Fourteen years of derby failure continue for Atletico Madrid

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As others have pointed out, last night was the perfect time for Atletico. Rival Real Madrid visited the Vicente Calderon hafter their mid-week embarrassment at Borussia Dortmund. Set for the second leg of their Champions League semifinal on Tuesday, José Mourinho’s side would likely make huge changes for the battle between Spain’s second place side and third place hope. If the Atleti were going to end 14 years of frustration, Saturday was going to be it.

And in case you’re having trouble putting 14 years in perspective, here’s Dermot Corrigan:

Almost 14 years. Or 704 weeks. Or 4,929 days. Or 24 games. They have all passed since the Atletico’s last win over city rivals Real Madrid, a 3-1 at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on October 10, 1999, with Claudio Ranieri on the visitors’ bench and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink [2] and Jose Mari on the scoresheet.

John Toshack was Real Madrid manager, Radamel Falcao had recently made his senior debut for Lanceros Boyaca aged just 13 at home in Colombia, and Diego Simeone was on the way to winning the Serie A title as a midfielder for Lazio.

That Atletico still fell 2-1 on Saturday makes you wonder if Atletico Madrid will ever beat El Real.

They’re bound to beat them at some point, but that’s not how most of our minds work. We tend to think in clear-cut, absolute scenarios that breach logic and rest in emotion. At some point, though, have to take those thoughts, lift them from the mire, and evaluate them for what they are.

Once we do that, we discern that 14 years is already an improbable run – one that’s bound to end on pure chance alone — though that doesn’t soften the blow of last night’s loss. Atletico came into the match three points back of Real, only a win separating them from their shot at passing the Merengues by season’s end. To finish above their rivals would have been huge, as would a derby win have been, and after three minutes, the Rojiblancos had reason to believe it would happen. Falcao had put them up. They were at home. Real Madrid was reeling. This was going to happen.

But Juanfran’s own goal gave that lead back quickly, and in the second half, Angel Di Maria beat Thibaut Courtois for the winner. Just like that, and in spite of all the reasons Colchoneros had to hope, this became just another derby for Atletico.

Thanks to Falcao, many see this Atletico team as being one of their strongest of the last 14 years. If it’s not the best, then only the teams of Diego Forlan and Kun Aguero could compete, though those sides never could reach their potential in league (despite a Europa League win in 2009-10). Whereas for much of the last 14 years Atletico have been a mid-table side (with a brief stint in the second division early last decade), recent teams have proven much more capable.

Apparently those capabilities entail winning Europa Leagues but not Derbies Madrileños, a sobering thought ahead of May 17’s Copa del Rey final. There the two Madrid sides meet with silverware on the line while trying to answer the same question that hung over Saturday night: When can Atletico finally break through?

Because with so many things working in the Atleti’s favor on Saturday, it’s becoming difficult to imagine the number of stars that will have to align for this run to end.

Pique finds solidarity with criticized NBA players

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There have been a number f outstanding pieces in The Players’ Tribune since its launch, but few as colorful and entertaining as Thursday’s entry from Gerard Pique.

The Barcelona star center back spilled the beans on any number of funny stories in his post, from Roy Keane’s cell phone anger and Sir Alex Ferguson‘s guiding hand to Lionel Messi’s greatness and more.

[ MORE: Zlatan in MLS an auto success ]

But perhaps most interesting was his take on the grief he’s received for supporting the vote for Catalan independence. Pique points out that he’s been proud to represent the Spanish national team, but won’t veer from his democratic beliefs.

And guess what? Even in Spain, athletes rightly bristle at the “Stick to Sports” crowd.

It’s funny, I noticed some people in America have started telling the NBA players to “just shut up and dribble” when they express their opinions on real problems in society.

It’s ridiculous, no?

It’s the same here in Spain. They say, “Just shut up and play football. It’s all you know.”

Sorry, but I will not just shut up and play. It’s not all I know. There’s a lot more depth to footballers than most people realize, and I think it’s important that we express ourselves and our views.

Given relative health, Zlatan’s success MLS is close to automatic

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The only question is his knee at his age.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is coming to Major League Soccer. Having confirmed his departure from Manchester United, the announcement that the living Swedish legend is joining the LA Galaxy is expecting next week.

[ MORE: MLS Weekend Preview ]

Some have asked whether he’ll cut muster in the league, to which we point to the lead: Few players have arrived to MLS with as dominant a career as Ibrahimovic, and the Swede would need his knee to fall apart in order to fail in California.

The man’s game isn’t based on speed, but it does require his abnormal power and grace. He scored just once for United in very limited time this season, but don’t forget how dangerous he was against Premier League and Europa League defenses last season.

He scored 28 goals with 10 assists last season, with 17 and 5 coming in league play. He was suspended for three matches and injured for seven, meaning this is a 20-goal Premier League scorer arriving in MLS within a calendar year of doing so.

Try putting his resume in perspective: Didier Drogba was extremely good for Montreal but a half-decade removed from his last double-digit goal PL season (Don’t forget that Drogba bagged 11 in 11 to start life on our shores). Robbie Keane was about the same time removed from his run of 10-plus goal seasons in the Premier League. He was good for LA.

The only risk here is that Ibrahimovic never gets healthy and LA takes a bit of a loss on his salary (one which is at least partially negated by the sheer number of Ibrahimovic Galaxy jerseys sold).

Entering this season, Ibrahimovic had failed to score 15 goals once since 2006. He’a also had a fairly religious assist output (10+ most years). With names like Alessandrini, Kamara, and dos Dos Santos, this should be a stand-up double if not a homer for LA and for MLS.

Plus the vicious looks after teammates miss him badly with a pass, let alone the press conferences and paparazzi hits: This should be a lot of fun.

MLS Weekend Preview: Friedel’s Revs get NYCFC test

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It’s an international break, and Major League Soccer is only sorta observing it.

More than half of the league’s clubs will participate on Saturday match days, with several shorthanded by national team duty.

[ MORE: Southgate on racism in football]

Columbus won’t have Zack Steffen and Wil Trapp for a visit from DC United — who is missing Zoltan Steiber, Bruno Miranda, and Oniel Fisher — while the Red Bulls will be without Tyler Adams, Kemar Lawrence, and Michael Murillo for Minnesota United’s visit.

NYCFC won’t have Alexander Ring, Ronald Matarrita, and Rodney Wallace, Portland’s without David Guzman and Andy Polo, and Sporting KC loses Daniel Salloi.

The Whitecaps won’t have center back Kendall Waston, while opponents LA Galaxt are without Ola Kamara.

New England Revolution vs. New York City FC — 1:30 p.m. ET Saturday

Brad Friedel‘s New England revolution, purposely lower case, is making believers out of its players. It would take a giant step if it could slow the NYCFC juggernaut. The visitors have allowed just one goal in their 3-0 start.

As for the hosts, Friedel has made his mark in a way that mostly makes you wonder what in the world Jay Heaps was doing:.

(Bunbury) pointed to a fine system in the locker room, increased accountability, how Friedel posts the starting XI on game day, and occasional two-a-day training sessions, which never occurred in the forward’s four years under Heaps.

“I think it unifies the team,” Bunbury said. “The broad sense of professionalism, it’s about having respect for each other and making sure you are held accountable in every part of this club.”

Never occurred under Heaps? Woof.

FC Dallas vs. Portland Timbers — 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday

FCD had an uninspiring ending to their CONCACAF Champions League dreams, but that’s little compared to the Timbers’ 0-2 start under Gio Savarese. A trip down South isn’t a surefire way to right the ship.

Vancouver Whitecaps vs. LA Galaxy — 10 p.m. ET Saturday

A long trip up North is only made worse by a laundry list of injuries for Sigi Schmid’s Galaxy. We’re only listing it amongst our Top Three because an LA win would be wildly impressive given the ‘Caps strong start.


Columbus Crew vs. DC United — 6 p.m. ET Saturday
New York Red Bulls vs. Minnesota United — 7 p.m. ET Saturday
Colorado Rapids vs. Sporting KC — 9 p.m. ET Saturday

Mourinho: “People with brains” understand Man Utd in transition

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Jose Mourinho’s been having a little fun on his international break, “managing” a team of superstars including Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt in a charity match.

[ MORE: Southgate talks racism in football ]

Speaking CNN as part of a publicity run, Mourinho was asked about Manchester United’s second place campaign and disappointment after dropping out of the UEFA Champions League.

Mourinho reiterated his position that United is a team in transition, and that the season is going along at an acceptable clip.

“I understand the frustration, I understand the sadness of being knocked out in the Champions League, but I don’t understand anything more than that,” Mourinho said to CNN’s Amanda Davies.

United has scored the third-most goals in the Premier League, and allowed the fourth-fewest. It’s drastically reduced its propensity to draw matches, which hurt its table position last season, and has already surpassed last season’s goal total.

Two more wins, 10 goals better differential, and the list goes on but unfortunately also includes crosstown rivals running away with the league and still alive in the UCL.

“Of course in the future we want to have 19 clubs behind us but this is the reality,” said Mourinho. “And the reality is for people with brain, with sense, with common sense, with knowledge of what sports is, we are in a moment of transition. Being in a moment of transition and still manage to do what he did last season and win trophies and to do what we are trying to do this season, which is still trying to win a trophy, and try to be second, because in this moment it’s the only top position that is possible for us to get. I think we are in a good position.”