starting XI could be by World Cup qualifying and — yes, we dream — winter 2022 in Qatar.

Imagine Berhalter means it with a back three. He could start Zack Steffen behind John Brooks, Chris Richards, and Walker Zimmerman with Sergino Dest and Antonee Robinson at wingbacks whether it’s a 5-2-2-1 against a powerhouse or a 3-4-3 against a lesser size. Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie  could run the heart of the pitch with Yunus Musah, Giovanni Reyna, and Christian Pulisic in attack.

And imagine if a center forward develops!

Or just use this guy, apparently:

So, no, the Olympic failure isn’t the end of the world even if it’s a big stepback for the young kids developing and the marketing of their brands this summer. A team with Pulisic, McKennie, and Dest could make a serious run. Instead, Mexico and Honduras will get that valuable experience.

But the senior team could still be deadly with the potential to win the Nations League and the Gold Cup, all before World Cup qualifying begins this fall.

Anyway, on to the rankings.

Before we go any further, here’s a reminder of how we sort the talent with some ground rules:

  • The ranking is meant to illustrate who would be most likely to positively affect a USMNT match, regardless of manager or teammates, right now.
  • Health doesn’t matter to our rankings if a current injury isn’t one that could drastically alter the player’s skill set moving forward.
  • Age/potential/experience doesn’t matter either, at least not much; It’s how likely you are to contribute to the team if put on the field right now. Obviously Konrad de la Fuente is a better long-term prospect than Gyasi Zardes, but the Columbus Crew forward is currently better prepared for the stage than the Barcelona youth.
  • Finally, if you’re breaking a tie between players… ask which you’d be more upset to hear was unavailable for a USMNT camp.

Top 25 USMNT players – March 2021 – post-U23 Olympic qualifying, and USMNT’s Jamaica and Northern Ireland friendlies (previous ranking)

1. Christian Pulisic, Chelsea (1) — His show-stealing performance versus Northern Ireland reminded everyone what it’s like to see him as a focal point.
2. Weston McKennie, Juventus (2) — We wait for Switzerland in May (at least) before we see the McKennie-Adams-Musah midfield
3. Tyler Adams, RB Leipzig (3)
4. Sergino Dest, Barcelona (5) — A back three with Dest and Robinson as wingbacks gives the USMNT a whole new level.
5. John Brooks, Wolfsburg (4) — Still waiting on his partner. Chris Richards?
6. Giovanni Reyna, Borussia Dortmund (6) — The way he finds the ball in advanced spaces is wonderful.
7. Yunus Musah, Valencia (9)
8. Josh Sargent, Werder Bremen (8)
9. Zack Steffen, Manchester City (12) — Sharpness hasn’t left him despite playing seldom behind Ederson
10. Walker Zimmerman, Nashville SC (11) — Best MLS player in the pool, at least while Jordan Morris recovers from injury, was missed in the backline.
11. Timothy Weah, Lille (13)
12. Antonee Robinson, Fullham (16) — See Dest at No. 4.
13. Chris Richards, Hoffenheim on loan from Bayern Munich (23) — Looks good in a back three for club. Will still be just 22 when World Cup begins in 2022.
14. Reggie Cannon, Boavista (7)
15. Sebastian Lletget, LA Galaxy (18) — He just delivers for the NT, yes even taking into account the competition.
16. Jackson Yueill, San Jose Earthquakes (NR) — One of the few stars from the Olympic qualifying run.
17. Matt Miazga, Anderlecht on loan from Chelsea (17) — Playing a lot under Vincent Kompany
18. Julian Green, Greuther Furth (20) — Destined to be one of the great unanswered questions of this era.
19. Brenden Aaronson, Red Bull Salzburg (NR)
20. Daryl Dike, Barnsley on loan from Orlando City (NR)
21. Gyasi Zardes, Columbus Crew (15) — Suddenly seeing a lot of competition at CF.
22. Nicholas Gioacchini, Caen (14)
23. Aaron Long, New York Red Bulls (22) — Can his passing stand up at the next level?
24. Bryan Reynolds, AS Roma (NR) — Serie A and USMNT debut in same month? Not too shabby.
25. Hassani Dotson, Minnesota United (NR)

Last five out: Sam Vines (Colorado Rapids), Jordan Siebatcheu (BSC Young Boys), Mark McKenzie (Genk), Djordje Mihailovic (Chicago Fire), Luca de la Torre (Heracles)

Dropped out from last ranking: Tim Ream (Fulham), Sebastian Soto (Norwich City), Ulysses Llanez (Heerenveen), Richy Ledezma (PSV Eindhoven), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders)

Follow @NicholasMendola

Premier League announce dates for 2021-22 season

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The Premier League has announced the start and end dates for the 2021-22 season, as plans are being put in place for the next campaign.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]  

In line with UK government guidelines around COVID-19 restrictions, up to 10,000 fans will be allowed to attend the final two matchweeks of the 2020-21 Premier League season and all restrictions on fans will be lifted after June 21.

So, if things go as planned, fans will be back in full stadiums in the Premier League for the start of the 2021-22 season in August 2021.

A statement from the league was released on Thursday which confirmed the dates for when the 2021-22 campaign will begin and end.

Shareholders (representatives from all 20 clubs) usually meet with Premier League leaders, including chief executive Richard Masters, during each international break to discuss key topics and setting the schedule for next season is

Dates for 2020-21 Premier League season confirmed

“The 2021/22 Premier League season will start on 14 August 2021. The final match round of the campaign will take place on 22 May 2022, when all matches will kick off simultaneously.”

August 14 is a Saturday, and this date is five days later than when then 2019-20 season kicked off on August 9. That is due to a busy summer of tournaments in the international game with the European Championships, Gold Cup and Copa America all taking place.

Plus, there is also the Olympics which could see some Premier League clubs lose players for most of preseason and the first week or two of the 2021-22 season.

There is also a slight change to the final day format in 2021-22, as all 10 games will kick off at the same time on Saturday, May 22. In recent years the season has ended on a Sunday, but that is no longer the case.

One other thing to keep in mind, there is no World Cup in the summer of 2022 but it is instead in the winter months in Qatar from November 21 to December 18.

That will take a little adjusting with the schedule, but it is anticipated that clubs will start the 2022-23 league season slightly earlier than usual, then have a break for a few weeks in November before starting the second half of the season from late December.

There is still lots of scheduling to sort out, but we have a start and an end date for next season.