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Lion Links: 1/11/17

Johnson called up for Canada but Larin’s injured, former Lion Watson retires, FIFA expands World Cup in 2026 and more.

Soccer: 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifyer-El Salvador at Canada Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to Wednesday! There, that sounded pretty positive despite this being everyone’s least favorite day of the week. Still, there’s a lot of cool stuff approaching our way on this particular Wednesday.

The Florida Cup resumes right here in Orlando tonight at ESPN Wide World of Sports out at Disney, with Bayer Leverkusen taking on Atletico Mineiro. Tomorrow is the NWSL Draft and another Florida Cup match out at WWOS (Wolfsburg vs. Bahia). Friday brings the MLS SuperDraft.

Before we go any further, let’s give our old gaffer a birthday shout. Adrian Heath – now the boss in Minnesota – turns 56 years young today. The former EPL midfielder will forever be a part of Orlando City lore, helping build a tradition of success (in the form of trophies) in the City Beautiful. Now that Heath has moved on to the frozen tundra of Minnesota, it’s time to honor his legacy by earning more trophies.

Here are your sizzling hot morning Lion Links…

Johnson Invited to Canada’s January Camp; Larin…Injured?

New Orlando City midfielder Will Johnson will be part of the 28-man January camp for the Canadian national team, but the bigger news is that Canada Soccer says Cyle Larin is unavailable due to injury. The camp will be based here in the Sunshine State, down in Ft. Lauderdale, from Jan. 12-18. The Canadians will then descend upon Bermuda, playing a friendly against the host nation on Jan. 22. Of the 28 players attending the camp in Ft. Lauderdale, 18 will go on to represent the Great White North against Bermuda. Larin’s injury is news to me but an Orlando City spokesman said Cyle was still rehabbing an unspecified knock he suffered late in the season. Just a week ago it was reported he was going to appear in the Florida Cup All-Star Game before the club quickly killed that idea. Whatever’s wrong, please get well soon, Cyle.

Former Lion Watson Calls it a Career

Staying with the Loons for a minute, former Orlando City midfielder Jamie Watson has decided to end his playing career at age 30 and take up a job in the broadcast game. Watson has signed on to become the sideline reporter for Minnesota United’s television broadcasts for the expansion club’s first season. The Texas native appeared in 60 games with Orlando City from 2011 to 2013 and averaged about a goal every three matches. He was with the team prior to its arrival in Orlando, playing with the Austin Aztex in 2009 and 2010. The former Real Salt Lake draft pick signed with Minnesota United in 2014 but his career was slowed by injuries with Minnesota. Now he hangs up his boots in favor of a microphone and he’ll probably kill it. Please join me in wishing Jamie the best of luck in his new profession. #ForeverALion

Hamid Out of USMNT Camp with Injury

A knee injury has forced D.C. United goalkeeper Bill Hamid to withdraw from the USMNT January camp. The knock deals a serious blow to what could be Hamid’s best opportunity to move up the depth chart for the national team. Hamid sits behind — at the very least — Tim Howard and Brad Guzan. But both star goalkeepers are getting older and Hamid is among those poised to step in and fill the role. A strong showing in January could have given Hamid a leg up, but he’ll have to wait a while longer for his opportunity. The injury to Hamid leaves the U.S. with plenty of good options in camp, including David Bingham, Stefan Frei, Nick Rimando and Luis Robles.

FIFA Expands 2026 World Cup to 48 Teams

Well, they’ve gone and done it. FIFA has expanded the World Cup Finals field from 32 to 48 teams starting in 2026, an increase of 16 additional countries. The plan, set in motion by FIFA President Gianni Infantino, was unanimously accepted by the council on Tuesday in Zurich. Feels like a cash grab, doesn’t it? Expanding the field doesn’t make a lot of sense from a soccer perspective in what is already a crowded tournament – often filled with arduous travel. Technically, all countries in the soccer-playing world take part in every World Cup. We call it “qualifying.” This move adheres to FIFA’s policy of “if it ain’t broke, fix it anyway.”

Free Kicks

I’m not really one to make a big deal out of the latest soccer ball, but if you’re into that sort of thing, MLS has teased its new match ball...The city of St. Louis suffered a blow in its quest for an MLS team with the killing of a stadium bill. Not unexpected, but definitely a setback...For you draftniks, defenders are impressing at the MLS Combine...Giovinco’s agent says his star client is staying in Toronto rather than eyeing a return to Serie A...MLS extended its English language TV deal with Canadian network TSN for five years and TVA Sports will take over French language broadcasting in Canada, replacing RDS.

Those born on this date include former E Street Band saxophonist Clarence Clemons (1942...RIP Big Man), original Yes keyboardist Tony Kaye (1946), former NBA star and native Orlandoan Darryl “Chocolate Thunder” Dawkins (1957), longtime Manchester United captain Bryan Robson (1957), Bangles guitarist Vicki Peterson (1958), former NASCAR driver Brett Bodine (1958), Mary J. Blige (1971), actress Amanda Peet (1972), English striker Emile Heskey (1978), Memphis Grizzlies guard Tony Allen (1982), Leicester City striker Jamie Vardy (1987), and English soccer twins Michael and Will Keane (1993).

That’s all the time for me today. Enjoy your Wednesday and look for our coverage of tonight’s match between clubs from the German Bundesliga and Brazilian Serie A from the Disney campus.