Tim Cahill 2

New York’s second half surge helps Red Bulls claim first major honor, end Chicago’s season

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Mike Petke’s team was even going into halftime, but the New York head coach was far from happy. One of the keys he’d tried to emphasis this week — the need to keep track of Chicago star Mike Magee — had failed to set in, with the Fire forward opening the game’s scoring with his league-leading 21st goal. Thierry Henry had pulled New York even before the break, but the intensity Petke took into the locker room made it clear. His team was about to get an attitude adjustment.

Four minutes into the second half, Ibrahim Sekagya gave New York the lead. Then came Lloyd Sam’s goal. Erik Alexander got behind the defense in the 77th minute, and Jonny Steele piled on six minutes from time, before Quincy Amarikwa consolation.. In the span of 45 minutes, a 1-1 game that was set to cost New York the Supporters’ Shield had turned into a rout, the Red Bulls’ 5-2 victory not only ending the Fire’s season but giving the New York club their first major honor.

The team had made it to one MLS Cup final, losing in 2008. They’d won the East two other times (2000, 2010) but failed to claim silverware. In 2003, they made it to the U.S. Open Cup final. Before Sunday, the most significant honors New York had ever won were regional (Atlantic Cups) or exhibitions (Emirates Cup). Yet after running Chicago out of Red Bull Arena in today’s second half, New York has claimed the 2013 Supporters’ Shield.

With that honor comes home field advantage throughout the playoffs, an achievement that’s particularly noteworthy when you consider the field New York’s had to hold off. Sporting Kansas City, Portland Timbers, and Real Salt Lake would all be worthy winners under other circumstances, and late in the season, the two-time defending champions (LA Galaxy) made a late push. But unbeaten in eight to close their campaign, New York surged to this honor, outscoring their opponents 8-2 over the season’s final eight days.

Petke deserves a huge amount of credit, and given the authority with which New York’s closed the season, expect the first-year boss to garner a lot of votes for Coach of the Year. Although he seems to be an underdog in that race (to Caleb Porter), the changes he’s instilled deserve just as much attention. Whereas in the Henry era New York has been a consistently good team that’s failed to reach its potential, Petke has the Red Bulls performing best when the results matter most, whether you’re looking at last month’s hamstrung draw in Seattle or today’s Shield-clinching performance. The young coach’s focus, passion, and intensity are evident throughout this team.

Jamison Olave’s come in to marshall the defense, Dax McCarty continues to be a rock in midfield, while Thierry Henry still reminds us that he’s the best player in Major League Soccer on those occasions that he wants to be. It will be Petke’s job to make sure Henry’s sees this year’s playoffs as his chance to cement his MLS legacy.

But more and more, Tim Cahill seems like the heartbeat of this team, with the Australia international playing a crucial role on the Sekagya goal that claimed today’s lead for good. At midseason, while Petke was working through issues with Henry, Cahill started producing, tossing aside concerns about his lack of production. The 34-year-old finished the season with 11 goals. Like his coach, Cahill will get some late consideration for postseason honors.

But after today, the honor that matters most to New York is MLS Cup, their dreams of claiming silverware having been fulfilled with today’s rout in Harrison. After 17 years with an empty trophy case, New York has finally claimed their first major honor, and while some time to enjoy the achievement has been earned, the quest for trophy number two starts next weekend. The Red Bulls will be the top seed in MLS’s playoffs.

UEFA Champions League final preview — Madrid’s finest Real or Atleti?

MILAN, ITALY - MAY 27:  Diego Simeone head coach of Atletico Madrid looks on during an Atletico de Madrid training session on the eve of the UEFA Champions League Final against Real Madrid at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on May 27, 2016 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Saturday’s UEFA Champions League final isn’t quite the unstoppable force against the immovable object — Real’s defense is good and Atleti has plenty of attacking intent — but it’s fair if you’re expecting the Madrid Derby final to be Diego Simeone’s diligent defenders attempting to counter Cristiano Ronaldo and Real Madrid’s potent attack.

[ MORE: Mourinho confirmed ]

Simeone’s built his name on tight teamwork, and La Liga teams broke Atleti down a mere 18 times in 38 matches this season. Before you crow about the weakness of Spain’s top flight from top to bottom, Real only managed a single goal against Atleti in a 1-1 draw that came at the Vicente Calderon. Atleti triumphed 1-0 at the Bernabeu to take four of six points from their derby mates.

But this is the big one, and a rematch of the late thriller we saw in the 2014 final. That’s when Diego Godin’s 36th minute goal came within seconds of being the difference, only for Sergio Ramos to net in stoppage time and Real to score three goals in extra time for a 4-1 win.

[ MORE: Torres ready for “game of my life” ]

Ronaldo will be fine to go, which is obviously bad news for Atleti. While his goal at the end of the 2014 final was just chiseled-ab window dressing, he has scored in both of his UCL finals (He scored for Manchester United in the 26th minute of their 2008 defeat of Chelsea).

(Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)

The beauty of Atleti’s defense is how well it springs into the attack, with Godin and Filipe Luis both capable of providing offense.

But really, with respect to Gabi and Antoine Griezmann… that defense! Atleti allowed three goals in the group stage, and just seven across its 12 UCL matches.

How will Simeone aim to stop Real this time around? Will it be banks of four or five, with Torres and Griezmann waiting to strike on a fleet-footed counter? That could serve their disciplined unit well, but something tells me Simeone has something special cooked up for this much-anticipated rematch, and manager is a distinct edge for Atleti against a still-learning Zinedine Zidane.

As an aside, Griezmann has been fantastic, scoring 32 times this year with seven coming in the UCL. Torres is second in scoring, with 12.

Championship playoff preview: Sheffield Wednesday vs. Hull City

DERBY, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 14:  Eldin Jakupovic of Hull City celebrates as Andrew Robertson of Hull City scores their third goal during the Sky Bet Championship Play Off semi final first leg match between Derby County and Hull City at the iPro Stadium on May 14, 2016 in Derby, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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One is hoping to rejoin the Premier League at the first time of asking, while the other to see its first top flight action since 2000 with a win in Saturday’s promotion playoff final at Wembley Stadium.

Hull City did not make the top flight from its inception in 1904 until winning the playoffs in 2008. Since, the Tigers have spent a pair of 2-season stints in the Premier League.

Sheffield Wednesday, for its part, spent nine seasons in the top tier from 1991-2000, but fell as low as League One in the 21st century before a run to the playoffs this season.

[ MORE: Three battles that could determine UCL final ]

Hull’s stingy defense allowed 35 goals this season, tied for the second-best mark in the league, while scoring the fourth-most goals (69). The Tigers finished in fourth place to Wednesday’s sixth, and the sides drew 0-0 at Hull and 1-1 in the reverse fixture.

Uruguayan striker Abel Hernandez was far and away Hull’s most deadly scorer, notching 21 goals in the Championship this season, while Sam Clucas paced the club with 8 assists.

Wednesday’s scoring was paced by former Watford attacker Fernando Forestieri’s 15 goals. Veteran Gary Hooper added 13 for the Owls, who got a team-best eight assists from Ross Wallace.

It’s the “richest game in sports”, and kicks off at Noon ET Saturday.

Sturridge injured again, Rashford set for England debut

England v Norway - International Friendly
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GATESHEAD, England (AP) England striker Daniel Sturridge has picked up another injury, potentially affecting his chances of being selected for the European Championship.

England manager Roy Hodgson says Sturridge has a calf injury that has prevented him from training and is a doubt to play in the warmup match against Australia on Friday. Hodgson has until Tuesday to finalize his 23-man squad for the tournament in France.

[ MORE: Mourinho confirmed | Speaks more ]

Sturridge has been beset by injury problems in recent years.

His latest injury increases the possibility of 18-year-old Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford‘s fairytale season being extended to include Euro 2016.

Hodgson said Thursday that Rashford will make his debut against Australia in Sunderland – as a starter if Sturridge isn’t fit. Rashford only made his United debut in February.

Ex-Leicester boss Pearson hired by Derby County

Nigel Pearson, Leicester City FC
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Nigel Pearson lives.

The combustible former manager of Southampton, Hull City and Leicester City will now lead Derby County in the hopes of Premier League promotion.

Derby has been on the edge of promotion to the Premier League for several seasons, but neither Steve McClaren and Darren Wassall could do the trick.

[ MORE: Mourinho confirmed | Speaks more ]

Enter Pearson, 52, who has been hired on a three-year deal. It’s his first stop since a roller coaster ride saw him guide Leicester into the Premier League, only to be fired in the aftermath of some players being involved in a racist sex tape incident on a tour of Thailand.

This was after a bizarre season that saw him put his hands on an opposing player’s throat, call a journalist an ostrich, and ultimately save Leicester from the drop.

From Derby County’s site:

“I am honoured to be named as the Manager of Derby County, which is one of the biggest clubs in the country, a club in excellent shape and one with strong ambitions. It is firmly focused on achieving Premier League football.

“I will give absolutely everything I have to this role and do all I can to bring exciting, entertaining and winning football which our supporters can be proud of.”

At the very least, the Rams will be interesting to watch next season.