Copa del Rey final: Real Madrid vs. Atletico Madrid


This afternoon something pretty special is happening in the Santiago Bernabeu.

Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid are squaring off for the Copa del Rey title. Get excited.

The two capital clubs are meeting in the Spanish Cup final to see who’ll clinch the final piece of silverware up for grabs in Spain.

Passion, pride and commitment will be present in abundance as Jose Mourinho hopes to win at least one trophy this season.

While Radamel Falcao is spearheading Atletico’s charge — with the club from the Vicente Calderon stadium having the edge over their rivals historically — but the Colombian is increasingly linked with a move away from Madrid.

In the past the fierce rivals have met four times in the Cop del Rey final, with Atleti wining three times and Real prevailing just once. The ‘neutral’ venue tonight is of course Real Madrid’s home stadium but the atmosphere will be electric as 30,000 tickets were given to each club.

Real finished one place ahead of Atletico this season and beat their cross-city rivals on both occasions in league action, so this represents a chance for revenge for Atleti.

Will they get it? Wait and see, either way it’s going to get pretty feisty as the Spanish capital comes to a standstill. (3pm ET, ESPN)

What they’re saying…

Real Madrid

Sergio Ramos: “We know the rival that we face, it’s a great rival and a team that has brought out the best in each player this year since Simeone took over. It will be a really tough game with a title at stake. When you play on your pitch is a bonus on a personal level, but it’s fair because the stadium will be divided equally for the fans of both teams and I hope ours can enjoy it a little more.”

Xabi Alonso: “If we play a good match and are on form we’re going to have chances to win the match, but Atletico has a very competitive team that will face the match with the same determination as we do. It’s a fantastic opportunity for them and we can’t let them feel comfortable.”

Atletico Madrid

Diego Simeone: “You try to convey the best feelings, but tomorrow is special for the players. I believe in the players and motivational reaches a point. It’s not good to over motivate them because it is a game and they have to play. Fear exists for both sides. I put myself in the place of Madrid and if they lose it’s complicated. Obviously all this exists for both sides is a nice finish.”

Radamel Falcao: “Real Madrid are favorites due to the budget they have and the kind of players but to us it does not bother us. We have faith in ourselves. What others say does not interest us. When you are playing its best to enjoy it. I believe in giving the best of myself and the team. In the end you will see the result.”

Prediction:  I think Real will win this one. It may not be easy, it won’t be a blowout but playing in their own stadium against their closest rivals is going to be a huge incentive for them to rub a trophy win in Atletico’s faces. Mourinho is the master of inspiring his side for a one-off game (although that skill alluded him somewhat in the Champions League semifinal) and they will be fired up to win. But Atletico have nothing to lose. They are expected to lose the final but they do have history on their side…and Falcao. The Colombian striker seems certain to leave the Spanish capital this summer, Chelsea, Monaco, Manchester United, take your pick. Wouldn’t scoring the winner against Real be the best way to say thanks to the fans before heading out? Not going to happen, 3-1 to Real Madrid in a cagey game.

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.”