Barcelona's Messi celebrates after scoring against Manchester United during their Champions League final soccer match at Wembley Stadium in London

The 2014 year in soccer: Ten dates to circle early in the calendar

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A few dates important enough to stop and plug into your daily calendar of choice, old school daybook or new day mobile device or whatever:

Jan. 6 = U.S. national team camp begins

Someone will emerge from this camp to take a big step toward Brazil 2014. Probably not a long, long, long shot. (Sorry, DeAndre Yedlin fans … not gonna happen. Not this World Cup.) But perhaps someone from the back side of the 35- to 40-man pool of players still somewhere in the running. The camp makes a stop in Brazil and then culminates with a Feb. 1 friendly against South Korea

Jan. 16 = MLS draft in Philadelphia

Smarties like myself have been predicting the demise of the MLS draft as a significant means for stocking rosters for more than five years now. And every year, we are proven wrong. The draft, as always, follows the MLS combine in Florida.

Feb. 18/19 = Next UEFA Champions League date

The opening legs of the home-and-away series in the Round of 16. Manchester City-Barcelona (pictured) anyone? Or perhaps Bayern-Arsenal is more to your flavor. The greatness of UCL cannot get here fast enough.

March 8 = Major League Soccer opens

Wait, didn’t they just finish last week? Or something like that? Either way, Seattle hosts league champion Sporting Kansas City at CenturyLink Field on that day, on NBCSN.

March 11 = CONCACAF Champions League

Quarterfinal series openers may be schedule over the next seven days. So, LA Galaxy, you are on the clock. Yes, other MLS teams are involved, but given the three-DPs and the organization’s big ambition, Bruce Arena’s team continues to look like Major League Soccer’s best chance at reaching the FIFA Club World Cup.

May 11 = Premier League Round 38

Also known as the final day of Premier League soccer. Yes, it will be difficult to top the ultimate final day drama from two years back. And yet, it  will be brilliantly dramatic. Count on it.

Mid-May = U.S. national team camp begins

Around the same time, the United States will announce its World Cup roster, probably the biggest news day of the year in domestic soccer outside of the World Cup opener. Or the day they win the whole darn thing. I mean, that’s going to happen, right?

May 17 = FA Cup final

Yes, it’s lost a lot of cultural umph. But so what? It’s still a spectacle.

May 24 = UEFA Champions League final

This year’s final is in Lisbon, Portugal. And this is the last, big, globally recognized match before, well, you know what!

June 12 = World Cup opening match

Can. Not. Get. Here. Soon enough.

 

Ronaldo shows no sign of injury while hanging with Conor McGregor

instagram.com/cristiano/
instagram.com/cristiano/
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Cristiano Ronaldo may not be ready for the UEFA Super Cup, but he’s no longer limping around.

To explore the Real Madrid superstar’s Instagram is to see Ronaldo, sometimes clothed, hanging out with celebrities.

In the last couple weeks we’ve seen him with Eva Longoria, Jennifer Lopez, and now his “bro” Conor McGregor.

[ MORE: Who wins the League of Hate? ]

Wait, what?

Yeah, Ronaldo is friends with the MMA star, and showed no ill form (and no brace of any kind) in several posed photos with McGregor.

Although admittedly, McGregor’s IG game is a bit better: The Irish fighter posted a photo of himself sunning in his briefs with the caption, “I’m gonna get him on the Forbes list by next year. But I’m gonna get him on the tan by next week.”

Good luck with both, bro.

Great to see you bro!!💪🏽🔝

A photo posted by Cristiano Ronaldo (@cristiano) on Jul 24, 2016 at 3:48pm PD

Bruce pens letter to Hull fans: “Desperately wanted to make it work”

YORK, ENGLAND - JULY 23: Steve Bruce manager of  Hull City ahead of the pre-season friendly match between York City and Hull City at Bootham Cresent on July 23, 2014  in York, England. (Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images)
Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images
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Many Hull City fans didn’t want Steve Bruce to leave the club, and this open letter shows why.

After leaving the club by “mutual consent” on Friday — it was first widely reported that he quit — fans protested at Hull’s game on Monday.

[ MORE: Who wins the League of Hate? ]

Bruce may’ve had his problems with Hull’s ownership, but he certainly got his supporters’ feelings right down to the core.

From the Hull Daily Mail:

My biggest regret is having to walk away but it was a decision I had to make for the sake of the club. The last 12 months have been very tough and it felt like the right step for the club to move forward in a different direction and with someone else in charge.

I desperately wanted to make it work this summer and be a Premier League manager again but, sadly, it wasn’t to be. Nevertheless, I’ve left Hull City with some fantastic memories that I’ll always cherish, including just eight weeks ago in the Championship play-off final at Wembley.

Class from the longtime boss, and we imagine he’ll have a job very soon if he wants it.

Report: Everton to activate release clause of Stoke’s Arnautovic

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 28: Marko Arnautovic (1st L) of Stoke City competes for the ball against Seamus Coleman (2nd L) and Gareth Barry (1st Rof Everton during the Barclays Premier League match between Everton and Stoke City at Goodison Park on December 28, 2015 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Dave Thompson/Getty Images)
Photo by Dave Thompson/Getty Images
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Everton is going to activate Marko Arnautovic‘s $16 million release clause to bring the Stoke City striker to Goodison Park, according to a report out of Austria.

Stoke had been trying to sign Arnautovic to a contract extension, but the player was reportedly prepared to play out the final year of his deal.

[ MORE: Who wins the League of Hate? ]

The huge 27-year-old Austrian has been with Stoke since 2013, and broke through with 11 Premier League goals last season.

Arnautovic would give Everton support behind Romelu Lukaku, and insurance in case the Toffees do wind up selling their Belgian striker. Everton also has Arouna Kone as a potential target forward, but Oumar Niasse is expecting to leave after less than a year at Goodison Park.

Chelsea wins the League… of Hate; Bournemouth, Leicester not hated

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 27:  Diego Costa of Chelsea celebrates his team's second goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Southampton and Chelsea at St Mary's Stadium on February 27, 2016 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images
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A family of English newspapers conducted its annual survey of which teams are the most hated in the Premier League, and there’s a new champion.

Manchester United has dropped to second in the table to Chelsea in what the Manchester Evening News called the “League of Hate”.

[ MORE: Rooney’s England position not set ]

According to the MEN, 10,000 fans were quizzed on their love and hate:

A national survey asked fans of each top flight club which sides they hate, and which they love, and the west London club came out as the most disliked club overall.

United, who won the dubious accolade last year, have been revealed to be the next most reviled side.

It’s no surprise that the league’s more successful sides sit atop the table while newer PL clubs like Bournemouth and Burnley are not reviled. That said, Leicester’s dream story has them 19th. How much more success do they need to have before shooting up the hate table?

Here’s the Top Five, and all results:

1) Chelsea
2) Manchester United
3) Liverpool
4) Manchester City
5) Arsenal