Associated Press

Photo by Jim Bennett/Getty Images

MLS teams no longer will play every opponent each season

Leave a comment

NEW YORK (AP) Major League Soccer is breaking away from soccer’s tradition of having each team play every opponent in its league.

MLS is expanding to 26 teams in 2020 with the additions of Miami and Nashville but will keep a 34-game regular-season schedule. A team will play each of its 12 conference opponents home and away, and will face only 10 of the 13 teams in the other conference.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Nashville opens Feb. 29 at home against Atlanta and David Beckham’s Inter Miami starts March 1 at Los Angeles, the league said Thursday in announcing all home openers. Defending champion Seattle opens March 1 against Chicago.

Other Feb. 29 openers are Colorado at D.C., New England at Montreal, LA Galaxy at Houston, Toronto at San Jose, Philadelphia at Dallas, Salt Lake at Orlando and Kansas City at Vancouver. Games the following day include New York City at Columbus, Cincinnati at New York Red Bulls and Minnesota at Portland.

Home openers on March 7 are Chicago at New England, Red Bulls at Salt Lake, NYC at Toronto, Cincinnati at Atlanta, Houston at Kansas City, Orlando at Colorado and Vancouver at LA Galaxy. Four more home openers are set for March 14: Dallas at NYC, LA Galaxy at Miami, D.C. at Cincinnati and San Jose at Philadelphia.

The final home openers are Red Bulls at Minnesota on March 15 and Atlanta at Chicago on March 21 as the Fire return downtown to Soldier Field, their home from 1997-2005. The played in suburban Bridgeview from 2006 through last season.

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

Dest: Best decision was stay with US and not switch to Dutch

Photo by Rico Brouwer/Soccrates/Getty Images
1 Comment

DAVENPORT, Fla. (AP) Sergino Dest’s decision to stay with the U.S. national team rather than switch to the Netherlands got a mixed reaction from his Ajax teammates.

“Some of them, they didn’t like it,” Dest said. “Some of them, they said just: `Congratulations: You followed your heart. So that’s always good.”

An 18-year-old outside back who has become an Ajax regular this season, Dest made his U.S. national team debut in September and played exhibitions against Mexico and Uruguay. He skipped last month’s CONCACAF Nations League matches against Cuba and Canada in order to keep his options open, then announced Oct. 28 he was committing to the U.S. program long-term.

“It’s a hard decision, of course, because you are for both of them,” Dest said Wednesday, two days before he likely will make his senior national team competitive debut. “I just made my own decision. It’s my life. If it’s not working out well. I’m the one who is dealing with the trouble.”

Dest has a Surinamese-American father and Dutch mother. He came up through the U.S. youth national team programs, playing for the Americans at the 2017 Under-17 World Cup and the 2019 Under-20 World Cup.

The Dutch national team, winner of the 1988 European Championship and a three-time World Cup finalist, tried to persuade Dest to ask FIFA for a switch of affiliation. Dest’s American youth team background was stressed by U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter and U.S. Soccer Federation sporting director Earnie Stewart when they had lunch with Dest and his father, Ken, on Oct. 24, the day after Dest and Ajax played Chelsea and American star Christian Pulisic in the Champions League.

Dest announced his decision on Oct. 28 and will be cap-tied once he appears in a competitive match.

“He is part of our future and we’re going to make sure that he develops himself to a player that will perform in ’22 and ’26,” Stewart said Tuesday. “What happened in his youth national team career helped the conversations with Sergimo, with his father, with his management in securing him for our U.S. national team, which is great for the program.”

Dest’s decision came 21 months after Monterrey midfielder Jonathan Gonzalez, now 20, switched to Mexico after coming up through the American youth national team program.

LA Galaxy midfielder Efrai­n Ãlvarez, also eligible for the U.S. and Mexico, has made four starts and once substitute appearance for El Tri as it advanced to a Thursday semifinal against the Dutch at the Under-17 World Cup.

Dest said his time with the U.S. program “might be the biggest influence” in his choice.

“I think I made the right decision,” Dest added. “Now I have to make sure that I made a good one and show what I’ve got.”

Stewart, now 50, grew up in the Netherlands with a Dutch mother and a father who was in the U.S. Air Force. He, too, played for a Dutch club and joined the U.S. national team, and played in three World Cups while scoring 17 goals in 101 international appearances from 1990-2004.

“It was very, very similar,” Stewart said, comparing their histories. “His father played an important role, very proud American, ex-military veteran that’s in Europe right now. Very proud that his son is going to play for the U.S. national team as my father was for me.”

Stewart’s experience resonated with Dest.

“It’s always good to hear from people that are also Dutch-American, and they also have a story in the U.S.,” Dest said. “My decision that I made, I listened to everybody’s advice, but it’s just a decision I’m making.”

Dest said his father was pleased, as was his mom.

“I think if I go play for the Netherlands, he would also be happy. He’s just happy when I’m happy. He’s a dad,” Dest said. “They’re just like, `OK, if you want to make that decision then, it’s your life. You have to make your own decisions.”

The U.S., rebuilding after its failure to reach last year’s World Cup, hosts Canada on Friday night at Orlando in another Nations League match, then finishes group play against Cuba at George Town, Cayman Islands. To advance to the semifinals, the Americans must win both games and overcome a goal difference of four against Canada.

In a game Dest skipped last month, the U.S. lost 2-0 at Toronto.

“That’s not going to happen the next game on Friday,” Dest said. “We’re not going to lose.”

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

Platini plans comeback, legal fight after 4-year FIFA ban

Photo by John Gichigi/Getty Images
1 Comment

NYON, Switzerland — Michel Platini is free to work in soccer again on Tuesday morning after his four-year ban by FIFA expires overnight.

The former UEFA president said Monday he is still unsure where and when he will return, and a comeback will likely force him to first pay FIFA a fine of 60,000 Swiss francs ($60,300) that is three years overdue.

[ MORE: Pulisic excited for Cuba, Canada ]

Platini told The Associated Press in an interview about his future plans: “I have some idea but it’s difficult to speak today.”

The 64-year-old Platini says he can “come back everywhere” but pointed out that the next elections for top roles at FIFA, UEFA and the French football association are “some years ahead.”

“I have time, if I come back to this” world, where he was once seen as the heir apparent to former FIFA President Sepp Blatter.

His current fight is still against the case of financial wrongdoing – and allegations linked to backdated FIFA salary and pension entitlement – that ended his bid to succeed Blatter. The charges were upheld so far by two FIFA judicial bodies, the Court of Arbitration for Sport and Switzerland’s supreme court.

Platini has challenged the Swiss federal ruling at the the European Court of Human Rights.

He says “that means I don’t pay this fine” while contesting the human rights case in Strasbourg in his native France.

That ongoing sense of injustice, and unpaid debt, could cause FIFA’s ethics committee to impede his return.

Platini suggests: “They will try to use what they want so that I don’t come back, I am sure.”

Soccer’s world body declined to comment Monday on its rules enforcing payment of fines.

FIFA did confirm that Blatter paid his fine of 50,000 Swiss francs ($50,250) first imposed in 2015.

Blatter is serving a six-year FIFA ban, upheld by CAS, for authorizing an uncontracted $2-million payment to Platini in 2011. Blatter also extended his former protege’s FIFA pension plan to add more than $1 million by 2015.

Basel forward Van Wolfswinkel has successful brain surgery

Photo by Tony Marshall/Getty Images
Leave a comment

BASEL, Switzerland (AP) Basel forward Ricky Van Wolfswinkel is to leave the hospital after successful brain surgery to treat an aneurysm.

The club says the operation was performed Tuesday and the Dutchman has been cleared to leave.

[ MORE: UEL group stage draw ]

Van Wolfswinkel’s aneurysm was discovered by chance during scans after he sustained a concussion in a Champions League qualifying game this month. His injury occurred late in a 2-1 home loss to LASK Linz on Aug. 7.

The 30-year-old former Norwich and Sporting Lisbon player has said he expected to be out of action for at least six months.

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

Messi back in training, could be fit for Betis

Photo by TF-Images/Getty Images
Leave a comment

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Lionel Messi was back in full training again on Wednesday and may be fit to face Real Betis in the Spanish league on Sunday.

Messi had been training separately from the squad since injuring his right calf in the preseason.

He missed the team’s 1-0 loss to Athletic Bilbao in the league opener on Friday.

Barcelona has not said how long it expects Messi to be sidelined.

[ MORE: Europa League preview ]

Coach Ernesto Valverde is also dealing with injuries to forwards Luiz Suarez and Ousmane Dembele.

Dembele is certain to miss Sunday’s match at the Camp Nou because of a left thigh injury that should keep him out for about five weeks.

Suarez also isn’t likely to play this weekend because of a muscle injury sustained before halftime of Friday’s game in Bilbao.

Two-time defending champion Barcelona hadn’t loss a league opener in 10 seasons.

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