Tampa Bay Rowdies v New York Cosmos

Marcos Senna talks New York Cosmos, NASL growth, Cristiano Ronaldo vs. Lionel Messi and more ahead of NASL Soccer Bowl

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In their first season back as a pro soccer club, the New York Cosmos are on the verge of winning the NASL title.

Not bad.

But there’s one problem, the Atlanta Silverbacks stand in their way. The NASL Soccer Bowl takes place in Atlanta, Georgia on Saturday evening (7:30pm ET, watch live on NASL website) as the entire season comes down to the one-off game between the spring and fall champions as Atlanata has home field advantage.

Both teams have gone quite some time since lifting the title as the last team to win the crown from the city of Atlanta was the Chiefs back in 1968, while the Cosmos have six  NASL titles to their name and last prevailed in 1982.

Whoever takes this crown, it’s sure to be a nerve-wracking night for the players, management and fans of both the Silverbacks and the newly re-formed Cosmos.

One player who won’t be feeling too nervous is European Championsip winning midfielder Marcos Senna, who represented Spain at international level for many years and was a pivotal part of Villarreal’s rise through the leagues to become a giant in Spanish soccer and shine in the Champions League.

The 37-year-old is calmness personified on the pitch and he’s even scored five goals and added two assists this season. Not bad for 13 games as a veteran holding midfielder in the fall NASL seasons as he was named to the league’s Best XI earlier on Friday.

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During his days with Villarreal, Senna drove his team onto success in La Liga, the UEFA Champions League and won many admirers.

Following his first season in the USA, Senna spoke to ProSoccerTalk ahead of the final. In 2013 he’s taken the second tier of U.S. soccer by storm to help lead the New York Cosmos one game away from lifting the NASL crown. He’s delighted to be part of the burgeoning club and to help the younger players develop.

“Obviously being here as a team leader, for me it’s very pleasant,” Senna said. “All the experience that I have playing professional soccer, I try to pass it on to the younger guys who always try to do their best in everything. I am looking forward to finishing this year and playing next year too”

Senna also laughed at his goalscoring exploits.

“In all of my years as a soccer player I’m not usually a goalscorer!” Senna said. “But I’m very happy to help the team out and contribute in any way I can.”

It seems as though his help has rubbed off on plenty of the other Cosmos players, something 23-year-old Venezuelan attacker Diomar Diaz agrees with. He believes the experience Senna has brought to the team has been crucial in helping New York to reach the final and at the same time help the younger players develop.

“Obviously playing with Senna, it is an honor,” Diaz said. “He has some much experience and shares that with the youngsters, such as myself. He speaks with us about how to be on the field, how to manage the games and he talks to us a lot. It’s just an honor being part of this team and playing for the Cosmos with Senna.”

The Brazilian born midfielder, who became a household name across Europe for his terrific displays in the holding role during Villarreal’s rise, spoke of his affection for NASL and is already aiming for next seasons title.

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Senna has become an instant hero for the Cosmos as their resurgence continues.

“I like playing in this league,” Senna said. “It’s very good and a competitive league and I’m just looking forward for next season and to finishing top.”

If the Cosmos win the NASL title in just their first season back in the league and after starting from scratch it would be some achievement. But would it also send out a message to the rest of the world that they’re back? Senna’s not so sure.

“We’re not really trying to send a message, the team is already well known,” Senna said. “Even though I would be really happy if we won the title, it’s not really sending a message out to the world that the Cosmos are back.”

And of course, I couldn’t let the former La Liga star go without asking him about the same question that crops up all over the globe. Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi?

Having played against both during his days with Villarreal and knowing just how good they are up close and personal, the former Spanish international has nothing but respect for both Ronaldo and Messi.

“I don’t like to compare players,” Senna said. “Obviously they play very different styles of soccer Messi and Ronaldo. And of course they both play for different teams, but if I was a fan of either team I would choose Messi or Ronaldo. It’s been a privilege playing against them. It was certainly very difficult and very hard to play against them.”

Brazil will play Colombia in friendly for air crash victims

CHAPECO, BRAZIL - DECEMBER 03:  A fan pays tribute to the players of Brazilian team Chapecoense Real at the club's Arena Conda stadium in Chapeco, in the southern Brazilian state of Santa Catarina, on December 03, 2016. The players were killed in a plane accident in the Colombian mountains. Players of the Chapecoense team were among the 77 people on board the doomed flight that crashed into mountains in northwestern Colombia. Officials said just six people were thought to have survived, including three of the players. Chapecoense had risen from obscurity to make it to the Copa Sudamericana finals scheduled for Wednesday against Atletico Nacional of Colombia.  (Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images)
Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images
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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) Brazil will play Colombia in a friendly match at the end of January to help victims of the air crash that killed most of the players, staff and directors of soccer club Chapecoense last week.

Spokesman Douglas Lunardi also said on Monday that the Brazilian football confederation will donate about $ 1.5 million to Chapecoense.

Nineteen of Chapecoense’s players were killed in the crash just outside Medellin, Colombia, as the Brazilian team headed to the first of two matches against Colombian club Atletico Nacional to determine the champion of the Copa Sudamericana – Latin America’s No. 2 club tournament.

[ MORE: U.S. Soccer’s Player of Year finalists ]

Earlier, South America’s football confederation Conmebol officially gave the title of the 2016 edition to Chapecoense, as Atletico Nacional requested.

Lunardi said the venue will be decided by Chapecoense directors and that all the ticket office revenues will go to the families of the victims. The most obvious choices, he said, are the historic Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro and Chapecoense’s Arena Conda.

“The decision will be between making that tribute at home or get a bigger revenue for the victims,” Lunardi told The Associated Press. “We will let them take their time to make that decision.”

Maracana has a capacity of 78,000 and has hosted two World Cup finals as well as the opening ceremony of the last Olympic Games in August.

Arena Conda is a 22,000-seater. It hosted a memorial service on Saturday for 50 of the 71 victims.

Chapeco, the city of the club impacted by the tragedy, has 200,000 residents and sits about 800 miles (1,300 kilometers) south of Rio.

In a press conference in Chapeco, Chapecoense’s president Ivan Tozzo said the club will decide the venue for the match in the next few days. He also said that the donation from the confederation will help cover the expenses for the memorial services.

UEFA Champions League preview: Arsenal in Basel, Man City hosts Celtic

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - SEPTEMBER 28: Raheem Sterling of Manchester City takes on Stuart Armstrong of Celtic during the UEFA Champions League match between Celtic FC and Manchester City FC at Celtic Park on September 28, 2016 in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)
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The final week of group stage matches in this season’s UEFA Champions League are upon us, and only a pair of berths remain in Tuesday’s groups.

Those are in Group B, where Napoli, Benfica, and Besiktas enter the day a point a part. Only Dynamo Kyiv has been eliminated, and they’ll host a Besiktas side which is in the catbird seat. If the Turkish side wins, it will finish above either Napoli or Benfica.

Benfica is at home to its Italian rivals, with both sides on 8 points. And they’ll each head to the knockout rounds of Besiktas (7 points) fails to earn a result.

[ MORE: U.S. Soccer’s Player of Year finalists ]

As for our Premier League contestants, Arsenal looks pretty locked into the second seed in Group A. Trailing PSG after a 2-2 draw in London, the Gunners head to Switzerland to face Basel. Arsenal needs to better PSG’s result against visiting Ludogorets Razgrad.

Manchester City hosts Celtic knowing it’s already clinched second place in Group C and cannot catch leaders Barcelona. Expect youth.

In Group D, things are also settled with Atletico Madrid and Bayern Munich 1-2 regardless of what happens in their match in Germany. Atleti is the only team which can finish the group stage 6-0. The last team to achieve that 2014-15 Real Madrid, who swept Basel, Liverpool, and Ludogorets Razgrad.

Tuesday’s UCL schedule
PSG vs. Ludogorets Razgrad
Barcelona vs. Borussia Monchengladbach
Bayern Munich vs. Atletico Madrid
Manchester City vs. Celtic
Basel vs. Arsenal
Benfica vs. Napoli
PSV Eindhoven vs. Rostov
Dynamo Kyiv vs. Besiktas

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Everton’s Bolasie needs ACL surgery, will miss AFCON

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 04:  Jose Mourinho manager of Manchester United reacts as Yannick Bolasie of Everton is given treatment during the Premier League match between Everton and Manchester United at Goodison Park on December 4, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
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This is a big blow to Everton, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Yannick Bolasie is set for a long spell on the sidelines after suffering an ACL injury in Sunday’s 1-1 draw with Manchester United.

The 27-year-old attacker has played in every match for the Toffees, and is an electric attacking threat. He has one goal and four assists in PL play this season, after nabbing five and four for Palace last season.

[ PL: Grading the superstars’ seasons ]

A $32 million buy from Crystal Palace, Bolasie will miss the Africa Cup of Nations next month and likely send the Toffees into the transfer market.

Manager Ronald Koeman has made no secret of his Memphis Depay admiration, and this could tip Everton’s hand.

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Aubameyang raises transfer eyebrows in midst of otherworldy season

LISBON, PORTUGAL - OCTOBER 18: Pierre Aubameyang of Borussia Dortmund in action at the warm up during the UEFA Champions League match between SC Sporting and Borussia Dortmund at Estadio Jose Alvalade on October 18, 2016 in Lisbon, Lisboa. (Photo by Octavio Passos/Getty Images)
Photo by Octavio Passos/Getty Images
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Game changer, season changer, title changer.

It’s hard to find a phrase that would overstate what it would mean if a club could pry Gabonese striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang from the hands of Borussia Dortmund.

Aubameyang raised eyebrows Monday with his non-dismissal of a transfer possibility. It wasn’t quite a “come and get me”, but the door is certainly open.

[ MORE: U.S. Soccer’s Player of Year finalists ]

“I don’t know if I will stay. I just think about playing good football right now. I want to give my best and win titles. I just think about the sport and nothing else.”

If you don’t pay a lot of attention to the Bundesliga, it might be easy to overlook Aubameyang. But the season he’s having with BVB’s wealth of playmaking midfielders is overwhelming. Give him less than a yard, and he’s all set.

Throw in the UEFA Champions League, and “Auba” has 18 goals in 18 matches. In the Bundesliga, he has a 4-goal night at Hamburg but also goals against Bayern and Hertha. Aubameyang has two braces, and has only been held off the score sheet three times (BVB is 1D-2L in those contests).

Put plainly, no one is doing what he’s doing right now.

Top Five leagues, 2016-17 goals (matches)

  1. Aubameyang, BVB — 15 (12)
  2. Edinson Cavani, PSG — 14 (14)
  3. Anthony Modeste, Koln — 12 (13)
  4. Mauro Icardi, Inter Milan — 12 (14)
  5. Eden Dzeko, Roma — 12 (15)
  6. Alexandre Lacazette — 11 (11)
  7. Alexis Sanchez, Arsenal — 11 (14)
  8. Diego Costa, Chelsea — 11 (14)
  9. Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid — 10 (11)
  10. Sergio Aguero, Manchester City — 10 (12)
  11. Andrea Belotti, Torino — 10 (13)
  12. Lionel Messi, Barcelona — 9 (9)
  13. Luis Suarez, Barcelona — 9 (12)
  14. Robert Lewandowski, Bayern Munich — 9 (13)
  15. Iago Aspas, Celta Vigo — 9 (13)
  16. Ciro Immobile, Lazio — 9 (15)
  17. Alassane Plea, Nice — 9 (16)

Follow @NicholasMendola