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Anyone else think Bayern Munich is playing dirty?

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Is anyone else bothered by the way Bayern Munich have conducted themselves ahead of this Saturday’s Champions League final?

I certainly am.

It all began back on the night of April 22nd when Borussia Dortmund manager Jurgen Klopp found out the story was about to break that Munich had triggered Mario Gotze’s €37m release clause. Klopp first knew of the signing back on April 10th, the day after BVB came from behind to oust Málaga in the Champions League quarter finals. “I had one day’s happiness,” Klopp said.

Gotze’s departure was something that Dortmund, facing a crucial Champions League semi-final clash with Real Madrid two days later, had hoped to keep under wraps. But on April 23rd all of Germany knew of the young superstar’s fate when the cover of Bild stated: “Götze Zu Den Bayern [Götze to Bayern].”

Awful suspicious timing, wouldn’t you agree?

Klopp later admitted that the news was devastating, claiming that “on a scale of one to 10, this is a nine.” The manager went on to explain: “We all know why it has come out now. We don’t know why the people who have leaked this have done so at such a delicate time.”

With no choice but to confirm that it was true, BVB took to their Facebook page and issued the following statement: “Mario Götze’s agent Volker Struth told us a few days ago that the player wishes to make use of his release clause and on July 1, 2013 move to Bayern Munich.” Shortly thereafter Bayern confirmed over their official website: “Bayern Munich confirm that the club have reached an agreement with national team player Mario Götze that he will play for Bayern Munich from 1 July 2013.”

Not exactly the ideal PR event before Dortmund’s first Champions League semi-final since 1998.

The upstart club were justifiably crushed by the news. Bayern attempted to claim their innocence by issuing a statement saying they had wanted to wait until after Dortmund’s match with Madrid as they didn’t want to be a distraction.

In the face of darkness, Dortmund kept it classy as they asked for fans to “support Mario Götze unconditionally as they would any other player in the final games of the season” as they seek a place in the final. And the Yellow Wall did just that, helping BVB produce a stunning performance that crushed Madrid 4-1.

But as soon as Dortmund had begun to lick its wounds, more bad news came as Bild reported that earlier in the week striker Robert Lewandowski had signed with Bayern. Munich rushed to issue a statement claiming that, “contrary to these reports, do not have any contract with Robert Lewandowski.” But it didn’t matter as Lewandowski’s agent, Maik Barthel, acted on the news and announced: “We have reached an agreement with a club and intend (him) to move this summer.”

Again, awful suspicious timing to say the least.

Six days later Dortmund traveled to Madrid and held on to lose 2-0, which was good enough for a 4-3 aggregate victory. Bayern, meanwhile, coasted to a 7-0 aggregate destruction of Barcelona ensuring the two Bundesliga sides will face off in the Champions League final at Wembley.

So what does this all mean?

Well, by triggering Gotze’s release clause, Munich is effectively trying to buy the Champions League title. And by perpetuating rumors concerning Lewandowski, Bayern is engaging in a dirty, desperate line of dark arts.

Their motivation?

To impart revenge on the club that spent the last two years embarrassing them by stealing their Bundesliga glory.

We’ll see if the plan works.

MLS Cup: Toronto FC all about the team

Toronto FC defender Nick Hagglund, center, celebrates his goal against the Montreal Impact with teammates Michael Bradley, right, and Steven Beitashour (33) during the second half of the second leg of MLS Eastern Conference championship series, in Toronto on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP
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Toronto, Ontario (AP) Team has been the theme for Toronto FC in the buildup to the MLS Cup final.

From boisterous practices to team-first media interviews, the All for One club motto has been plain to see ahead of the championship game Saturday against the visiting Seattle Sounders.

“You don’t get to this point by mistake or by accident. You get here because a group of special guys who have all bought into a philosophy, an identity,” said Toronto midfielder Will Johnson, an MLS Cup winner with Real Salt Lake and Portland.

“I say the same about Seattle. They’re bought into what they’re good at. We’re bought in, very motivated and want to sacrifice and put aside egos to get to a point as a team to compete for the big trophy.”

[ MORE: Designing the best UCL Round of 16 ]

Star striker Jozy Altidore, no fan of chatting with the media, was downright prickly when a reporter asked him if he had taken time to reflect on his personal journey to the championship game.

“No,” he said definitively. “This isn’t personal, this is a team game. We’re here to try to help Toronto to be a winning team. This has nothing to do with individuals. So it has nothing to do with what I’ve been through. This is what the city’s been through, what the fans have been through, what this club has been through. That’s far more important.”

Fullback Justin Morrow, a seven-year MLS veteran, has never played this deep into the season before.

“Each week we build on top of each other and we get closer as the year goes on. It really feels like it’s a culmination this week,” he said.

[ UCL: Who can Arsenal, Man City, Leicester draw? ]

Coach Greg Vanney has made a point of praising the entire squad, including reserves who function as the scout team in practice. While he has done soccer’s equivalent of shortening his bench for the playoffs, the squad has stayed on point. If anyone has beefs, they have been kept to themselves.

That’s no small feat considering the salaries on the squad range from $7.12 million for star striker Sebastian Giovinco to $51,500 for youngsters Mo Babouli and Tsubasa Endoh.

For Morrow, being part of a tight-knit group allows you to forget that it is your job.

“When teams aren’t doing well, players tend to focus on that – their job and not about the other people on the team,” Morrow said. “And I think when teams are doing well, it becomes about the relationships between the players.”

Report: Atlanta United to acquire Parkhurst; Guardado hopes fading

COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 12:  Michael Parkhurst #4 of the Columbus Crew SC controls the ball against against the Philadelphia Union on March 12, 2016 at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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Atlanta United is adding MLS experience to its high-flying international acquisitions.

The expansion side is set to acquire Michael Parkhurst from the Columbus Crew, according to a report from The Sporting News.

[ MORE: Mourinho worried about Zorya pitch ]

Parkhurst, 32, has been a fixture for the Crew since returning to MLS after stints with Nordsjælland and FC Augsburg. The 25-times capped American defender would join a relatively loaded expansion unit that reportedly will also add veteran Chicago goalkeeper Sean Johnson.

Unfortunately for Atlanta, it seems the first-year club’s hopes of landing Mexican star Andres Guardado are fading.

From Ives Galarcep for The Sporting News:

The club has one remaining designated player slot it is expected to fill ahead of its inaugural 2017 season, but transfer target Andres Guardado appears less likely to be the player to fill that slot, sources have told Goal USA.

The Crew was a massive disappointment last season, failing to make the playoffs one season after making a run to the MLS Cup Final. Is Parkhurst a good gamble for Atlanta?

Follow @NicholasMendola

Men in Blazers podcast: Conte v. Pep, Cherries comeback, Spurs-Swans

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Rog and Davo relive the tactical battle between Antonio Conte and Pep Guardiola, marvel at tiny Bournemouth’s comeback win over high-flying Liverpool and duck-and-cover while recapping Spurs 5-0 Swansea.

All of the MiB content — pods, videos and stories can be seen here, but to really stay in touch, follow, subscribe, click here:

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Mourinho accepts Zorya compliment, but says best coach “doesn’t exist”

Manchester United's coach Jose Mourinho, centre, attends a training session with his team at Chernomorets stadium in Odessa, Ukraine, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, ahead of Thursday's Europa League group A soccer match against FC Zorya Luhansk. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
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On the eve of his side playing Manchester United in the UEFA Europa League, Zorya Luhansk boss Yuriy Vernydub called counterpart Jose Mourinho the best manager in the world.

And Mourinho disagreed.

Well, in principle.

[ MORE: Designing the best UCL Round of 16 ]

The Portuguese was flattered by Vernydub’s compliments and isn’t one to turn down praise. Yet at the same time, Mourinho thinks a coach’s success is year-to-year. There’s no clear best in the sport, according to Mou.

From ManUtd.com:

“He was nice by saying that but I don’t think he is right. I don’t think there is a best coach in the world. It doesn’t exist in my opinion. Every season one has to win the FIFA Gold Ball but I don’t think there is the best. You can say the best of the year and that I agree. Every year there is one with the most important result. So he is just being nice, no more than that.”

That’s almost meta, Mou.

Conceptually we understand, and Mourinho would feel he was the best in the world three seasons ago but not last year or this year (yet). Yet it’s difficult to say that the bodies of work from Pep Guardiola, Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti, Unai Emery, Antonio Conte, Luis Enrique, and Jurgen Klopp couldn’t be measured against each other, right?

[ MORE: United, Saints advancement scenarios ]

Onto the little picture Mourinho is worried about a potentially rock hard pitch at Zorya affecting the game. This, from the BBC:

“The pitch is very hard, the pitch is very icy,” said United boss Mourinho.

“They are putting warmth on the top of it, but the pitch is very difficult and people cannot make miracles. Let’s hope everything goes well.”

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