Bayern Munich grabs control over Arsenal in Champions League matchup of UEFA heavyweights

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Bayern Munich took a big step forward in its Champions League defense, emerging from an eventful, pulsating night at the Emirates with a 2-0 win over an Arsenal team now on the fade in two major competitions.

A Bayern Munich team that, being so far ahead in the Bundesliga race, is destined to be judged by its ongoing Champions League defense, had to work hard to claim the margin in this Round-of-16 matchup of European heavies, one that now goes back to Bavaria for a final verdict.

[MORE: Three things we learned in Arsenal’s battling defeat to Bayern Munich]

Thomas Muller’s late goal on a skillful diving header doubled the lead provided by Toni Kroos earlier in the second half, as Arsenal needed just a few more minutes of defending to escape with something better (a 1-0 loss, that is) against all the offensive might of Bayern’s high-scoring side.

Two penalty kick failures (one by each team) and a red card, all before the break, went a long way to deciding this one, as Arsenal was forced to play a man down against the defending UEFA champs for more than 50 minutes.

A slightly controversial decision from the man in the middle will be the topic around North London as Italian referee Nicola Rizzoli ejected Gunners goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny after 38 minutes. Szczesny had brought down Bayern’s Arjen Robben near goal after the Bayern winger was put through on Kroos’ clever, chipped ball.

[MORE: Wenger: Robben ‘made a lot of’ Szczesny contact; penalty ‘killed the game’]

It was Kroos who finally broke through, putting the visitors in command with a sumptuous, well-placed right-footed shot in the 54th minute. The sequence started with more good work from the right side, which Bayern worded relentlessly, feeding the tireless  Robben and Philipp Lahm time against along that flank.

The game was alive from the start with both goalkeepers forced into quality saves within five minutes. The best was from Gunners ‘keeper Szczesny, whose flying, fingertip save on Kroos’ well-aimed effort from 20 yards was surely among the best stops of all the Round-of-16 matches.

The real talkers of the early minutes were still to come as Mezut Ozil went through in the 8th minute (although he was possibly offside). When Bayern center back Jerome Boateng failed to deal well enough with the German attacker’s quick cut-back inside Bayern’s 18, Rizzoli pointed to the penalty spot.

[MORE: What’s wrong with Champions League home teams? Four shutouts!]

Big Bayern goalkeeper Manuel Neuer stood his ground on Ozil’s tentative run-up and the Arsenal man saw his shot straight down the middle turned away by a fellow German international. Ozil, by the way, is the only player now to have missed two Champions League penalty kicks this year.

Rizzoli’s choice to eject Szczesny could have turned out worse yet for Arsenal but for David Alaba’s penalty shot for Bayern, which he aimed low and left, only to see it ping off the outside of Arsenal’s post.

Most of the second half was damage control for the home side; Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger set his side into a 4-4-1, with Ozil and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain wide – the hard-running “Ox” managed to be a bother here and there to Bayern’s back line, although he  didn’t dance through the German defense the way Robben did on the other side – in behind striker Yaya Sanogo.

Wenger had rattled the Champions League world with his lineup choice at striker, gambling with the French youngster Sanogo over far more experienced (and yet personally troubled, recently) Olivier Giroud.

[MORE: Late header from Diego Costa gives Atlético Madrid Champions League edge over Milan]

Giroud has been Wenger’s preferred striker choice all year; Sanogo had just one previous start for the Gunners.

It was actually a double gamble, of sorts. If Wenger was unhappy with Giroud, who has been OK, although hardly overwhelming during Arsenal’s fine seasons, the manager could have opted for German international Lukas Podolski, who has over 100 caps for his country.

LINEUPS

Arsenal: Szczesny; Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs; Flamini, Wilshere; Ozil, Cazorla, Oxlade-Chamberlain; Sanogo

Bayern: Neuer; Lahm, Boateng, Dante, Alaba; Martínez, Thiago; Robben, Kroos, Gotze; Mandzukić.

U.S. Open Cup roundup: Poku lifts Miami; Red Bulls, Cincy win on PKs

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While MLS represents the majority of the remaining clubs in this year’s U.S. Open Cup, one side continues to defy the odds.

[ MORE: Minnesota United adds Hearts midfielder Sam Nicholson ]

Miami FC reached their first quarterfinal in club history after knocking off Atlanta United late on Wednesday, behind a goal and an assist from Kwadwo Poku. The victory for Miami sets up a date with FC Cincinnati — who pulled off an unbelievable shootout win against the Chicago Fire.

Meanwhile, the New York Red Bulls and New England Revolution both advanced on the night with wins over the Philadelphia Union and D.C. United, respectively. The Red Bulls and Revs will meet in the final eight as well.

Sporting KC kept its hope of hoisting a fourth U.S. Open Cup title alive on Wednesday with a 2-0 win over the Houston Dynamo. The 2015 winners will take on FC Dallas — who defeated the Colorado Rapids on Tuesday night.

Here are all the results from tonight’s Open Cup action.

Houston Dynamo 0-2 Sporting KC
New England Revolution 2-1 D.C. United
Miami FC 3-2 Atlanta United
New York Red Bulls 1-1 (5-3 on PKs) Philadelphia Union
FC Cincinnati 0-0 (3-1 on PKs) Chicago Fire

Late action (10:30 p.m. ET kick off)

San Jose Earthquakes vs. Seattle Sounders
LA Galaxy vs. Sacramento Republic

Report: City Football Group set to expand outreach with Girona deal

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City Football Group appears on the verge of adding to its global outreach, and it’s next destination looks to be in Spain.

[ MORE: Are Southampton’s days of selling behind the club? ]

The group of investors, which are known for controlling Premier League side Manchester City, are reportedly nearing a deal to purchase a partial stake in Spanish club Girona — which is set to make its La Liga debut in 2017/18.

CFG is said to be gaining a near “50 percent” stake in the club, with the rest of the club owned by Media Base, a company owned by Pep Guardiola‘s brother, Pere.

Over recent years, CFG has vastly expanded its ownership outreach and currently has a stake in five clubs around the world, with Girona set to be the sixth.

MLS side New York City FC, Australian A-League side Melbourne City FC, Japan’s Yokohama F. Marinos and Club Atletico Torque in Uruguay are all part of the CFG enterprise, alongside Man City.

New York Red Bulls ink goalkeeper Luis Robles to new deal

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The “Iron Man” will keep up his amazing journey with the New York Red Bulls, after signing a new deal with the club on Wednesday.

[ MORE: Wesley Sneijder on verge of joining Los Angeles FC ]

Goalkeeper Luis Robles has extended his contract with the reigning Eastern Conference champions, as the American continues to raise his consecutive starts streak, which stands at 157.

The terms of the deal were not disclosed in the club’s release.

Robles joined the Red Bulls back in 2012 after playing in Germany, and the shot-stopper hasn’t missed a start ever since.

Report: Minnesota United adds Hearts midfielder Sam Nicholson

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Minnesota United has had its shares of ups and down in its debut MLS season, but the Loons are on the verge making an exciting young signing.

[ MORE: Wesley Sneijder closing in on Los Angeles FC move ]

ESPN FC is reporting that Minnesota will sign Hearts winger Sam Nicholson from the Scottish Premier League on a deal that makes him a Loon until 2019.

The young attacker is expected to join the MLS side when the summer transfer window opens on July 10.

Nicholson, 22, has played with the Edinburgh side since his youth days, and made his senior debut with the club in 2013. During his time at Hearts, Nicholson scored 16 goals in all competitions for the team.

Last season, Nicholson missed 16 matches due to a significant knee injury.

According to the report, Scottish sides Rangers and Aberdeen were also among those interested in acquiring Nicholson, while English Championship clubs Bristol City and Barnsley also reached out about the attacker.