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Landon Donovan's support for Mexico sparks pitched battle off the pitch

Landon Donovan’s support for Mexico at the World Cup has sparked a pitched battle between the most recognizable name in American soccer and his peers, ESPN reported Sunday.

>> Read more trending news 

Donovan has been part of an advertising campaign for Wells Fargo to support Mexico, which opened its World Cup play in Russia with a stunning 1-0 victory against defending champion Germany on Sunday. Critics of the promotion have criticized Landon, calling his cheerleading inappropriate.

Donovan posted a photo on Twitter on Saturday holding a scarf that read “My other team is Mexico.”

Donovan played this spring for León, which is part of Mexico’s Primera Division. Still, some questioned Donovan’s motives.

“Watering it down for beer/banks won’t enrich the rivalry,” ESPN announcer Sebastian Salazar tweeted.

Carlos Bocanegra, the former captain of the U.S. national team, tweeted “Really?” 

Donovan tweeted back that Bocanegra should “remember where you came from.”

“Look around our country, are you happy with how we are treating Mexicans?” Donovan answered. “Open your mind, stand for something and remember where you came from.”

Donovan’s former teammate, Herculez Gomez, an ESPN analyst, criticized that exchange, ESPN reported, tweeting that it was “an incredibly terrible take.”

Singer Robbie Williams makes obscene gesture at World Cup opening ceremony

English singer Robbie Williams made an obscene gesture toward the camera during the opening ceremony of the World Cup in Moscow, ESPN reported.

>> Read more trending news 

Williams was singing at Luzhniki Stadium when he gestured with his middle finger. The 44-year-old pop star had been criticized before the event for agreeing to participate in the ceremony.

“Robbie Williams emerged, busked his way through a medley of his two-decade old hits and was gone again in a pleasing hurry,” the Independent reported.

Williams said he was told not to use his song “Party Like a Russian,” which was seen as mocking Russia. Before his gesture, Williams added the line “I did this for free,” to the lyrics of one of his songs, ESPN reported.

Fox issued a statement apologizing for showing the gesture on television.

"The 2018 FIFA World Cup opening ceremony was a newsworthy event produced by a third party and carried live on Fox," the statement said. "As it was broadcast live, we did not know what would happen during Robbie Williams' performance and we apologize."

The Russian soccer team played immediately after the ceremony and won its first match, shutting out Saudi Arabia 5-0.

Fans say Brandi Chastain's Hall of Fame plaque is a bust

American soccer legend Brandi Chastain is one of the most recognizable women athletes in the world. But sports fans were scratching their heads after viewing her plaque as she was inducted into the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame on Monday night.

>> Read more trending news

In their minds, Chastain’s bust was, well, a bust.

Ann Killion of the San Francisco Chronicle, who wrote inscription for the plaque, called the rendition “shameful” and tweeted that Chastain’s plaque makes Cristiano Ronaldo’s plaque “look perfect.”

“Brandi Chastain is one of the most beautiful athletes I’ve ever covered. How this became her plaque is a freaking embarrassment,” she tweeted.

Chastain was inducted during a ceremony at the Westin St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco. She has won two Olympic gold medals and two World Cup titles with the United States women’s soccer team.

Chastain was diplomatic about the plaque, the San Jose Mercury News reported.

“It’s not the most flattering,” Chastain said. “But it’s nice.”

On a lighter note, social media posters were having a field day. Some compared Chastain’s likeness to Gary Busey, Rex Ryan, Jimmy Johnson, Jerry Glanville, Peter King, Jerry Lewis, John Goodman, Bill Belichick and even Mickey Rooney. Others were comparing it to a hideous rendition of another soccer legend, Cristiano Ronaldo.

“Cristiano Ronaldo sculptor: Eh, this isn’t too bad. Brandi Chastain sculptor: Hold my chisel,” The Washington Post tweeted.

“I don’t know about Brandi Chastain, but they nailed Mickey Rooney,” Jason Davis tweeted.

There are no plans to redo the plaque, Andy Savick, the vice president of finance and administration for BASHOF told the Mercury News. He told the newspaper that images on the plaques are “representations” and not intended to be photographic likenesses. 

Chastain’s bust was on a more favorable view at the 1999 World Cup. She scored the game-winning penalty kick and celebrated by sinking to her knees, ripping off her jersey to reveal her sports bra while clenching her fists. The photograph of that moment has become an iconic moment of celebration in sports history.

There are no plans to redo the plaque, Andy Savick, the vice president of finance and administration for BASHOF told the Mercury News. He told the newspaper that images on the plaques are “representations” and not intended to be photographic likenesses. 

Chastain’s bust was on a more favorable view at the 1999 World Cup. She scored the game-winning penalty kick and celebrated by sinking to her knees, ripping off her jersey to reveal her sports bra while clenching her fists. The photograph of that moment has become an iconic moment of celebration in sports history.

Here are some other infamous renditions of athletes. How does the Chastain plaque measure up?

Greek officials vow action after soccer team owner enters pitch with gun 

Sports officials in Greece are investigating the actions of one team owner, who apparently was carrying a gun when he charged onto the pitch to protest a disputed goal at the end of Sunday’s Greek Super League match, Reuters reported.

>> Read more trending news

Greece’s sports minister said Monday he was considering sanctions against Ivan Savvides, the owner of soccer team PAOK and one of the country’s richest men. Photographs and video footage showed Savvides, with what appeared to be revolver strapped to a holster on his waist, trying to intervene in the closing moments of a home match against rival AEK of Athens, Reuters reported.

After Fernando Varela scored from a header in the 89th minute, putting PAOK ahead 1-0, the referee signaled a score but then disallowed it for offside, ESPN reported. Savvides walked onto the pitch twice to protest the call. The first time he was wearing an overcoat; the second time, his coat was off and his holster was in plain view, Reuters reported. Savvides did not draw a weapon from the holster.

The goal was eventually allowed to stand and PAOK was awarded a 1-0 win, ESPN reported.

AEK officials claimed Savvidis threatened the referee during his trip onto the pitch.

"We suddenly saw a man on the pitch with bodyguards and everyone started saying it was the PAOK president and he went first to the referee and then to our bench and started threatening everyone," AEK Athens coach Manolo Jimenez told Radio Marca.

"We didn't fear for our lives initially, but then, when I saw the photographs of the gun, you think to yourself, 'What if he does something crazy and pulls it out?' It's true that initially we didn't know that he had a gun on his belt, but that could be a small thing as he could have authorization to carry one, but what isn't normal is that a president jumps onto the pitch to protest and threatens a referee.”

Images of “persons entering sports grounds armed” harm PAOK and soccer in general, Greek Deputy Culture and Sports Minister Georgios Vassiliadis said in a written statement Monday.

“Such extreme phenomena call for bold decisions,” Vassiliadis said.

Georgia State soccer player withdraws from school after backlash over racial epithet

A Georgia State University soccer player who was suspended from the team after she used a racial epithet on social media has withdrawn from the school, officials said.

>> PREVIOUS STORY: Georgia State soccer player suspended over racial slur used on social media

Some students had called for the expulsion of 18-year-old freshman defender Natalia Martinez after the epithet appeared on her Finsta page, a secret version of Instagram that is growing in popularity among teens.

>> On AJC.com: What is a ‘Finsta'? Teens and their secret Instagram accounts

“As a progressive, diverse university, we ... feel like this sort of behavior should not be tolerated,” said India Bridgeforth, who created a petition demanding the university take a tougher approach with Martinez.

The petition had garnered more than 500 signatures by Monday afternoon when the university announced Martinez had “officially withdrawn.”

Associate athletic director Mike Holmes told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that officials were made aware of Martinez’s post Friday morning — just days after the University of Alabama expelled a 19-year-old student who posted a video of a racist rant on her Finsta page.

>> Read more trending news 

That student, Harley Barber, uploaded a second video on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in response to people who were upset by the language and threatened those who wanted to report her fake Instagram account, The Washington Post reported

In a statement, Georgia State University said the school does “not tolerate the language (Martinez) used in her post.”

Liverpool coach swears on the air, says 'I thought in America it's OK'

To Jurgen Klopp, the expletive seemed appropriate, even during an on-air interview.

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Klopp, the German-born manager of Liverpool’s Premier League soccer team, let a vulgar word escape as he did a post-match interview with NBC Sports Soccer on Sunday, The New York Daily News reported.

Klopp was exulting after the Reds’ 4-3 victory against Manchester United when he dropped the F-bomb on the air, causing the interviewer to apologize to the viewing audience.

“I thought in America it’s OK,” Klopp joked, referencing an alleged vulgarity uttered last week by President Donald Trump during a meeting with members of Congress..

Arlo White of NBC Sports Soccer later tweeted that “the language got little ‘fruity’ at our pitch side desk. Apologies again for that.”

3 Florida teens arrested in theft of soccer star Abby Wambach’s car

Police in southwest Florida arrested three juveniles in connection with the burglary and theft of a vehicle belonging to former soccer star Abby Wambach, The Naples Daily News reported.

>> Read more trending news

The teens were arrested by Naples police Dec. 15 on charges of grand theft and auto theft, the Daily News reported. The juveniles, whose names are not being released because they are minors, admitted committing the crimes when interviewed, police said. 

Wambach had posted an angry message on Instagram about the alleged crimes.

Wambach — a longtime U.S. soccer player and Olympic gold medalist — and her wife, Glennon Doyle Melton, told police that someone entered Wambach’s car parked in the driveway of their home between 1:30 and 4:30 a.m. Dec. 6.

In a post on Instagram, Wambach said the burglars stole valuables and wrote hate speech with a permanent marker all over the inside of the car, according to the post.

The Dec. 6 Instagram post said a neighbor's surveillance camera recorded video of the burglars, with one wearing a hoodie and cargo shorts and another wearing an Ohio State cap, a gray top, and Nike shorts and shoes. The burglars left fingerprints on the car door.

“Neighbors camera got you, you idiots!! If you turn yourself in now, and return the stolen property, and pay for the car damages we won’t press charges,” Wambach wrote on the Instagram post. “If you don’t, you are going to jail. You have 24 hours.”

Two of the three arrested attend Gulf Coast High School in North Naples, the police report states. Two of those arrested are 15, while the other is 14, police said. 

Two of the three each face four charges: grand theft of a motor vehicle worth less than $100,000; grand theft from a motor vehicle, worth between $300 and $5,000; burglary without a weapon; and criminal mischief.

The third suspect was charged with one count of grand theft of a motor vehicle worth less than $100,000, according to the police report. 

Cincinnati one of four finalists for MLS expansion team

As FC Cincinnati finalizes its stadium plans for a possible promotion to Major League Soccer, the second-division United Soccer League club and its fans can breathe a little easier today.

MLS announced Wednesday that Cincinnati is one of four finalists for the two expansion clubs that are scheduled to be named by the end of the year, and FC Cincinnati received important confirmation the local government will support its efforts to build a soccer-specific stadium required for MLS.

»RELATED: FC Cincinnnati will finance stadium with private funds

FC Cincinnati’s bid — one of 12 submitted in January as the initial application process began — was pushed through to the final stage of consideration along with Detroit, Nashville and Sacramento. Owners and officials representing the four prospective expansion markets will make formal presentations to MLS Commissioner Don Garber and the league’s expansion committee in New York on Dec. 6, and a decision will be made following the Board of Governors meeting Dec. 14.

“The leaders of the Cincinnati, Detroit, Nashville and Sacramento MLS expansion ownership groups have bold visions and innovative plans for their clubs, stadiums and their involvement in their respective communities,” Garber said in a press release. “We are pleased these highly-respected business and sports leaders have been so determined to bring Major League Soccer to their cities. We have been greatly encouraged by the progress that all four of these groups have made and we are looking forward to their presentations.”

»RELATED: FC Cincinnati, Liberty Center announce partnership

In the meantime, FC Cincinnati is still trying to nail down the last of the expansion requirements set forth by MLS, which prioritizes a soccer-specific stadium. The club originally pitched to MLS a stadium in Newport, but efforts to keep the team in Cincinnati, at a preferred site in Oakley, took a big step Wednesday with infrastructure funding plans passing a vote by the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners and City Council.

On Monday, City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee agreed to spend up to $37 million for infrastructure at the Oakley site and a 5-3 vote by Council made it official Wednesday, shortly after Hamilton County Commissioners unanimously approved spending $15 million for a 1,000-space parking garage.

“It’s time for this community now to come together — the city, count an FC (Cincinnati) — to demonstrate to MLS that we want a Major League Soccer franchise to be awarded to FC Cincinnati,” County Commissioner Todd Portune said in the meeting.

FC Cincinnati will be privately financing the $200 million stadium on the former Cast-Fab site but has asked the city and county for $75 million in infrastructure, which means there likely is still a $33 million gap in the funding even if the Council vote goes through.

»MORE: FC Cincinnati unveils design plans for proposed new stadium

After the commissioners voted, FC Cincinnati president and general manager Jeff Berding told WCPO.com the Oakley site is the one the club will pitch to MLS on Dec. 6. The club likely is competing with Nashville and Detroit for a spot in the Eastern Division with Sacramento expected to claim a spot in the Western Division.

The two teams chosen after the Dec. 14 board meeting will begin play in 2020, and two more expansion teams are scheduled to be selected at a later date to bring MLS to 28 teams. The other eight markets still in consideration for the final round of expansion are Charlotte, Indianapolis, Phoenix, Raleigh/Durham, St. Louis, San Antonio, San Diego and Tampa/St. Petersburg.

Hope Solo accuses former FIFA president of sexual assault

United States women’s national team goalkeeper Hope Solo accused former FIFA president Sepp Blatter of sexually assaulting her in 2013, ESPN reported.

>> Read more trending news

Solo told Expresso that Blatter grabbed her buttocks before the pair went on stage in 2013 to present an award to Solo’s teammate, Abby Wambach.

“It's been normalized,” Solo said of such behavior.

A representative for Blatter called the allegation “ridiculous” in a statement to Expresso and The Guardian.

Solo and Blatter walked onstage together in January 2013 to present the 2012 women's world player of the year award to Wambach.

“I was in shock and completely thrown off," Solo told The Guardian on Friday. “I had to quickly pull myself together to present my teammate with the biggest award of her career and celebrate with her in that moment, so I completely shifted my focus to Abby.”

Solo said she never saw Blatter again after the ceremony, ESPN reported. 

“That was kind of bad,” she told Expresso. “I didn't get to tell him directly. ‘Don't ever touch me!’ That's the way I've always handled things. Directly.”

Blatter, now 81, was banned by FIFA in 2015 over a conflict of interest case.

“While in this instance it was Sepp Blatter, who was the most powerful man in football at the time, sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior are rampant at every level in women's sport, and it needs to stop,” Solo said.

 

Columbus Crew SC owner exploring move to Austin

The Major League Soccer team in Columbus, Ohio, announced Tuesday morning it is exploring a move to Austin, along with continuing to pursue a new stadium in Columbus.

“Despite our investments and efforts, the current course is not sustainable,” Anthony Precourt, chief executive officer of Precourt Sports Ventures and chairman of Columbus Crew SC, said in a statement Tuesday morning. “This club has ambition to be a standard bearer in MLS, therefore we have no choice but to expand and explore all of our options.

“This includes a possible move to Austin, which is the largest metropolitan area in North America without a major league sports franchise,” the statement said. “Soccer is the world’s game, and with Austin’s growing presence as an international city, combined with its strong multicultural foundation, MLS in Austin could be an ideal fit.”

A relocation to Austin is not possible without a stadium plan, the Crew owner told the American-Statesman Tuesday morning.

“It would be a privately financed stadium in Austin, and I really think it can get done,” Precourt said. “We are not asking for tax dollars. We are just initiating the process. A huge key to this is finding the right site. That will take time.”

Precourt said he’ll need financial help bringing the team here.

“We will look for local investors in Austin,” he said. “We will look for stragic partnerships with people or groups who can get this done.”

Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber supports the Crew SC’s possible move to Austin.

“As attendance League-wide continues to grow on a record-setting pace, and markets across the country seek to join MLS, Columbus’ situation is particularly concerning,” Garber said. “Despite PSV’s significant investments and improvements on and off the field, Columbus Crew SC is near the bottom of the League in all business metrics and the Club’s stadium is no longer competitive with other venues across MLS.

“The League is very reluctant to allow teams to relocate, but based on these factors, we support PSV’s efforts to explore options outside of Columbus, including Austin, provided they find a suitable stadium location.”

Columbus Crew SC was the first charter granted in Major League Soccer in 1996. Crew officials have recognized its growing disparity in attendance and corporate support compared with its MLS peers and other midsize markets, such as Kansas City, Orlando, Portland and Salt Lake City.

Columbus wants a downtown stadium, whether it is in the capital city of Ohio or Texas.

Precourt, a Northern Californian with few ties to the Ohio capital, has visited Austin several times in recent years and been in conversation with Austin leaders, multiple sources told the American-Statesman. SI.com’s Grant Wahl was the first to report the intention late Monday.

“He wants to move to Austin,” a Columbus business leader said. “He may mention Cincinnati and Phoenix, but it’s Austin he really wants.”

An MLS source agreed that while Austin is being used for leverage, the first option is to move to Austin.

University of Texas athletic director Mike Perrin indicated his school would be interested in such an arrangement. Myers Stadium has a capacity of 20,000 — in the ballpark for MLS — and alcohol sales are allowed.

“We are aware of MLS interest in Austin and have no opposition to exploring possible collaborative opportunities,” Perrin told the Statesman.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler shot down reports by other news outlets that there would be bond elections coming for a new stadium.

“I don’t know what it would be you would be putting on a ballot,” he told the Statesman. “You could put something on a ballot if there was going to be a bond election to finance a stadium, but nothing like that is in the works.”

Adler told KVUE that Austin would make an excellent MLS market.

“Exciting news because Major League Soccer would be a huge success in Austin, and the Crew would find tons of fan support,” he said. “There is a lot of benefit that being in Austin would give a team, too, though not public funding of a stadium.”

Earlier this year, Major League Soccer registered “Austin FC” and “Austin Athletic” as trademarks. MLS executive vice president Dan Courtemanche told the Statesman that Austin would not be considered for one of the four remaining expansion slots but did not respond to a question about relocation.

An Austin soccer source said he was told MLS Commissioner Don Garber sent a letter to owners explaining the potential Columbus move. Garber has previously praised Austin as having the right vibe and demographics for his league.

The Crew had an affiliation with the Austin Aztex of the United Soccer League for one year, 2015, before the Aztex were suspended amid a sea of debt. The Aztex reported an average home attendance of 3,227 playing in high school football stadiums.

The Crew relocation is one of two efforts to bring professional soccer back to Austin after the Aztex were suspended. Circuit of the Americas chairman Bobby Epstein announced this summer he is bringing USL pro soccer back to Austin in 2019, and they will play in a new 5,000-seat stadium at the race track.

Epstein is not involved with Precourt’s group and said he will take a wait-and-see approach about the Crew’s possible move to Austin.

Columbus is near the bottom of MLS in attendance and franchise worth. Columbus’ home average of 15,439 fans ranks 20th of 22 teams, ahead of only Colorado and Dallas. The Crew SC is worth $123 million, according to Forbes Magazine, ranking 21st.

Mapfre Stadium, capacity 22,555, is the original purpose-built stadium in MLS and also the oldest, opening in 1999, and is showing signs of wear and tear.

The timing of the reports is curious. The Crew, the 2008 MLS Cup champions, qualified for the postseason as the Eastern Conference’s fifth seed. The playoff start next week.

“Our interest in Austin is very sincere,” Precourt said. “(I) have a longstanding affinity for it.”

Staff writers Kirk Bohls and Katie Hall contributed to this story.

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