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Promoter sues USSF over proposed Ecuador match in Florida

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NEW YORK (AP) A promoter has sued the U.S. Soccer Federation, asking a court to order the governing body to sanction an Ecuador league match in Florida.

Relevent Sports filed suit Monday in New York Supreme Court in Manhattan, alleging the USSF illegally denied its application to have Ecuador’s Barcelona and Guayaquil clubs play on May 5 at Miami Gardens, Florida.

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The lawsuit quotes USSF policy as stating the governing body’s secretary general “shall grant such sanction unless it is decided by clear and convincing evidence that holding or sponsoring the international soccer competition would be detrimental to the best interest of the sport.”

In a letter sent Monday to Relevent, USSF chief legal officer Lydia Wahlke wrote FIFA “remains opposed to playing official league matches outside the territory of the member association(s) to which the relevant league belongs.”

The USSF issued a statement Tuesday saying it treated the request as a normal application and it asked Ecuador and South American soccer’s governing body about the proposal and never heard back. The USSF pointed out Relevent sued even before the USSF denied the application.

Relevent attempted to stage the first Spanish La Liga match in the U.S., between Barcelona and Girona, at Miami Gardens on Jan. 26. That effort fell through following opposition from the governing body of Spanish soccer, the Real Federacion Espanola de Futbol, and the players’ union, the Asociacion de Futbolistas Espanoles.

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

La Liga: Barcelona draws nearer to title, Celta Vigo runs from relegation

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Barcelona remained nine points clear at the top of the La Liga table with five matches remaining thanks to a 2-1 home win over Real Sociedad.

Clement Lenglet beat his mark Mikel Merino in the air, scoring a header off a corner just before halftime to put Barcelona up, and after Real Sociedad leveled things up just after the hour mark, Jordi Alba was on hand to restore the lead with a right-footed blast low past Geronimo Rulli who reacted late on the shot through traffic.

Down the other end of the table, Celta Vigo earned a critical win in the relegation battle, knocking off Girona 2-1 on a 69th minute winner by former Southampton attacker Sofiane Boufal. The Moroccan international worked a tiny bit of space before delivering a fabulous curler that tucked in the far corner. That proved the difference after Iago Aspas and Portu had cancelled each other out on either side of the break. The win allowed Celta to rise up to 14th, three points above the drop with a crowded group below them.

Atletico Madrid extended its lead in second place with a 1-0 win over Eibar, needing an 85th minute breakaway goal by Thomas Lemar to seal the deal. That pushed them seven points ahead of Real Madrid, with Los Blancos still set to play on Sunday. It also saw Atletico keep pace with Barcelona, although it would take a massive collapse down the stretch by the leaders for Atletico to have a shot at the title.

Finally, Rayo Vallecano drew nearer to relegation with a 0-0 draw against Huesca at home, leaving them four points back of 18th placed Real Valladolid and five shy of safety. Rayo could only muster three shots on target of the 16 efforts they ripped off, failing to create many truly big chances.

Liverpool’s Klopp on facing Messi for first time

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Jurgen Klopp‘s Liverpool is the only returning club in the UEFA Champions League semifinal, and the manager says that’s worth a bit of celebration.

“I’m happy for all the people in the club that it’s like this, second time in the second year in the semi-final,” Klopp said. “That’s a big statement. However you go there, it’s difficult. Everybody tries it and nobody did it in the last two years.”

[ UCL RECAPS: Man City-Spurs | Porto-Liverpool ]

That also means Klopp’s first “proper game” managing against Barcelona, and Liverpool’s first meeting with the Blaugranas since the 2006-07 UCL knockout rounds. All-time, the Reds are 3W-3D-2L versus Barca in European competition.

It also means an attempt to slow Lionel Messi, who at age 31 is in splendid form with 45 goals and 21 assists in 42 matches. Of those goals, he’s bagged 10 in eight Champions League appearances (two v. Manchester United, two v. Spurs, two v. Lyon, and four against PSV Eindhoven).

From LiverpoolFC.com:

“Thank God I don’t have to think about that tonight and thank God I have a few more nights to think about it! I think everybody tried it so far and nobody can really do it. We still will try it. But we are looking forward to it, but we have so many jobs to do before we meet Barcelona. So let’s first play these games and then let’s prepare for Barcelona. Then we will see. I have never played Barcelona in a proper game, so [it’s] my first time there and I’m looking forward to it.”

Messi went 90 minutes in his only appearances against Liverpool during that 2006-07 series, though he was 19 years old.

He’s just a bit wiser now, but remember it works both ways; As much as Klopp’s never had to stop Messi, he’s certainly had plenty of opportunity to watch what other managers have tried in bids to slow the Argentine. Could Klopp cement his tactical legacy and make another UCL Final, or will he just hope to outgun the genius of Catalonia?

How UCL results affect Premier League title run-in

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The Premier League title may well be decided one week from now.

No, it won’t mathematically be impossible for Manchester City or Liverpool to catch the other, but the former’s exit from the UEFA Champions League certainly puts the season’s binoculars in better focus.

To recap: City trails Liverpool by two points but has a match-in-hand on its title rivals, a card which will be played next Wednesday across Manchester at Old Trafford.

[ UCL RECAPS: Man City-Spurs | Porto-Liverpool ]

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Liverpool 34 26 7 1 77 20 57 15-2-0 11-5-1 85
 Manchester City 33 27 2 4 86 22 64 16-0-1 11-2-3 83

It would be surprising if Liverpool finished with any less than 97 points given its remaining schedule, and downright shocking should the Reds lose a match (yes, we know red cards and penalties happen, and that Premier League does not yet employ VAR).

Liverpool faces Cardiff City, Huddersfield Town, Newcastle United, and Wolves. The final two matches are in contact with a pair of Champions League matches against Barcelona, but dropping points more than once seems like a long shot.

By comparison, Man City has to rebound from Wednesday’s stunning thriller of a loss to Spurs with a rematch at the Etihad Stadium before making it three tough matches in eight days with a Manchester Derby on April 23.

Should Man City manage those two wins in five days, Pep Guardiola‘s men will (likely) have a one point lead on Liverpool with three matches left (two fewer than the Reds). If it comes to that, the advantage is squarely in Pep’s court.

Here are the remaining matches for both teams, not including the FA Cup Final or (possible) Champions League Final.

All times ET

Saturday – Man City v. Tottenham (7:30 a.m.)

Sunday – Cardiff City v. Liverpool (11 a.m.)

Wednesday – Man Utd v. Man City (3 p.m.)

April 26 – Liverpool v. Huddersfield Town (3 p.m.)

April 28 – Burnley v. Man City (9:05 a.m.)

April 30 – Barcelona v. Liverpool (TBD)

May 4 – Man City v. Leicester City (7:30 a.m.)

May 5 – Newcastle v. Liverpool (11:30 a.m.)

May 7 – Liverpool v. Barcelona (TBD)

May 12 – Brighton v. Man City -and- Liverpool v. Wolves (10 a.m.)

How oddsmakers rank Champions League semifinalists

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As Lionel Messi goes for his fifth UEFA Champions League title, it’s worth noting that almost every player hoping to stop him from the crown is chasing their very first title.

(How many others are there, you ask? I’ll answer who later in the post, but there are two).

[ RECAPS: Man City-Spurs | Porto-Liverpool ]

Messi is the best player left in the tournament, with Cristiano Ronaldo, Kevin De Bruyne, and Paul Pogba all bidding adieu over the past 30 hours, and it’s understandable that the oddsmakers have installed Barca as the favorite to win the tournament (Odds have Barca around 13:8).

The runner-up for favorite status is very close, and we’re sure most of you have guessed it’s not young Ajax (about 5:1 on most boards).

Tottenham Hotspur is on the board at 9:2 after defeating Man City on Wednesday, but it’s Liverpool at about 3:1 who is next in line after Barcelona.

By the way, not including managers and coaching staffs, the answers to the trivia question above are both on Liverpool:

  • Daniel Sturridge, by the way, who did not get off the bench in 2012 when Chelsea beat Bayern Munich in penalty kicks.
  • Xherdan Shaqiri, who was an unused sub when Bayern beat Borussia Dortmund in the 2013 Der Klassiker UCL Final