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Manchester United officially clinches 20th league championship

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A story that started about 11 months ago has now been told. And how.

Manchester United fumbled away the English Premier League crown a year ago, squandering a late-season lead as rival Manchester City improbably, notoriously tiptoed away with the last-minute glory in May of 2012.

Sir Alex Ferguson and his Manchester United bunch set immediately about putting that right. Through the 2012-13 English Premier League campaign, the men of Old Trafford toiled and boiled and churned and never took their eyes off the EPL prize.

Then they ran away with the doggone thing. This took on the whiff of “foregone conclusion” more than two months ago. It has been a fait accompli, all but officially, for the last month now.

Monday it became official, a 3-0 win over Aston Villa at Old Trafford mathematically wrapping up the Premier League crown – still a month from last kick in the world’s most storied association.

This was Manchester United’s 20th league crown. In terms of Premier League titles proper (the league has been labeled as such since 1992), Manchester United has 13 crowns – a phenomenal total considering that no other club has more than three crowns.

What distinguishes the latest Manchester United coronation is that this version is rather undistinguished. This is not like the Red Devils of 1999 and 2008, signature sides of the Ferguson era, the fabulously talented groups that ruled the Premier League matters. David Beckham, Peter Schmeichel, a young Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Roy Keane and Dwight Yorke were marquee men of the former; Edwin van der Sar, Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, Carlos Tevez, Scholes and Giggs (still) highlighted the latter. These were all giants of their era. (OK, “eras” in the cases of the ageless Giggs and Scholes.)

(MORE: Robin van Persie’s hat trick Monday, in context)

The current version is not a signature squad in terms of talent. In fact, we don’t need too fine a microscope to identify real flaws in this roster.

David de Gea in goal? He’s not there yet, not close to Schmeichel-esque. The defending was left quite iffy once captain Nemanja Vidic suffered yet another injury setback. Michael Carrick has been effective in midfield, but he won’t make anybody’s World Best XI.  Nor will Rooney nowadays – not outside of England, anyway.

Robin van Persie is truly the Red Devils only world class star of the moment. And yet, take a gander at that luxurious lead in the Premiership table.  That spells dominance, no matter which way you turn it.

This latest title, the milepost 20th, is all about Ferguson’s drive and the group’s collective desire, unflinching and always so determined, to grind on. They won early and late and at all points in between, never losing footing nor focus while the pursuers took the occasional spill. Those seem so inevitable over such a taxing campaign. Inevitable, that is, but for the most stubbornly single-minded assemblies.

The Premier League has demanded that United wait until its home finale (May 12 vs. Swansea) to actually, physically lift the Premier League trophy. Never mind that. The players celebrated well after Monday’s final whistle. And it seemed about time – the rough draft on this one has been long since finished.

(MORE: Robin van Persie’s stunning strike, the best of his Monday trio)

From van Persie, in his first year at  Old Trafford since the high profile move out of his longtime Arsenal home: “I feel very happy, I had to wait so long for my first title. We’ve got a fantastic team, great players, it’s a championship for every single one of them. Managers, trainers, physios, staff, everyone deserves this.”

Robben extends contract with Bayern Munich through June 2018

(L-R) Thomas Muller of Bayern Munchen, Philipp Lahm of Bayern Munchen, Arjen Robben of Bayern Munchen during the German Bundesliga match between Borussia Mönchengladbach and FC Bayern München at Borussia Park on January 24, 2014 in Mönchengladbach, Germany.(Photo by VI Images via Getty Images)
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BERLIN (AP) Arjen Robben has extended his contract with Bayern Munich for another year.

Bayern says the Netherlands winger’s contract will run until the end of June 2018.

[ MORE: Names to watch in Tuesday’s SuperDraft ]

Robben has been with the club for almost eight years, joining from Real Madrid in 2009.

He has scored 82 goals in 152 Bundesliga matches, 14 goals in 23 German Cup games and 21 goals in 53 Champions League matches, including the winning goal against Borussia Dortmund in the 2013 Champions League final.

Antonio Valencia extends Manchester United deal

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 18:  Cesar Azpilicueta of Chelsea marshalls Luis Antonio Valencia of Manchester United during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Manchester United at Stamford Bridge on April 18, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
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Antonio Valencia has a fan in Jose Mourinho.

The Manchester United fullback, 31, has added a year to his contract. Scheduled to become a free agent after this season, his contract now runs through 2018.

[ MORE: Chinese club claims big bids ]

Ecuador’s captain, Valencia arrived at United from Wigan in 2009 after spending time with El Nacional and Villarreal.

He has 21 goals in 270 appearances, and has played 2,042 minutes under Mourinho. This season, Valencia is averaging 2.4 tackles and 1.8 interceptions per match.

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Ten names to watch as the MLS SuperDraft concludes

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After three days of celebrating its first two rounds, Major League Soccer will complete its surprise-ridden 2017 SuperDraft on Tuesday with a 2 p.m. EDT conference call.

Friday’s first round featured fewer trades than many expected, and a bit of a stunner in its first overall pick: Minnesota United tabbed UCLA attacker Abu Danladi.

[ MORE: Chinese club claims big bids ]

Danladi would’ve gone soon after, however, with most of the surprises coming outside of the Top Six. Vancouver’s opted for outside back Jakob Nerwinski (UConn) at 7, Houston tabbed Hofstra’s Joe Holland at 10, and Colorado looked to its backyard for Denver’s Sam Hamilton.

That helped Brandon Aubrey slide to 21st, while Canada’s two Generation Adidas players, Adonijah Reid and Shamit Shome, dipped deep into the second round.

It also means some very productive college players, and supposed first round prospects, could be hungry steals when the draft returns today. Here’s some low-risk, high-reward players for rounds that sometimes see teams pass on individual picks altogether.

Chris Wingate, MID, New Hampshire — Engine room feature piece at UNH

Wulito Fernandes, FWD, UMass Lowell — Cape Verde striker has flair

Jorge Gomez Sanchez, FWD, Temple — 27 goals in two years is good

Chris Nanco, FWD, Syracuse — Showed big upside at MLS Combine

Brandt Bronico, MID, Charlotte — Steadied any worries at Combine

Daniel Deakin, FWD, South Carolina — English striker great at set pieces

Russell Cicerone, FWD, Buffalo — Combine overshadowed solid four years

Christian Thierjung, FWD, California — 18 goals last two seasons

Eddie Sanchez, MID, Portland — Game changer in WCC; Can it translate?

Jordan Wilson, DEF, Kentucky — Scottish center back did well at UK

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New rules crushed Chinese club’s Costa hopes

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 03:  Diego Costa of Chelsea celebrates scoring his team's first goal during the Premier League match between Manchester City and Chelsea at Etihad Stadium on December 3, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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New Chinese Super League rules stopped the nation from acquiring four of the biggest names in the football world.

Tianjin Quanjian believed it had successful bids lined up for Chelsea’s Diego Costa in addition to Real Madrid frontman Karim Benzema, Monaco’s Radamel Falcao, and PSG’s Edinson Cavani.

[ MORE: Costa trains on his own ]

And Tianjin Quanjian owner Shu Yuhui says it had Falcao and Benfica forward Raul Jimenez signed and sealed before the new rules were announced. The club already has Korean midfielder Kwon Kyung-won, Belgian midfielder Axel Witsel, and Brazil’s Geuvânio on the books.

But the new rules, which will limit the amount of foreign players on a team to three, hampered his hopes. From the BBC:

But Chinese clubs will only be able to field three foreign players per game when the new season starts.

“This situation has brought a change to our signing plans,” said Shu.

“The online reports about Costa – it’s true we’d like him, and we made an offer for Cavani and were deep in negotiations,” said Shu.

So clearly Costa’s “back injury” seems more likely to be the burden of financial desires on his shoulders. That said, MLS commissioner Don Garber will crack a wry smile at the new rules.

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