Legendary defender Paolo Maldini shows real concern as Italy deals with the possibility of missing its first World Cup since 1958. Plus, the MLS owners meeting takes place next month in New York as they decide the cities to host the next expansion teams.  

By Grant Wahl
November 13, 2017

Will Italy miss out on Russia?

Italy will miss its first World Cup since 1958 if it can’t overturn a 1-0 deficit to Sweden in Monday's second leg. On Sunday night, I got a hold of legendary Italian defender Paolo Maldini on the phone from Milan. He said there is a real concern in Italy about missing the world’s biggest sporting event.
 
“There is,” Maldini said. “Everybody loves football here, and no one can think of the next World Cup without Italy there. I’ll go to the stadium, and it will be packed. Hopefully, the magic of San Siro will give the strength to the team. But San Siro is a tricky stadium. If you have the right personality, it helps you. But if you don’t have the right personality, it can be very hard to play in San Siro.”
 
Maldini added he was very disappointed by Italy’s performance in the 1-0 loss at Sweden, which was only the latest failure in a dismal campaign that saw Italy get just one point from group winner Spain in a 1-1 tie at home and a 3-0 loss away.

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“First of all, it wasn’t easy to have Spain in our group,” Maldini said. “We didn’t have too many chances, because the differences between Italy and Spain were clear. The game in Madrid showed the real difference between these two teams. Also, we got Sweden, which maybe was the worst team to play against. But the last game in Sweden I was very disappointed. We didn’t do too much, and there wasn’t much difference between the quality of the teams. They have one guy, the No. 10 [Emil] Forsberg, who has a high level of quality. But the others are very basic. Now it’s difficult because they’re pretty strong, pretty tall, and they’ll work hard. Hopefully Italy will play a better game.”

Even if Italy ends up qualifying for the World Cup, some insiders tell me they think manager Gian Piero Ventura should be replaced for Russia. But Maldini doesn’t agree. “If Italy will go to the World Cup, the manager has to be the same,” Maldini said, “because he qualifies and he has the right to go and play the World Cup. Sometimes when you have difficulties qualifying, you can still go and play a good World Cup.”

MLS owners meeting and the next expansion teams

The next full MLS owners meeting takes place on December 14 in New York City, and that will be the day the league decides which cities will get the next two expansion teams. From talking to several insiders, I’m being told the two expansion teams will likely come from a group of three cities that includes Sacramento, Nashville and Cincinnati. Keep in mind, David Beckham’s Miami expansion team is viewed separately by the league, and while the due diligence by new Miami investor Todd Boehly is taking longer than expected, I’m told that a formal announcement is set to happen in the coming months.

Higher competition for development academy players

After meetings last week between the U.S. men’s youth national teams, MLS and the U.S. Development Academy, it’s extremely likely that that there will be international games for the men’s Development Academy for the first time starting next September against competition from Mexico. The goal is to improve the competitiveness of games for DA teams at the Under-19 and Under-17 levels.

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