City gets Real, BVB’s second chance – UEFA Champions League Group D preview

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If only we had an alternate label for this very difficult group. Unfortunately, the only thing to talk about the games, starting with the day’s headline act in Madrid:

Real Madrid vs. Manchester City

Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid, 2:45 p.m. Eastern

The second-biggest game of Champions League’s group stage helps kickoff the tournament proper. The biggest match will be Real Madrid’s trip to Manchester City, with greater stakes and City’s fanbase (just starting to enjoy their club’s new success) setting the stage for two of the world’s most talented and expensive teams. But given there are few atmospheres better than Madrid’s, it’s difficult to get a better start than Spain and England’s champions meeting at the Santiago Bernabeu.

More: Group A Group B Group C Group D

Because of their connections to Inter Milan (where José Mourinho succeeded Roberto Mancini after three-straight league titles), the two coaches have stolen much of the pre-match focus, a shame given the talent on the field. Each team will fill their XI with depth we usually see only three times per season: the two Clasicos (though there’ve been more lately) and the Champions League final. Thanks to City’s low UEFA coefficient (still not at the same level as their talent), we’re getting two similarly spectacular matchups in group stage.

For the first meeting, expect to see a highly motivated Real Madrid. Weekend disappointment left Mourinho publicly expressing frustration with his club’s 1-1-2 (W-L-D) start. Just as concerning is the team’s lack of goals, having scored only five times this season. Coming after weeks of concern for Cristiano Ronaldo’s emotional health, rancor off the field has given Tuesday’s meeting the feel of a must-win match for Los Merengues.

Trying to match Real’s intensity, City is likely to be shorthanded. Sergio Aguero has been out since the season opener, and while he had targeted Tuesday’s match for a possible return, the Argentine attacker is unlikely to figure at the Bernabeu. That leaves Edin Dzeko and Mario Balotelli (just returning from an injury of his own) to fill the space in front of Carlos Tévez.

Borussia Dortmund vs. Ajax

BVB Stadion, Dortmund, 2:45 p.m. Eastern

In theory, this should be a straight forward match for Borussia Dortmund. The two-time reigning Bundesliga champions are the more talented side, and while Ajax are champions of the Netherlands, the Eredivisie’s quality doesn’t match its reputation (it’s been five years since a Dutch team made it past group stage). If everything plays out by the book, BVB should have a comfortable night in Dortmund.

But then there’s last year, when Dortmund finished at the bottom of a group that included Arsenal, Marseille, and Olympiacos. Coming off a summer where Arsenal had lose both Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasir, BVB was picked by some to win the group. Few thought Marseille would beat them out. Ultimately, BVB couldn’t even claim the third place spot that would have qualified them for Europa League.

Has anything changed this year? Against an Ajax team that has undergone major changes (but remains potent, with Christian Eriksson and Siem de Jong) it may be hard to tell. Even if BVB wins comfortably, the gap between Ajax and the group’s other members is so large, a positive result’s unlikely to tell us much.

Instead, BVB may be looking to show something more ethereal. Progress may be measured in the command and composure we see from Robert Lewandowski, Kevin Grosskreutz, Mario Götze, Mats Hummels and Neven Subotic. The young core that’s mastered the Bundesliga needs to show that expertise at the next level.

U.S. Open Cup roundup: Poku lifts Miami; Red Bulls, Cincy win on PKs

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While MLS represents the majority of the remaining clubs in this year’s U.S. Open Cup, one side continues to defy the odds.

[ MORE: Minnesota United adds Hearts midfielder Sam Nicholson ]

Miami FC reached their first quarterfinal in club history after knocking off Atlanta United late on Wednesday, behind a goal and an assist from Kwadwo Poku. The victory for Miami sets up a date with FC Cincinnati — who pulled off an unbelievable shootout win against the Chicago Fire.

Meanwhile, the New York Red Bulls and New England Revolution both advanced on the night with wins over the Philadelphia Union and D.C. United, respectively. The Red Bulls and Revs will meet in the final eight as well.

Sporting KC kept its hope of hoisting a fourth U.S. Open Cup title alive on Wednesday with a 2-0 win over the Houston Dynamo. The 2015 winners will take on FC Dallas — who defeated the Colorado Rapids on Tuesday night.

Here are all the results from tonight’s Open Cup action.

Houston Dynamo 0-2 Sporting KC
New England Revolution 2-1 D.C. United
Miami FC 3-2 Atlanta United
New York Red Bulls 1-1 (5-3 on PKs) Philadelphia Union
FC Cincinnati 0-0 (3-1 on PKs) Chicago Fire
San Jose Earthquakes 2-1 Seattle Sounders
LA Galaxy 2-0 Sacramento Republic

Report: City Football Group set to expand outreach with Girona deal

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City Football Group appears on the verge of adding to its global outreach, and it’s next destination looks to be in Spain.

[ MORE: Are Southampton’s days of selling behind the club? ]

The group of investors, which are known for controlling Premier League side Manchester City, are reportedly nearing a deal to purchase a partial stake in Spanish club Girona — which is set to make its La Liga debut in 2017/18.

CFG is said to be gaining a near “50 percent” stake in the club, with the rest of the club owned by Media Base, a company owned by Pep Guardiola‘s brother, Pere.

Over recent years, CFG has vastly expanded its ownership outreach and currently has a stake in five clubs around the world, with Girona set to be the sixth.

MLS side New York City FC, Australian A-League side Melbourne City FC, Japan’s Yokohama F. Marinos and Club Atletico Torque in Uruguay are all part of the CFG enterprise, alongside Man City.

New York Red Bulls ink goalkeeper Luis Robles to new deal

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The “Iron Man” will keep up his amazing journey with the New York Red Bulls, after signing a new deal with the club on Wednesday.

[ MORE: Wesley Sneijder on verge of joining Los Angeles FC ]

Goalkeeper Luis Robles has extended his contract with the reigning Eastern Conference champions, as the American continues to raise his consecutive starts streak, which stands at 157.

The terms of the deal were not disclosed in the club’s release.

Robles joined the Red Bulls back in 2012 after playing in Germany, and the shot-stopper hasn’t missed a start ever since.

Report: Minnesota United adds Hearts midfielder Sam Nicholson

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Minnesota United has had its shares of ups and down in its debut MLS season, but the Loons are on the verge making an exciting young signing.

[ MORE: Wesley Sneijder closing in on Los Angeles FC move ]

ESPN FC is reporting that Minnesota will sign Hearts winger Sam Nicholson from the Scottish Premier League on a deal that makes him a Loon until 2019.

The young attacker is expected to join the MLS side when the summer transfer window opens on July 10.

Nicholson, 22, has played with the Edinburgh side since his youth days, and made his senior debut with the club in 2013. During his time at Hearts, Nicholson scored 16 goals in all competitions for the team.

Last season, Nicholson missed 16 matches due to a significant knee injury.

According to the report, Scottish sides Rangers and Aberdeen were also among those interested in acquiring Nicholson, while English Championship clubs Bristol City and Barnsley also reached out about the attacker.