Scoring star Leo Messi: well-rested and talkative

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Leo Messi is back at the scoring thing again around the Nou Camp, showing no rust in his return to FC Barcelona after time away for injury recovery.

That’s great news for Barca, which will be without its other young attacker of world class talent, Neymar, for a few weeks.

And it’s great news for Argentina, among the favorites (along with Brazil, Germany and Spain) to walk away this summer’s with the world’s most coveted trophy.

In a meaty Q&A with FIFA.com, Messi was asked about sensing peoples’ anxiety over his fitness and return to “Messi form,” which is a high, high bar indeed. But he sounded quite at ease about it all, having done his share of relaxing back home in Argentina over the holidays.

And why wouldn’t he? After another pressure filled year of 50-plus games for club and country, and heading into such an enormous year (because of a little tournament going on in Brazil this summer), who could blame the guy for seeing some benefit in a little well-deserved down time?

By the end of last year, plenty of observers were taking the position that Messi was still brilliant, but just not quite as brilliant as we’ve seen him before, with just a little bit of the “something special” missing as he lined up Barcelona and its new coach, Gerardo “Tata” Martino.

Barca is about to hit the business end of Champions League, with that high-profile meet-up directly ahead against Manchester City. (You’ve got those dates circles, right? For Feb. 18 and March 12?)

Soon after that, with all matters La Liga and Champions League and otherwise settled around the Nou Camp, Messi will report for Argentina duty. He talked about how so many positive elements seem to be lining up for Argentina’s World Cup bid.

Yes, yes… it’s true, and we are in good form at the moment. We weren’t doing all that well in qualifying until we won away in Colombia, but then we had a great campaign. It was a major turnaround and a very positive thing for us. It’s a very good group of players and we all get on very well. It might just be our year but once the World Cup starts anything can happen, it’s very difficult. But I do think that we’re in good form.”

Rapids add longtime Bundesliga winger Aigner from 1860 Munich (highlights)

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The Colorado Rapids are hoping for an injection of offense from veteran Bundesliga right winger Stefan Aigner.

The soon-to-be 30-year-old has played 274 games between the first and second tiers of German soccer, with 25 goals and 25 assists in Bundesliga play and a further 31 and 25 in the second tier.

Most recently with 2.Bundesliga side 1860 Munich for a third time, he’s played most of his career between Munich and Eintracht Frankfurt.

[ MORE: BVB’s Merino to Newcastle ]

Aigner has the resume to succeed and perhaps star in MLS, especially if he wasn’t slowed too much by a knee injury last season (He returned and produced at the 2.Bundesliga level).

Here’s what Rapids interim general manager Padraig Smith said:

“We’re excited to add a player of Stefan’s caliber to our roster for the next three-and-a-half years,” said Smith. “As an organization we are committed to fielding a forward-thinking side and bringing in Stefan – a technical and versatile player who can excel in multiple attacking roles – will help us achieve that vision.”

UEFA Champions League wrap: Celtic held; U.S. GK Horvath busy

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It was a busy night in the UEFA Champions League, with clubs battling for berths in the playoff round where they could draw big names Liverpool, Napoli, Sevilla, Sporting CP or Hoffenheim.

[ MORE: How will USMNT line up? ] 


Club Brugge 3-3 Istanbul Basaksehir

American backstop Ethan Horvath was under siege at home, but his Club Brugge side overcame throwing away a 2-0 deficit to claim a 3-3 draw with İstanbul Başakşehir. The three road goals will give the Turkish visitors every reason to feel good about the Aug. 2 second leg.

Celtic 0-0 Rosenborg

Brendan Rodgers‘ Scottish champions outshot the visitors 12-8, but couldn’t find a way into the goal. Now the Bhoys will have to score in Norway to advance to the next round.

Nice 1-1 Ajax

Mario Balotelli‘s 32nd minute staked Nice to a halftime lead, but the UEFA Europa League finalists snared an away goal through Donny van de Beek to send Ajax back to Holland with a slim advantage.

UCL first legs

Tuesday
Qarabag 0-0 Sheriff
Slavia Prague 1-0 BATE Borisov
AEK Athens 0-2 CSKA Moscow
Steaua Bucharest 2-2 Plzen
Vardar 1-0 Copenhagen
Partizan Belgrade 1-3 Olympiacos

Wednesday
Astana 3-1 Legia Warsaw
Dynamo Kyiv 3-1 Young Boys
RB Salzburg 1-1 Rijeka
Hapoel Be’er Sheva 2-0 Ludogorets Razgrad
Viitorul 1-0 APOEL Nicosia
Maribor 1-0 FH

Terim steps down as Turkey manager after restaurant fight

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ANKARA, Turkey (AP) Turkey’s soccer federation says it has parted ways with national team manager Fatih Terim.

The announcement on Wednesday came weeks after Terim and his two sons-in-law were involved in a fight with a restaurant owner.

[ MORE: How will USMNT line up? ] 

The Turkish Football Federation statement said Terim, 63, and the federation agreed that “it would be healthier for both sides to part ways,” saying non-football related issues were harming both Terim and the federation.

It also thanked Terim, who has headed the national team since 2013, for his services.

Terim previously managed Galatasaray, Milan and Fiorentina. There was no word on who would replace him.

BVB mid Merino reportedly undergoing Newcastle medical

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It’s been a wild year for Mikel Merino, and now the Spaniard is close to playing for a legend from his home country.

Merino joined Borussia Dortmund from Osasuna last summer, and the 21-year-old had a hard time getting playing time under Thomas Tuchel.

[ MORE: Gold Cup Final preview ]

A defensive midfielder who also plays center back and a bit further up the pitch, Merino is set to join Rafa Benitez on loan at Newcastle United for the club’s return to the Premier League next month.

Merino was photographed in Newcastle on Wednesday, and would join a central midfield with Jonjo Shelvey and Isaac Hayden. Both players thrived in the Championship last season.

The Magpies turned Christian Atsu‘s loan permanent to start the summer, and then purchased Florian Lejeune, Jacob Murphy, and Javier Manquillo.