MLS to meet Mexican league counterparts in All-Star Game

LOS ANGELES — Major League Soccer’s All-Stars will meet their top Mexican league counterparts in Los Angeles on Aug. 25 in a game that was originally scheduled to take place last year but was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The game against Liga MX players at Banc of California Stadium, home of Los Angeles FC of the MLS, represents a departure from the format for the past 15 All-Star games that had the best players in MLS facing European clubs. Los Angeles is a fitting location for the game — not only does it have one of the largest Latino populations in the world but it is a battleground for both leagues.

MLS Commissioner Don Garber and Liga MX Executive President Mikel Arriola were in LA on Wednesday to announce the game, which was originally scheduled to take place last July 29 and coincide with MLS’s 25th season until the pandemic curtailed those plans.

The match will be broadcast in the U.S. on Fox Sports 1 and Univision and on ESPN throughout Mexico and Latin America.

This will be the second MLS All-Star Game in the Los Angeles area following a 3-1 win by the league’s All-Stars over Chivas in 2003 at the home of the LA Galaxy in Carson. The All-Star Game switched to an East vs. West format in 2004, then the following year to MLS playing a European club preparing for the start of its season.

Liga MX holds its Campeón de Campeones, matching the winners of its Apertura and Clausura split-season tournaments, and Supercopa MX in Carson as well as holding its season-ending awards ceremony in Los Angeles.

The All-Star Game should be a showcase for players from both leagues. LA Galaxy star Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez leads MLS with seven goals.

LAFC manager Bob Bradley will coach the MLS squad.

Gobert wins third Defensive Player of the Year award

Utah’s Rudy Gobert won his third Defensive Player of the Year award Wednesday after helping the Utah Jazz to the best record in the NBA.

Gobert had the most total blocked shots and defensive rebounds in the league this season and became the fourth player to win the award at least three times.

A night after a game-sealing blocked shot in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals, Gobert received 84 first-place votes and 464 points from a global panel of 100 sportswriters and broadcasters.

Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons was second with 15 first-place votes and 287 votes, while Draymond Green of Golden State was third with 76 points.

Gobert was the Defensive Player of the Year in 2018 and 2019. Dikembe Mutombo and Ben Wallace each won it four times and Dwight Howard three.

Pacers fire Bjorkgren as coach after just 1 season

INDIANAPOLIS — Kevin Pritchard hired Nate Bjorkgren to take the Indiana Pacers in a new direction.

They wound up going the wrong way.

After struggling defensively, missing the playoffs for the first time in six seasons and amid reports of locker room drama, the Pacers pulled the plug Wednesday when Pritchard, their president of basketball operations, fired Bjorkgren as coach after just one season.

“The 2020-21 season was not what any of us hoped or anticipated it would be, and our results on the court certainly did not meet the standards for what our organization and our fans have come to expect,” Pritchard said in a statement.

Indiana went 34-38, finishing the season with an embarrassing 142-115 loss to Washington in the play-in tournament. The Pacers also produced their first losing season at home in 32 years, and at times the effort didn’t appear to be there, either.

A rash of injuries was part of the problem. Indiana’s top scorer in 2019-20, T.J. Warren, suffered a season-ending foot injury after just four games. NBA blocks champion Myles Turner went down with a season-ending foot injury on April 18. And after trading two-time All-Star Victor Oladipo for swingman Caris LeVert in January, LeVert missed the next 24 games after team doctors found a cancerous growth on his left kidney.

Minor leaguer released from hospital after struck in head

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Minor league pitcher Tyler Zombro was released from the hospital and will transition to outpatiant occupational and speech therapy in Durham, North Carolina, after being struck in the head by a line drive last week.

Zombro, a right-hander in the Tampa Bay Rays organization pitching with Triple-A Durham, was hit by a sharp liner from Norfolk’s Brett Cumberland in the eighth inning on June 3. Zombro crumbled to the ground, lay motionless for a moment face down, then began to convulse uncontrollably as teammates and a trainer rushed toward the mound.

The Rays announced the news during Wednesday night’s home game against Washington.

“He and his family will remain in Durham and continue with his outpatient occupational and speech therapy,” the team said in statement. “The Rays extend their gratitude to the doctors, nurses and staff caring for Tyler, and continue to be overwhelmed by the support for his recovery.”

Harding leads Florida State past Oklahoma 8-4 in WCWS Game 1

OKLAHOMA CITY — Kalei Harding homered and drove in four runs, leading Florida State past No. 1 seed Oklahoma 8-4 in the opener of the Women’s College World Series championship on Tuesday night.

Sydney Sherrill added a two-run single during a five-run fourth inning for the Seminoles (49-11-1), who need a victory on Wednesday or Thursday to win their second NCAA title in four years.

Kaley Mudge had three hits for Florida State, increasing her WCWS total to a record-tying 13.

Seminoles ace Kathryn Sandercock got the final four outs for the save, stopping a rally by Oklahoma, which scored two runs in the fourth inning and two more in the sixth after falling behind 7-0.

Kinzie Hansen and Nicole Mendes homered on consecutive pitches and Mackenzie Donihoo had a two-run single for the Sooners (54-4).

Harding opened the scoring with a two-run homer in the third inning off Oklahoma starter Nicole May, who allowed seven runs in 3 2/3 innings.

Harding’s two-run double in the fourth made it 4-0, and Sherrill — from nearby Moore, Oklahoma — drove in two more in the five-run inning. Sherrill also threw out Oklahoma’s Tiare Jennings at the plate in the bottom of the seventh to preserve the Seminoles’ four-run advantage.

The Seminoles got an unusual insurance run in the seventh. Josie Muffley was held up late at third on Harding’s single, and Anna Shelnutt was thrown out while scrambling back to second. Muffley broke for the plate and was tagged out, but an obstruction call gave Florida State the run.

Heat’s Riley fined $25,000 for remarks about a LeBron return

NEW YORK — Miami Heat President Pat Riley was fined $25,000 by the NBA on Wednesday for being too clear that he’d eagerly welcome a reunion with LeBron James.

The league said Riley violated its anti-tampering rule with his remarks during an interview Friday on Dan Le Batard’s radio show.

Riley said he would “leave the key under the doormat” if James called and said he wanted to return to Miami. James led the Heat to two NBA titles and four straight appearances in the finals before returning to Cleveland in 2014.

Riley is the second executive to be fined in three days for tampering. The NBA penalized Philadelphia’s Daryl Morey and the team $75,000 apiece on Monday for a tweet about Stephen Curry.

NFL wants to hold games in Germany, seeks partner city

LONDON — The NFL wants to expand its international series by holding regular-season games in Germany, launching a process Wednesday to identify a partner city.

Germany boasts a strong NFL fan base and is one of the world’s largest economies, making the country an attractive partner.

The NFL has staged 28 regular-season games in London since 2007 and will play two more in October at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. German fans often travel to London to attend games, the league said.

“We are very excited about the development of our German fan base, and the time is right to identify a partner who can execute a game at NFL standards as part of our international growth strategy,” Brett Gosper, the NFL’s head of UK and Europe, said in a statement.

The NFL has hired London-based The Sports Consultancy to assist, including working with interested cities to develop their proposals.

No Cheers: Tokyo Olympic Village considering ban on alcohol

TOKYO — The Olympic Village has traditionally been a fun place to be, housing thousands of young athletes and staff ready to party and share a few beers and bubbly toasts.

But not at the Tokyo Olympics, which are to open in just over six weeks amid a pandemic. These are going to be the “no cheers” Olympics with testing and vaccinations taking priority over fun and games.

It’s not clear if alcohol will be allowed in the village, which will house 11,000 Olympic athletes and 4,400 Paralympians. Organizers say they have yet to decide on a policy, which is expected by the end of the month.

Toshiro Muto, the CEO of the Tokyo organizing committee, said Wednesday it might be difficult to ban alcohol from the athletes’ private rooms in the village, but public areas in the village might be a different matter.

“In the case that they were to drink inside their own rooms — this is equivalent to cases where we are drinking in our own home.” Muto said, speaking to Japanese media on Wednesday after an online meeting with the International Olympic Committee executive board.

Eddy Alvarez tries to add baseball medal to speedskating

Eddy Alvarez can display his medal, along with his mettle.

Alvarez told his unusual story when he met his new U.S. baseball teammates last month in the old Los Angeles Dodgers clubhouse in Vero Beach, Florida.

“This feels like a little bit of a redemption trip for me, because there’s the feeling of listening to someone else’s national anthem when you were so close to winning,” he said. “At the end of the day, standing on the Olympic podium on the top is what we’re all really searching for here.”

Seven years ago, Alvarez was part of a four-man short track speedskating team that fell 0.271 seconds short of Russia in the 5,000 meter relay and won a silver medal at the Sochi Olympics. Last weekend, the 31-year-old Miami Marlins minor league infielder helped the U.S. qualify for the Olympic baseball tournament.

“I never thought it was going to be possible because baseball was taken out of the Olympics,” he said. “It just so happened that the stars aligned.”

While for most sports the Olympics is a matchup of its best players, in baseball it is merely the best of the rest — as in, those not in the major leagues.

Major leaguers are off-limits to Olympic teams, and big league general managers sometimes discourage top prospects from being available.

Alvarez made it to the major leagues last year with Miami following a coronavirus outbreak among the Marlins. He became the first non-baseball Olympian in the major leagues since Jim Thorpe with the New York Giants and Boston Braves from 1913-19, after he won gold medals in decathlon and modern pentathlon at the 1912 Stockholm Games.

Australian baseball team withdraws from Olympic qualifying

SYDNEY — Australia’s Olympic baseball team has given up trying to qualify for the Tokyo Games because of coronavirus-related travel complications.

Baseball Australia’s chief executive Glenn Williams on Wednesday said the “gut-wrenching” decision to withdraw makes Olympic qualification impossible. The final qualifying tournament on June 22-26 was initially due to be hosted by Taiwan but late last month it was moved to Puebla, Mexico.

“Attending the final Olympic qualifier in a COVID world was always going to present significant challenges,” Williams said. “The planning for Taiwan was extensive and with the late change in location and dates, those plans became obsolete.

“We worked through multiple options and scenarios but the logistical challenges of providing a safe environment for the group were insurmountable.”

Williams said even if Australia attended and won the qualifying event, subsequent quarantine requirements made it impossible to compete at the Tokyo Games starting on July 23.

“Athlete health and safety was always of paramount importance,” he said. “And there were simply too many unanswered questions presenting significant risks. The complexity of moving such a large group, through two countries, with limited flight availability, presented a real risk of members of the group being stranded overseas and requiring medical treatment.”

World No. 4-ranked Taiwan last week pulled out of the Mexico qualifying tournament for the same reason. China withdrew in early May before the tournament was moved from Taiwan to Mexico.

Baseball Hall delays induction to Sept 8. to allow crowd

COOPERSTOWN, N,Y. — Baseball’s Hall of Fame is moving this year’s induction ceremony for Derek Jeter, Larry Walker, Ted Simmons and the late Marvin Miller from July 25 to Sept. 8 so a crowd may attend as coronavirus restrictions ease.

The ceremony will take place outdoors on the Hall’s lawn as a ticketed event with a limit on crowd size, the Hall said Wednesday. Tickets will be available starting July 12.

The inductions were to have taken place in July 2020 but were postponed due to the pandemic. No candidates were elected in 2021.

The Hall’s award presentations will remain on July 24 as an indoor, television-only event. The presentations include the Baseball Writers’ Association of America Career Excellence Awards for 2020 to the late Nick Cafardo and for 2021 to Dick Kaegel, of the Ford C. Frick Awards for broadcasting excellence for 2020 to Ken Harrelson and for 2021 to Al Michaels, and of the 2020 Buck O’Neil Lifetime Achievement Award winner, David Montgomery.

Titans, Williamson County start girls’ flag football league

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Tennessee Titans have partnered with Williamson County to start the first interscholastic girls’ flag football league starting in spring 2022.

The Titans announced Tuesday that nine teams will play a six-week, eight-game season starting in March. All teams will qualify for the league championship tentatively set to be played at Nissan Stadium in May.

Darrin Joines, district athletic director for Williamson County schools, said this will be a pilot program for the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association to gauge interest in the sport for future expansion.

The TSSAA will advise on officiating, planning and other areas. NFL FLAG also will help the program with training and guidance as it tries to expand women’s flag football across the country.

Browns staffer Brownson suspended for DUI, will not lose job

BEREA, Ohio — Cleveland Browns chief of staff Callie Brownson has been suspended by the team but will not lose her job after an arrest for drunken driving.

Brownson, one of just a handful of female coaches in the NFL, pleaded no contest Tuesday in a Brunswick court to charges stemming from her arrest last month. She had her license suspended for one year and will have to take an intervention course.

On Wednesday, Browns coach Kevin Stefanski, who hired Brownson last year and has praised her work, said she has been disciplined by the team. He did not reveal the length of her suspension but said she’s going to remain employed by the Browns.

“Extremely disappointed,” Stefanski said following a voluntary practice. “We take these things very seriously. We’re working with the league on appropriate discipline. Callie’s obviously very remorseful and she’s going to learn from this and we’ll support her along the way.”

Brownson was stopped on May 27 for driving 55 mph in a 35 mph zone at 12:27 a.m. According to the police report, an officer detected the smell of alcohol and said she had slurred speech.

UEFA pauses Super League rebels case; English clubs fined

GENEVA — UEFA put a hold Wednesday on its disciplinary case against Super League rebel clubs Barcelona, Juventus and Real Madrid, while the six Premier League clubs that tried to join the breakaway accepted a collective fine of 22 million pounds ($31 million).

The three clubs who refused to renounce the Super League project are facing a possible ban from the Champions League, although that now looks unlikely before next season.

Barcelona, Juventus and Real Madrid won a ruling from a Spanish court in April that they could not be punished by Switzerland-based UEFA and FIFA. Their case was also referred by the judge in Madrid to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg which could weigh in if UEFA is breaching competition laws.

“The UEFA Appeals Body has decided to stay the proceedings until further notice,” the European soccer body said in a statement, acknowledging it was notified by Swiss authorities last week of the Madrid court order.

“UEFA understands why the disciplinary proceedings needed to be suspended for the time being, but remains confident in and will continue to defend its position in all the relevant jurisdictions.”

It was unclear if next steps will see UEFA challenge the injunction in Madrid or seek to persuade judges in Luxembourg, where the timeline for rulings could take at least several months unless fast-tracked.

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