Michael Phelps has taken another step to put an official seal on his retirement.

ESPN and NBC Sports report Phelps told reporters Monday ahead of USA Swimming’s Golden Goggle awards that he has removed himself from USA Swimming’s drug testing program. Phelps ended his previous retirement after the 2012 Games by rejoining the same program.

Phelps later reiterated his retirement on stage Monday, saying, “I’m done competitive swimming, but I’m never too far away from the pool.”

Phelps also touched on his secret June wedding to Nicole Johnson. Phelps says he and Johnson married in a “small little ceremony” in order to make it easier for them to travel to the Rio de Janeiro Olympics with their infant son, Boomer. They had a more formal ceremony last month in Mexico.

– via Associated Press

The Montreal Impact-Toronto FC playoff game on Tuesday night is sold out.

The Impact announced it has sold all 61,004 tickets at Olympic Stadium for the first leg of the MLS Eastern Conference final against their closest rival. The second leg of the two-games, total-goals series is to be played Nov. 30 in Toronto.

The 61,004 spectators would tie it’s attendance record set April 29, 2015 for the CONCACAF Champions League final against Mexico’s Club America.

It is to be the third time the Impact have drawn more than 60,000 to the domed stadium. In 2012, a crowd of 60,860 saw them play host to David Beckham and the Los Angeles Galaxy in a regular season match.

Toronto too may attract a record crowd for BMO Field for Game 2 of the series. The club has sold out its normal allotment and is now selling the temporary Grey Cup seats in the south stand. With those in play, the team could draw a record 36,000 to 37,000 for its home leg.

TFC has drawn a larger crowd at the Rogers Centre. In March 2012 a sellout crowd of 47,658 saw Toronto draw the Los Angeles Galaxy 2-2 in the opening leg of their CONCACAF Champions League quarter-final in the dome.

It is the first time either team has reached the conference final. The winner will face either Seattle or Colorado in the MLS Cup final on Dec. 10.

– via The Canadian Press

Conor McGregor‘s got TWO Mayweathers threatening to beat his ass — with Floyd‘s famous father vowing to knock out the UFC superstar himself … for a fraction of the price!

64-year-old Floyd Mayweather Sr. — who was a pretty good pro fighter himself — put it very bluntly, “I’LL PUT HIS ASS TO SLEEP!”

Floyd’s dad unloaded on McGregor to — spelling out exactly why “Notorious” would get crushed in a fight where he wasn’t allowed to use his “damn feet.”

– via TMZ

Paul Byron and Alex Galchenyuk scored and Carey Price made 31 saves as the Montreal Canadiens ended a three-game winless run with a 2-1 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night.

The Canadiens (14-3-2) have won 12 straight games against their oldest rival dating to Jan. 18, 2014.

William Nylander scored for the Leafs (8-7-3), who were coming off a pair of home wins in which they scored 12 goals.

Montreal fired 29 shots at Frederik Andersen.

Byron was on the doorstep to jam the rebound of a Shea Weber shot past Andersen 15:45 into the opening period. It was the diminutive winger’s seventh of the season, only four shy of his career high for a season.

The Canadiens were only five seconds into a power play when Galchenyuk got his seventh of the season. He won a faceoff back to Weber, who slid the puck to Alexander Radulov on the right wing for a perfect feed in front for the Canadiens’ scoring leader to score into an open side at 0:32 of the second frame.

Toronto struck back on the man advantage at 8:47 on an equally sweet three-way passing play, this time in tight traffic as the puck went from Auston Matthews to Leo Komarov to Nylander alone on the right side for his sixth of the season.

It was the second meeting this season between the rivals. The Canadiens won, also by 2-1, at home on Oct. 29. Their next two games are in Toronto on Jan. 7 and Feb. 25, 2017.

Radulov was back in the lineup after missing two games with an illness. Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty played his 500th NHL game.

Martin Marincin, Peter Holland and Frank Corrado were scratched for Toronto, while Montreal sat out Daniel Carr and Greg Pateryn.

– via The Canadian Press

Toronto FC coach Greg Vanney isn’t afraid to admit it.

“I hate the bell, yeah, sure,” Vanney said with a smile Friday. “And I hope I don’t ever hear the bell.”

The giant North Star bell, the brainchild of the 1642 MTL supporters group, rings every time the Impact score.

It has been moved from Saputo Stadium to Olympic Stadium for Tuesday’s Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final. Former WBC light-heavyweight champion boxer Jean Pascal will be the honorary bell-ringer Tuesday.

Toronto has done a good job this season of keeping the bell quiet.

TFC won 2-0 at Saputo Stadium in April, and tied the Impact 0-0 there in June in Amway Canadian Championship play. The bell rang twice on Oct. 16 but a late goal by Tosaint Ricketts gave Toronto a 2-2 tie.

“Everybody has their thing in their stadium and their’s is the bell,” said Vanney, who heard it three times last season when Toronto lost to Montreal in the first round of the playoffs.

The 1.12-metre-wide cast-iron bell, which weighs 715 kilograms, was moved via pickup truck.

– via The Canadian Press

Three-time world champion Patrick Chan won the gold medal in comeback fashion on Saturday to highlight a four-medal day for Canada at the Cup of China figure skating competition.

Kaetlyn Osmond of Marystown, N.L., took silver in the women’s event while Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje of Waterloo, Ont., won silver in the ice dance. In pairs, Lubov Ilyushechkina and Dylan Moscovitch of Toronto added a bronze.

Chan was third after the short program but excelled in the free skate to edge China’s Boyang Jin for the title.

“The program felt very methodical,” said Chan, who also won Skate Canada three weeks ago. “I didn’t give it more energy than it needed. I told myself to relax and not try and rush through the program.”

Chan, from Toronto, had 196.31 points in the free skate to finish with 279.72 overall. Jin was second with 278.54 and Sergei Voronov of Russia was third at 243.76.

“Even the fall during the quad Salchow I made sure I didn’t panic and just continued to do the program as I did at home and forget about the mistake,” Chan said.

The event was the fifth stop on the ISU Grand Prix circuit.

Elena Radionova of Russia won women’s gold with 205.90 points. Osmond was second with 196.00 and Russia’s Elizaveta Tuktamysheva finished third at 192.57.

“I started the program really strong,” said Osmond. “Then I did two mistakes that were really uncharacteristic for me. That’s something I just have to work on leading into the next big competitions. I need to keep my focus a little bit longer even if the program is going really well.”

Radionova under-rotated on her opening triple lutz-triple toeloop and was deducted points on a triple flip but completed all her remaining jumps to win her first GP event since last year’s Rostelecom Cup in Moscow.

In ice dance, American siblings Maia and Alex Shibutani took gold with 185.13 points, just ahead of Weaver and Poje at 181.54. Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin of Russia were third with 177.41.

“This season is all about building,” said Weaver. “There are many new things for us. We are learning from the beginning and that takes time and it’s not always an instantaneous result. Everything can get better even though we didn’t make any major mistakes.”

Chinese skaters won gold and silver in the pairs. Xiaoyu Yu and Hao Zhang finished first with 203.76 points and Cheng Peng and Yang Jin were second at 197.96.

Ilyushechkina and Moscovitch took the bronze with 191.54.

The sixth stop on the circuit is next weekend in Sapporo, Japan.

With files from The Associated Press.

The NFL’s Rams are gone, and attention in St. Louis now turns to soccer with an ownership group pursuing a Major League Soccer expansion team.

The effort includes plans to build a $200 million stadium downtown that would require millions of dollars in public funding.

The ownership group revealed Thursday is known as SC STL. Paul Edgerley, a partner at the investment firm VantEdge Partners, is lead owner and chairman. Among his partners is Dave Peacock, former president of Anheuser-Busch and a driving force behind the effort last year to build a $1 billion riverfront stadium for the Rams.

The football stadium plan died when the NFL in January approved Rams owner Stan Kroenke’s request to move the team to Los Angeles. Since the departure of football, efforts to secure an MLS team have escalated.

The MLS is already adding two new teams to expand to 24 by the end of the decade, and eventually plans to add four more, league spokesman Dan Courtemanche said. St. Louis is among eight markets that have publicly expressed interest in the four additional expansion slots, Courtemanche said. A timetable for when those cities would join the league has not been determined.

Commissioner Don Garber said in a statement that league officials have had “very productive” meetings with Edgerley and his partners.

“With its rich soccer heritage, St. Louis has always been a market of great interest to Major League Soccer and SC STL is the ideal ownership group that will provide St. Louis the best opportunity for a future expansion team,” Garber said.

The open-air stadium would have 20,000 seats with the ability to expand to 28,500. It would sit next to St. Louis Union Station and encompass about 24 acres on land near Interstate 64 currently owned by the Missouri Department of Transportation. The city has an option to buy the site, but the value is still being appraised.

SC STL said it would fund “much” of the stadium construction cost, but St. Louis voters in April would be asked to fund a significant share, up to $80 million, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Specific details on the public portion are still being worked out, the ownership group said.

Getting it on the ballot is no sure thing. Though the NFL plan was eventually approved by city aldermen, the debate was often contentious. Alderman Sam Moore said at one meeting that some residents live in “Third World” conditions while taxpayers were paying for stadiums. Messages left for Moore on Friday were not immediately returned.

The ownership group said it also will work with the state for financial assistance related to site development and infrastructure.

The stadium would be within about a mile of two other downtown sports venues — baseball’s Busch Stadium and the Scottrade Center, home of the NHL’s Blues.

– via The Associated Press

The Toronto Blue Jays will kick off their 2017 spring training schedule on Feb. 25 against the Atlanta Braves in Orlando.

The Blue Jays will play their first home game against the Philadelphia Phillies the following day at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium in Dunedin, Fla., the team said Tuesday in a release.

Pitchers, catchers and injured players will report for physicals on Feb. 14. The first full squad workout is set for Feb. 18.

Toronto will play Canada ahead of the World Baseball Classic on March 7 at Dunedin. Canada will open WBC round-robin play against the Dominican Republic on March 9 at Marlins Park in Miami.

The Blue Jays, meanwhile, will close out their pre-season schedule with a pair of games against the Pittsburgh Pirates on March 31 and April 1 in Montreal.

Toronto will play its regular-season opener at Baltimore on April 3.

– via The Canadian Press

Connor Brown set a career-high with four points and Mitch Marner scored another impressive goal as the Toronto Maple Leafs spoiled James Reimer’s first start as an Air Canada Centre foe.

Brown scored two goals and added two assists in the 6-1 win over Reimer’s Florida Panthers (8-8-1). Leo Komarov, James van Riemsdyk and Jake Gardiner also added tallies in Toronto’s seventh victory in nine tries at home (7-2-0), Nazem Kadri chipping in with a pair of assists.

Frederik Andersen stopped 26 shots, improving to 6-2-0 in November for Toronto (8-6-3).

Aaron Ekblad scored the lone goal for Florida, Reimer pegged for six goals on 30 shots in his first start in Toronto as a member of the opposition. A former fourth round pick of the Leafs, he played more than 200 games with the club over six seasons.

His former team got to him quick, popping three by in the opening frame, including a pair by Brown.

The 22-year-old Brown got his third career NHL goal when he deflected an innocent-looking Morgan Rielly point shot past a surprised Reimer nearly six minutes into the first. The goal was initially ruled off on account of a high stick, but was later overturned on video review.

After Ekblad evened the score at 1-1 with only his fourth point of the season (all goals), Brown scored again. This time, he eluded a check along the boards by Ekblad, continued a hard drive down the right side of the ice and then flung a shot on goal as he avoided a diving Jason Demers. Brown crashed into the boards and popped up with a visor full of snow after the shot beat Reimer, who was taken aback by the goal once more.

Signed for five years and US$17 million this past summer, Reimer has been just OK with a 2-3-1 record in his first seven games with Florida.

Arguably Toronto’s top rookie all season and especially of late, Marner padded the lead to two with maybe the most impressive goal of the Leafs season. Gaining control of the puck just inside the Florida blueline, Marner gained a step on defenceman

Michael Matheson and then made a series of dekes to beat Reimer.

He was still fighting off the advances of Matheson prior to scoring, waiting until the last possible moment to slide the puck from backhand to forehand, tucking it just around the left pad of the Panthers goaltender.

Marner now has six goals and 10 points in his last seven games, trailing only Winnipeg Jets winger Patrik Laine in rookie scoring (16 points).

Brown added his third point when he lofted a pass to Komarov on a Toronto rush, the Finnish winger flipping a shot past Reimer for the 4-1 lead. He notched his fourth point on Gardiner’s third of the year late in the final frame.

Brown’s previous career-high of three points also came against Florida late last season.

The line of Brown, Komarov and Kadri not only managed to score a bunch but shut down the Panthers top unit, which features Aleksander Barkov and 44-year-old Jaromir Jagr.

Van Riemsdyk, coming off his first hat trick as a Leaf on Tuesday, potted the Leafs fifth goal late in the second frame. He picked off a flubbed pass by Dylan McIlrath in the Florida zone and beat Reimer.

Van Riemsdyk has a team-leading eight goals and 17 points on the year.

If landing a few quality chances in the win, Auston Matthews remained without a goal for the 11th consecutive game. The 19-year-old has only two assists in that span.

– via The Canadian Press

American officials are worried that 50,000 Russian troops being massed near the Ukraine border and within Crimea, the pro-Russian peninsula recently annexed by President Vladimir Putin, aren’t there for just a training exercise

Despite Russian reassurances that Moscow’s troop buildup along Ukraine’s eastern frontier is for a military exercise, its growing scale is making U.S. officials nervous about its ultimate aim.

President Barack Obama on Friday urged Russia to stop “intimidating” Ukraine and to pull its troops back to “de-escalate the situation.” He told CBS that the troop buildup may “be an effort to intimidate Ukraine, or it may be that [Russia has] additional plans.”

Pentagon officials say they believe there could be close to 50,000 Russian troops bordering the former Soviet republic and inside Crimea, recently seized and annexed by Moscow. That estimate is double earlier assessments, and means Russian President Vladimir Putin could order a lighting strike into Ukrainian territory with the forces already in place. The higher troop count was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.

“We continue to see the Russian military reinforce units on their side of the border with Ukraine to the south and to the east of Ukraine,” Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, said Thursday. “They continue to reinforce and it continues to be unclear exactly what the intent there is.”

Revolution in Ukraine 2014. Kiev Protesters Killed as Ukraine Crisis Escalates
Revolution in Ukraine 2014. Kiev Protesters Killed as Ukraine Crisis Escalates

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf played down the notion that there are as many as 100,000 Russian troops now bordering Ukraine, as Olexander Motsyk, the Ukrainian ambassador to the U.S., said Thursday on Capitol Hill. “I hadn’t actually seen the hundred-thousand number,”

Harf said. “There are huge numbers of Russian troops on the Ukrainian border. … We are concerned about Russia taking further escalatory steps with whatever number of tens of thousands of troops they have there, and have called on them not to do so.”

Washington got those assurances that the Russian troop buildup was only an exercise from Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu a week ago. But no one in the U.S. government knows if Putin agrees — or if the Russian leader has changed his mind as the West has debated what level of economic and political sanctions might be imposed if Moscow takes an additional chunk of Ukraine beyond Crimea. “They made it clear that their intent was to do exercises and not to cross the border,” Kirby said. “Our expectation is they’re going to live up to that word.”

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf

There is no plan to involve the U.S. military in what is happening in Ukraine, even if Russia takes more territory. Ukraine borders Russia, and Ukraine does not belong to NATO, where an attack on one member is deemed to be an attack on all.

“Should the Russians continue to move aggressively in that region and in the Ukraine, what does that mean—and NATO would have to respond, for example—what would that mean for the United States Army?” Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, asked the Army’s top officer Thursday.

How many of the 67,000 U.S. troops in Europe might be involved? “I simply don’t know,” Odierno said. “And I would just remind people that, actually, some of the soldiers that are assigned to Europe actually right now are in Afghanistan.”

“My responsibility is to make sure that the U.S. Army is prepared to respond as part of a joint force, as part of NATO,” General Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff, responded. “So what I’m focused on is improving our readiness in combat, combat service support and combat aviation capabilities to make sure we’re ready to respond whether it’s from a humanitarian assistance aspect or any other aspect.”

From Moscow to Siberia to Bulgaria, Russian war monuments have faced a rough year.

As a result of all this, two important things happened. First, Ukraine became a country in a meaningful way. In the 23 years since it became independent from the USSR, Ukraine could not decide whether it was going to become a law-abiding, European nation of shopkeepers like its Western neighbor (and some-time ruler), Poland – or take its place alongside Belarus and Kazakhstan in a revived Russian Empire of kleptocratic dictatorships.

Lawmakers suggested that the world is abandoning Ukraine. “It appears to me Ukraine was left defenseless over the last two decades,” said Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio.

Vladimir Putin settled that question once and for all. Without the Russian-speaking population of Crimea, Donetsk and Lugansk, there will never again be a pro-Moscow government in Kiev. At the end of October strongly pro-European parties swept to power in the Rada, Ukraine’s parliament. At the same time the European Union and Nato found – for the time being at least – the mettle to agree on sanctions in Russia and economic and logistical support for Ukraine.

The war for the East continues. The economy teeters. The ultra-nationalists may not have done well in recent elections but they are armed and organized into self-governing “patriotic battalions” fighting independently of the government’s command. A recipe for disaster of Yugoslav proportions, perhaps. And yet most Ukrainians remain surprisingly hopeful. “We found out who we are. And who are aren’t,” says Ruslana Khazipova, a young singer with the band Dakh Daughters. “We are free. And we aren’t Russia’s bitch any more.”

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