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Yotun leads Cruz Azul to inaugural Leagues Cup in Las Vegas

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A neutral venue didn’t stop the Leagues Cup Final from rocking on Wednesday evening, as 20,132 fans filed into Sam Boyd Stadium to see Cruz Azul outlast Tigres in the showpiece of the competition.

[ MORE: Martinez scores special solo goal ]

The tournament, staged as a match-up between MLS and Liga MX, saw Mexican entrants as three of its four semifinalists. MLS teams largely chose second choice sides and focused on league play rather than taking a chance to make history.

It was a former MLS player who made the difference in the match. Ex-Orlando City striker Yoshimar Yotun scored a penalty in the 73rd minute before assisting Jonathan Rodriguez with a slick through ball two minutes later.

Next season will see the Leagues Cup move to 16 teams, with the eight MLS entrants the best-finishing teams who fail to qualify for the CONCACAF Champions League.

Attorney: Ronaldo rape report documents altered, fabricated

AP Photo/Armando Franca
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LAS VEGAS (AP) Cristiano Ronaldo’s new Las Vegas lawyer says claims that the soccer star raped a woman are “complete fabrications” and the encounter was consensual.

Attorney Peter S. Christiansen on Wednesday issued a statement that doesn’t deny Ronaldo and the woman reached a non-disclosure agreement in 2010.

The statement declared that documents cited in media reports about Ronaldo’s Las Vegas hotel penthouse encounter in 2009 with Kathryn Mayorga were altered before being “irresponsibly published.”

[ MORE: 1 year on from USMNT’s dark day ] 

Mayorga’s attorneys did not immediately respond to messages.

A lawsuit filed Sept. 27 in Nevada state court seeks to void the non-disclosure agreement that Mayorga’s attorneys say she signed while accepting $375,000 to keep quiet.

Las Vegas police say they have reopened a sexual assault investigation of the encounter between Ronaldo and Mayorga.

The Associated Press does not generally name people who say they are victims of sex crimes but Mayorga has given her consent through her lawyers to make her name public.

MLS confirms “advanced discussions” with Minnesota United; will evalute expansion past 24 teams

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Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber confirmed on Monday that league executives are in “advanced discussions” with North American Soccer League (NASL) club Minnesota United regarding the second-division club’s bid for an MLS expansion franchise, as outlined in a report by SI‘s Brian Straus last week.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

To recap, Minnesota United’s bid is highlighted by a proposed soccer-specific stadium in downtown Minneapolis and, which Straus reported last week is accompanied by a written Letter of Intent from MLS to the city of Minneapolis. The United group has been chosen by MLS over a second Minnesota bid, from the NFL’s Vikings, which would have involved the NFL team’s under-construction, 65,000-seat domed stadium.

From MLSsoccer.com:

The league confirmed on Monday afternoon that it is in “advanced discussions” with representatives from Minnesota United FC, though the final decision is not ready to be announced.

“We are in advanced discussions with Bill McGuire and his partners in Minnesota to bring a Major League Soccer expansion club to the Twin Cities and are particularly excited about their plans for a new soccer-specific stadium that will serve as the club’s home,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said in a statement released by the club. “We remain on track to announce the next MLS expansion market in the next 30-45 days, though no specific date for an announcement has been set.”

I’ll take a soccer-specific stadium over a cavernous NFL dome any day of the week, as well as the existing soccer infrastructure and fanbase. Kudos to MLS choosing the better proposal from the Twin Cities.

Expansion beyond 24 teams

However, on Monday, Garber stated that the league will evaluate its expansion plans.

“Over the course of 2015, we plan to evaluate potential expansion beyond 24 clubs,” he said.

First things first, MLS never planned to stop at 24 teams. “24 teams by 2020” was the stated goal — one they’ll reach with ease — but rarely in the context of “once we reach 24, we stop.”

What “24 teams by 2020” did do, however, was put the fear of being left out into the hearts of every prospective MLS market’s ownership group, local government and community of fans. MLS essentially said to all of those groups, “We’re going to admit four more of you (five, once Chivas USA disappeared) into our super-exclusive club, and we’re going to take the first five who offer 1) the most money, 2) a soccer-specific stadium the quickest, and 3) guarantee the highest number of season tickets to be sold.”

In other words, supply and demand.

It’s how the league managed to get a $110-million expansion fee out of a second Los Angeles franchise and $70 million from each Orlando and Atlanta. One would presume they’ll get a similar fee to that of Orlando and Atlanta out of Minnesota.

Who is team No. 25, and where do they stop?

Sacramento Republic, unless they’re team No. 24 ahead of David Beckham’s Miami project. As I speculated last week, Sacramento would enter MLS right alongside Minnesota, if not for Beckham having a temporary (permanent?) hold on an expansion bid.

It’s extremely obvious MLS will not have a balanced schedule with a single-table standings anytime soon, if ever. The North American continent is simply too large for a Florida-based team to fly to the Pacific Northwest for three games and California for four, not to mention the rest of the league’s cities.

Three divisions — preferably of 10 teams each — seems to make the most sense and/or be inevitable. With the correct teams joining the league in the future (more on that in a minute), MLS could easily fill three, 10-team West, Central and East divisions. Anything beyond 30 teams, and you’re probably granting undeserved franchises for the sake of filling out numbers.

Team 26? 27? 28? 29? 30?

Once we move past Sacramento and Miami, future MLS expansion speculation gets really fun. We can be practical and say, “These cities are most likely to attempt/achieve a move to MLS,” or have a little more fun and frame the conversation as, “In a perfect world, these would be the next [x-number] of teams in MLS.”

In my own perfect world, the following cities would be the next six awarded an MLS franchise, in the event suitable ownership groups could be found for each: St. Louis, San Antonio, Las Vegas, Indianapolis and a city in North Carolina, bringing the total to 30 teams.

St. Louis has the fifth-largest metro population without an MLS team (at this point of our projections) and could soon be without an NFL team, leaving the city with only MLB and the NHL. Adding St. Louis also gives MLS a solid three-way rivalry — something the league loves and desires — along with fellow Midwestern cities Kansas City and Chicago.

San Antonio and Indianapolis have done very well during their clubs’ short existences (2010 and 2013, respectively) in the NASL. Again, San Antonio makes a third Texas team, and we’re suddenly paying attention to the Texas Cup the same way we do the Cascadia Cup.

“A North Carolina city,” meaning somewhere near Raleigh, a booming soccer hotbed with three major Division I colleges — Duke, North Carolina and NC State — within 30 miles of one another. Currently, the city of Cary — positioned amongst all four universities — has an NASL team of its own.

Las Vegas is the biggest question of the above five teams. There’s always the issue of mixing sports and gambling, but let’s say the NBA leads the way in embracing sports betting, and it’s something MLS is comfortable with eight or 10 years from now, the biggest Vegas hurdle is cleared. They’ve made approaches before.

Also garnering consideration should MLS expand beyond 30 teams: San Diego, Austin, Nashville and Phoenix.

MLS expansion: Las Vegas eliminated, leaving Sacramento, Minneapolis in race for 24th team

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The dream of the greatest away day weekend week in the history of professional sports has been snatched out from under the noses of Major League Soccer fans before it ever became a reality.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage | USMNT ]

The city of Las Vegas, devoid of a major-league sports team in its history, has been eliminated from contention for an MLS franchise during the current round of expansion, MLS commissioner Don Garber confirmed in a letter to Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman on Thursday.

“Unfortunately, given the timing of your expansion rollout and the uncertainty as to when we might be able to move forward in Las Vegas, we are no longer considering Las Vegas as an expansion market until after 2018,” the letter said.

[ MORE: Strike is “imminent” as players stand firm in CBA negotiations, say players ]

Garber recently said publicly that MLS was seriously looking at Sacramento and Minneapolis — as well as Las Vegas, St. Louis and San Antonio, not so seriously — for the final expansion franchise as the league aims to be at 24 teams by 2020. Atlanta and Los Angeles FC are scheduled to enter MLS as expansion teams in 2017, while David Beckham’s Miami project (arrival date TBD) struggles to gain traction in South Florida.

The group in Sacramento is being spearheaded by USL club Sacramento Republic FC, who recently received a further round of financial backing from Jed York, CEO of the NFL’s 49ers. Republic FC won the 2014 USL PRO championship, U.S. Soccer’s third division, in its first year of existence and signed an agreement for a stadium location should an MLS franchise be awarded to the city.

Meanwhile, the city of Minneapolis has two groups vying to be named MLS’s 24th franchise — Minnesota United FC of the North American Soccer League and the NFL’s Vikings. United FC would look to build their own soccer-specific stadium, while the Vikings group would play their games in the NFL team’s new 65,000-seat stadium, due to be completed in 2016.

[ MORE: Former MLSer Geoff Cameron shares his thoughts on ongoing CBA battle ]

Both Sacramento and Minneapolis seem, at this point, vastly superior options to Beckham’s Miami project. Not only are their new stadiums close to being done or agreed upon well in advance, each city is already home to a lower-division team, giving them a fanbase and soccer infrastructure to build upon before an MLS franchise is ever announced. If I’m the MLS commissioner, that’s extremely appealing to me.

The clock is officially ticking on Beckham, as Sacramento and Minneapolis are both deserving to join MLS. The league would be just fine putting the Miami project on hold for a few years and welcoming Sacramento and Minneapolis with open arms in 2018 or 2019.

Soccer stadium approved in Las Vegas, as MLS expansion talk heats up in Sin City

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Viva Las Vegas!

On Wednesday a Major League Soccer franchise in Vegas moved a step closer as the City Council approved subsidy funding for a brand spanking soccer-specific stadium in downtown Las Vegas.

[ RELATED: D.C. United get new stadium ]

The deal to build a $200 million venue is a huge step forward in the growing momentum to bring MLS to the Sin City, but the stadium will only be built if Vegas is handed an MLS expansion franchise by the league.

Last month the people behind the bid, which is headed by Findlay Sports & Entertainment and The Cordish Companies, met with league officials along with groups from Sacramento and Minneapolis who are also hoping to get a slice of the MLS pie in the next round of expansion.

MLS has stated that it would like to reach 24 teams by 2020, as the league currently has 20 teams participating in 2015 plus new teams in LA and Atlanta to start play in 2017. With David Beckham’s Miami franchise still up in the air over a stadium deal, both Vegas and Sacramento now have plans approved to build downtown soccer stadiums in their respective cities.

[ VOTE: Should MLS head to Vegas? ]

source: AP
How the new soccer stadium in Vegas would look.

The Las Vegas City Council voted 4-3 in favor of helping to fund the venue as Findlay Sports & Entertainment and The Cordish Companies will cover over $143 million of the stadium project, with the city putting in $25 million in bonds toward the stadium and another $31 million in helping with infrastructure.

MLS Commissioner Don Garber released a statement on Wednesday, after the stadium deal in Las Vegas was granted.

“We applaud Mayor Goodman and the Las Vegas City Council for approving the measure to support a public-private partnership to build a new soccer-stadium in downtown Las Vegas,” Garber said. ”We look forward to continuing our discussions with the Cordish Company and Findlay Sports & Entertainment regarding a possible expansion team for Las Vegas.”

This news came hot on the heel of D.C. United being granted a new stadium in the Buzzard Point area of Washington D.C., as the $300 million venue will become one of MLS’s latest soccer-specific venues when it opens up in 2017. Could an MLS expansion franchise in Vegas come next?