Photo by Meg Linehan

With Rapinoe, Solo, Seattle Reign FC finally putting the pieces together

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Standing on the pitch in suburban Boston after nearly a third full 90-minute match in a hot, muggy week of East Coast weather was a shock to the system for Megan Rapinoe.

Until these past 10 days, the crafty United States and Seattle Reign FC midfielder hadn’t played in the heat and humidity this calendar year. She went from winter in the U.S. to more moderate temperatures in France, spending the spring with UEFA Champions League runner-up Lyon.

She would be within reason to take a break after a busy six months with Lyon, but instead Rapinoe decided to jump right in and help her struggling National Women’s Soccer League team.

“I think that show’s what she’s like as a character,” Seattle coach Laura Harvey said after Wednesday’s match.

Wednesday was Seattle’s first win (1-9-2), ending a frustrating 10 weeks that saw the club lose nine-straight games after an opening weekend draw.

Rapinoe played 90 minutes for the United States on June 20 – delivering the corner kick to Abby Wambach’s head for a record-breaking goal – and then joined her Seattle teammates in Rochester, N.Y., last weekend. Ninety minutes of out-playing the fourth place Western New York Flash only produced a draw, but Seattle’s maiden victory finally came on Wednesday against a slumping Boston Breakers team, a 2-1 win in which Rapinoe played 87 minutes and created the equalizing goal.

“I think coming off a season in France, knowing I was going to be tired, was meant to be managed a little bit more,” Rapinoe said. “But after I got onto the field, when it got to the time that I was meant to come off I looked at Laura and I was like, ‘I’m fine.’ My competitive juices catch up.”

It’s no coincidence that Seattle’s first victory comes just five days after Harvey finally met Rapinoe.

Brimming in confidence, the instantly recognizable 27-year-old platinum blonde struck a shot off the woodwork – the corner where the post meets the crossbar – in the 80th minute, four minutes after nearly catching Breakers goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher off her line with a dipping volley nearly from the center circle.

It was a knuckling, driven Rapinoe free kick that Naeher spilled for Jessica Fishlock to tap-in for the 78th minute equalizer.

“We constantly thought we weren’t showing people how good we felt we were as a group,” Harvey said. “And now we’ve added the extra quality of Hope (Solo), the extra quality of Megan and you start to see a difference with us now.”

It’s not that Seattle were as bad as their 0-9-2 record coming into Wednesday’s match suggested. Lady luck just seemed to be against them. Almost nothing went right for Reign FC since January.

Solo and Rapinoe were two of the three United States women’s national team allocations acquired by Seattle in January. Rapinoe had already signed to play the spring with Lyon in France, where she fell one victory short of a UEFA Champions League title. Forward Amy Rodriguez soon after allocation found out she was pregnant, and Solo in early March underwent surgery to repair cartilage in her left wrist.

All that left Seattle without their stars – players around which to anchor a team.

Solo’s return between the pipes on May 25 brought a sense of calm, but the misfortunes continued with a dubious handball call in the box late in the match against Portland and a strange misplay from Solo in another 1-0 loss in the following match vs. Kansas City.

Still, Seattle showed signs of hope, but never had enough to finish. Seattle has scored just seven goals in 12 games.

“Megan Rapinoe is a special player, but even before she got here, we were starting to play well together,” Solo said.

“I am proud even before Megan got here (in) our ability to hold the ball. You can see we’re a team that can play.”

Rodriguez, a forward, is that final piece that Seattle desperately could have used. When – and if – Rodriguez turns up in a Seattle jersey, Reign FC will welcome a forward with international experience.

But for now, Rapinoe – whose flair is peaking following a half-season with the world’s best club team – is clearly ready to serve as an attacking threat, even if it comes from the left wing. She took nine of Seattle’s 18 shots on Wednesday.

“I’m feeling really, really confident coming off my season there,” she said. “I think it was a different style. I think it was a different kind of game. Definitely not emphasized on the physical attributes, but kind of where I could find myself in the game. More of the technical and the tactical side and just feeling like when I get the ball I can kind of impact the game in different ways, not just the physical.”

Premier League chairman: Leicester City made mugs of all of us

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 03:  Leicester reacts to Leicester City's Premier League Title Success on May 03, 2016 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
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Premier League executive chairman Richard Scudamore has been around football for a long time, but even he can’t explain Leicester City’s miraculous title run.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s Leicester coverage ]

With the Foxes now officially champions of England, Scudamore hailed the achievement as “the biggest sporting story ever.”

Speaking to BBC Sport, the Premier League’s top exec said Leicester’s run has silenced all the bookmakers and critics who said it could never happen, but that he wouldn’t want it any other way.

It’s probably the biggest sporting story ever and the biggest sporting achievement ever.

Nobody saw it coming and even when it was halfway through the season nobody said it could be sustained.

We don’t know what the future holds because we’ve all become completely hopeless at predicting anything, including the bookmakers and everybody else – because this one nobody saw coming.

It’s made mugs of all of us and that is just the most fantastic feeling.

If the bookmakers had it as a 5,000-1 event, you would imagine you should achieve these type of things once every 5,000 years. It gives us 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years of being able to say: ‘Leicester 2016. Just remember Leicester 2016.’

Pegged as pre-season favorites for relegation, Leicester defied the odds (5,000-1 odds) and claimed the most unlikely of championships. A top executive with the Premier League since 1999, even Scudamore had to admit he had a bit of egg on his face.

[ VOTE: What is the top moment from Leicester’s fairytale run? ]

Scudamore may not have believed in the Foxes, but few outside the city really did. One thing the chairman did have right though, is that we will all remember ‘Leicester 2016.’

Simeone on Atleti’s achievement: We showed the work of three years

MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 02:  Head coach Diego Pablo Simeone of Atletico de Madrid gives instructions during the La Liga match between Club Atletico de Madrid and Real Betis Balompie at Vicente Calderon Stadium on April 2, 2016 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
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Atletico Madrid are headed to their second Champions League final in three seasons.

Antoine Griezmann’s away goal was enough to lead Atleti past Bayern Munich in the semis as they must now await their opponent in the final, either Manchester City or Real Madrid.

[ MORE: UCL semifinal preview ]

Atleti lost the 2014 final to Real Madrid, but they currently look the strongest side in Europe with a leader in Diego Simeone who has risen up the ranks of the game’s elite managers.

Speaking after Tuesday’s match, Simeone said the performance his side put in against Bayern Munich was thanks to the work they have put in over the past few seasons.

Very emotional. It was a very good first half by Bayern, they’re a great team. The missed penalty gave us life.

We had to change a bit from the first leg in terms of how we played and we showed our strengths as a team. The penalty miss by Torres hurt us but in the end it was like a movie, thrilling, with five minutes extra time.

I’m proud of what has happened to this club. We are beating the best teams in the world. Over the course of 180 minutes we showed the work of three years.

I hope that destiny will eventually help us in the final. It doesn’t matter who we play.

Barcelona and Bayern Munich entered the Champions League as favorites to lift the trophy in Milan, but both of those sides failed to get past Simeone’s Atletico.

[ REPORTS: Man City to trigger $60 million Aymeric Laporte release clause ]

Simeone’s name has been linked with the Premier League and other top clubs in Europe, but is there a reason for him to leave Madrid? Atleti’s two legs against Bayern truly did show the work of three years, as the manager has stuck to his guns and built the team around his values as a manager. They may not have been mentioned in the elite tier of clubs in the past, but Simeone has proven they should be now.

Has Pep Guardiola’s tenure at Bayern Munich been a failure?

BEIJING, CHINA - JULY 17:  Head coach Pep Guardiola of Bayern looks on during the a press conference at National Stadium in day 1 of the FC Bayern Audi China Summer Pre-Season Tour on July 17, 2015 in Beijing, China.  (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)
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Pep Guardiola could have seven trophies from his three seasons at Bayern Munich when he leaves the club this summer.

Guardiola has won two Bundesliga titles, a German Cup, UEFA Super Cup, and FIFA Club World Cup since taking over the Bavarian club in 2013. Bayern are in line to win another Bundesliga title in a few weeks time, and face Borussia Dortmund in another German Cup final.

However, when you take a look at all those honors, one is missing: The UEFA Champions League.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s UCL coverage ]

After being bounced by Atletico Madrid in the Champions League semifinal on Tuesday, Guardiola will leave Bayern without the one trophy he wanted most.

In three seasons under Pep, Bayern has been eliminated in the UCL semifinal each year. Each year it was to Spanish opposition, losing to Real Madrid (2014), Barcelona (2015), and Atleti (2016).

While reaching the Champions League semifinal is a great achievement for most clubs, it is a step back for Bayern. In 2013, just weeks before Guardiola was appointed boss, Bayern won the Champions League. They also reached the final in 2010 and 2012 before that.

[ MORE: Game-by-game look at Leicester City’s title-winning season ]

Pep won the Champions League twice in four seasons in charge at Barcelona, and he was expected to do the same in Germany. After three UCL finals appearances in four seasons before Guardiola and none under the Spaniard, it’s hard to argue his time with Bayern has been a success.

Yes, Guardiola will likely leave Munich with three Bundesliga titles, a mark of domestic dominance during his time at the Allianz Arena. However, Bayern had already won the league 22 times before Pep, as he was not brought there for Bundesliga success.

Simply put, Guardiola came to a Bayern team that was the best in Europe, and he will leave a Bayern team that is just the best in Germany.

Bayern Munich 2-1 (2-2, agg.) Atletico Madrid: Griezmann’s away goal sends Atleti to Milan

MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 13:  Antoine Griezmann (R) of Atletico de Madrid celebrates their victory with teammate Koke (L) during the UEFA Champions League quarter final, second leg match between Club Atletico de Madrid and FC Barcelona at the Vincente Calderon on April 13, 2016 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
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  • Alonso, Lewandowski score for Bayern
  • Thomas Muller has penalty stopped
  • Griezmann’s goal sends Atleti through 

Despite losing the match and finishing tied on aggregate, Atletico Madrid are headed to their second Champions League final in three years as Diego Simeone’s men advance past Bayern Munich on away goals. It is the third straight season in which Bayern has been eliminated from in the semifinal.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s UCL coverage ]

Bayern expectedly dominated possession from the start of the match, continuously pushing into Atleti territory. The Atletico back-line was stretched out of shape multiple times in the first half, a rare sight from Europe’s best defense, especially surprising with Diego Godin back in the starting lineup.

After a few stops from Atletico goalkeeper Jan Oblak, Bayern finally found a goal just after the half-hour mark. With a free kick from 20 yards out, Xabi Alonso stepped up and fired a low shot on goal. Alonso’s shot deflected off Jose Jimenez, skipping through the young center-back’s legs and leaving Oblak helpless, ending Atleti’s impressive run of defensive dominance.

Jose Jimenez nearly cost Atletico again just minutes later when he was called for a foul on Javi Martinez in the box, giving a penalty to Bayern. Thomas Muller tried to give his side their first lead of the semifinal, but Oblak guessed correctly and made a huge stop to keep the tie level on aggregate.

As the match headed towards halftime, managers Pep Guardiola and Diego Simeone began to have some words on the touchline. Simeone had to be held back from Bayern’s Franck Ribery, although tempers cooled down and no discipline from the referee was necessary.

[ MORE: Champions League schedule ]

Bayern continued to control play after the break, but it was the visitors who found the second half’s first goal. Against all the run of play, Fernando Torres caught Bayern on the counter, sending Antoine Griezmann in on goal all alone. Griezmann buried his shot past Manuel Neuer to put Atleti back ahead on aggregate 2-1. It was Griezmann’s seventh Champions League goal and 31st in all competitions this season.

With Griezmann’s away goal, Bayern needed to score two more without conceding to reach the final. Despite the uphill battle, Pep’s men pushed on and got a response in the 74th minute. A high cross from David Alaba was headed back across the box from Arturo Vidal, where Robert Lewandowski was waiting for an easy tap home. Up 2-1 on the night but tied 2-2 on aggregate, Bayern had 20 minutes to find that decisive goal.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

While Bayern pressed, Atletico had a golden opportunity to finish the match when Fernando Torres earned the game’s second penalty. Torres was taken down from behind by Javi Martinez, and although replays showed the contact was initiated just outside the box, a penalty was given. Torres went to finish what he started, but once again the keeper prevailed as Manuel Neuer made a strong save to deny the Spaniard.

Guardiola urged his side on through the final minutes, but Atletico withstood the pressure to advance on away goals. Diego Simeone’s side has now eliminated Barcelona and Bayern Munich in consecutive legs, as Atleti can no longer be considered underdogs.