Copa del Rey: Real Madrid’s winter surge continues with Atlético’s ouster

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When Real Madrid took a 3-0 lead on rival Atlético in last week’s first leg, few expected La Liga’s Cinderella story to continue into Copa del Rey‘s final. But given what we’d seen throughout the season from Diego Simeone’s Colchoneros, a play for pride seemed to be in the offing today at the Vicente Calderón. Atleti weren’t going to go on to defend their title, but with the type of unrelenting performances we’ve come to expect from Spain’s surprise contenders, Atlético could remind their rivals why they’re even with Spain’s big two in the Primera Liga.

That didn’t happen. Instead, Cristiano Ronaldo lured Javi Manquillo into a penalty in the second leg’s seventh minute. At the quarter-hour mark, combination play between Gareth Bale and Isco drew a second penalty from Emiliano Insua. Within 15 minutes, Real Madrid had quelled whatever faint hope the Calderón held before kickoff. With 75 minutes left, on their way to a 2-0 victory, they’d put Atlético in a five-goal hole.

Atleti fans showed their displeasure by hitting Ronaldo in the head with a thrown object as the teams left for halftime. It didn’t matter. Ronaldo appeared unharmed when he surfaced for the second half, with Atlético failing to make a dent in El Real’s lead before full-time was mercifully blown.

Their Copa defense over, Atlético’s left with the perception that the entire perception of contention they’ve created under Simeone is about to crumble. Though they’re still even with Barcelona and Real Madrid atop the Spanish table, they’ve lost three games in a row. Between two defeats to their rivals and the weekend upset at Almería, the Colconeros have been outscored 7-0 in their last 270 minutes. As of last Tuesday, they had only lost once all season.

But as steep as Atlético’s decline has been, El Real’s surge has been just as pronounced. Lingering behind Spain’s two leaders for much of the season, the Merengues are now the league’s form side, having finally converted January’s innocuous possession into a swarm of February goals. In a week’s worth of games against Atlético and Villarreal (who they beat this weekend at the Bernabéu), Carlo Ancelotti’s team has scored nine times, a surge that makes them contenders for three titles.

Are they a serious contender for their long-sought decima? No. Nobody’s a serious contender compared to Bayern, but in league and Copa, Real looks as strong as anybody. Of course, the main anybody is Barcelona, but with the Blaugrana also trying to shake off some winter rust, there’s little that seems to separate the two sides.

Seemingly destined to meet in Copa’s final, and having one more Clasico in La Liga, Real and Barça will get to draw their comparisons on the field. Whether Atlético can keep up is a major doubt after another multi-goal loss.

Orlando City raised over $300,000 in friendly for Puerto Rico hurricane relief

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It isn’t always the score at the end of the match that matters, and Orlando City proved that with its recent friendly to benefit those affected by hurricanes in Puerto Rico.

[ MORE: Whitecaps announce USL affiliation with expansion side Fresno FC ]

Orlando City faced off with the Puerto Rico national team on Nov. 4, which the Lions won 6-1, but it was the club’s humanitarian efforts that proved to be the real story from the event.

The club announced that it raised $327,530 from the match, with all proceeds from the event going directly to the Puerto Rican people.

“I’m very proud of what our Club and our partners were able to accomplish,” Orlando City SC owner Flavio Augusto da Silva said in a team statement. “What we did meant more than just raising funds for Puerto Rico. Once again, we came together as a community to rally behind something bigger than us all.”

Whitecaps announce USL affiliation with expansion side Fresno FC

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The Vancouver Whitecaps will continue their stake in USL next season, but it won’t be with their current affiliate.

[ MORE: Caleb Porter out with the Portland Timbers ]

The Western Conference side announced on Friday that it will bring a new affiliate into USL in 2018 as Fresno FC makes its debut in the Division II league.

In the wake of this decision by the Whitecaps, the club’s current USL side, Vancouver Whitecaps 2, won’t be returning to the league in the near future.

“First of all, we would like to thank every person who has worked tirelessly with Whitecaps FC 2 over the past three seasons,” said Whitecaps FC president Bob Lenarduzzi. “With both the USL and Canadian soccer landscapes evolving, now is the right time to make this change for our club. We are delighted to be working with Fresno FC, where the USL will provide the opportunity for high-level competition that will benefit our first team in MLS in the future. We expect that the internal competition for playing time at Fresno FC will provide a tremendous and challenging environment for our top young players.”

The relationship between Vancouver and Fresno will operate similarly to the club’s former status with Whitecaps 2, which allows the senior team to send players down and sign them to MLS contracts when seen fit by the club.

Former MLS manager Frank Yallop serves as general manager for the new USL side, while Adam Smith has been named Fresno’s first head coach.

Reports: Chris Coleman steps down with Wales to accept Sunderland job

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Chris Coleman has been a hot name in the managerial game after making noise with Wales at the 2016 EURO Championships.

[ MORE: Man United looks to rebound against Newcastle ]

It appears the 47-year-old is about to embark on a new adventure though, with several reports indicating that Coleman will take over at Sunderland, who currently plays in the English Championship.

The Welsh FA revealed the following statement on Friday:

“We are extremely disappointed to see Chris’ tenure as Wales manager come to an end,” said Chief Executive Jonathan Ford.

“The FAW and Wales as a nation will be eternally grateful for the job he has done over the last six years as National Team Manager, from travelling the length and breadth of Wales outside of the media spotlight to talk to players and supporters, to guiding us to the semi-finals of the European Championships.

“We wish Chris the very best of luck for the future as he returns to club management, a desire for which he has always been honest and open about.”

The Black Cats currently sit dead last (24th place) in England’s second flight on 10 points through its opening 16 matches.

Sunderland finished the 2016/17 season at the bottom of the Premier League table, before being relegated ahead of the current campaign.

[ MORE: Pogba, Ibrahimovic, Rojo could return this weekend for Man United ]

Coleman helped guide the Welsh to the semifinals at EURO 2016, where his side fell to eventual champions Portugal. The Welsh had never previously qualified for the European Championships and hasn’t reached the World Cup since 1958.

Premier League preview: Man United vs. Newcastle United

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  • Red Devils unbeaten in 31 of last 32 home fixtures vs. Newcastle
  • Newcastle winless in its last six PL matches
  • Lukaku hasn’t scored in United’s last seven games

Manchester United hosts Newcastle United on Saturday from Old Trafford (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET, on NBC and NBCSports.com) as the Red Devils could potentially welcome back several of it biggest stars for the match.

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Paul Pogba and Marcos Rojo could return for Jose Mourinho’s side this weekend, as Man United looks to bounce back from its 1-0 defeat to Chelsea on Nov. 5.

The ex-Sweden international Ibrahimovic hasn’t appeared in a match since April 2017, after being United’s top goalscorer a season ago.

The Red Devils will have to deal with the absence of Phil Jones at the back, though, as the England international misses out on the match with a thigh injury.

Newcastle will be without Christian Atsu and Jamaal Lascelles, which certainly hurts the squad’s attack, while Mikel Merino and Paul Dummett remain sidelined with respective injuries.

What they’re saying

Jose Mourinho, on Paul Pogba’s status:  “I can say now because he’s back – I don’t like to speak while he’s injured – you can clearly see there is a Manchester United this season before Paul’s injury and after Paul’s injury. There are qualities in our football, qualities that influence our approach in matches, with Pogba and without Pogba. Simple as that.”

Rafa Benitez, on growing pains of being a young side“We are a newly-promoted club that has to settle down in the Premier League. We have a young squad, so it’s a learning process for everyone and losing some games is part of the process. Hopefully we can stop that this weekend, but we know it has to be like this. We have to think that the target is to stay in the Premier League, then after try to go as high as we can in the table.”

Prediction

Newcastle has had its share of struggles this season, and running into a Man United side that is gaining full fitness is a dangerous task. The Red Devils are a tough squad to beat at home, so Rafa Benitez and Co. have their hands full. Man United 2-0 Newcastle