The most memorable moments of the 2013-2014 Champions League

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On Saturday, Atlético Madrid and Real Madrid will face off in the first Champions League final to feature two teams from the same city. But before the excitement in Lisbon kicks off, let’s review some of the most memorable moments of the 2013-2014 UEFA Champions League tournament.

Zlatan Ibrahimović puts four past Anderlecht
Ibra’s not going to the World Cup, so the least we can do is talk up his genius here. The world was reminded of the wonder that is Zlatan on October 24, when PSG paid a visit to Anderlecht. Ibrahimović’s first was a simple tap in. Five minutes later, he followed it up with a fantastic backheel, completely confusing the Anderlecht defender attempting to take the ball off him. Next came a powerful, swerving shot to the top corner, completing his hat-trick within 18 minutes. Edinson Cavani scored a fourth for the visitors, but that only seemed to irritate Ibra, who followed up by nodding the ball to his feet, only to volley into the back of the net.

Watch. Just watch.

A heated finish in the Group of Death
Borussia Dortmund, Arsenal and Napoli were all drawn into the same group, along with Marseille. Going into the final game, the standings were such that it was impossible to determine who would move on to the knockout round. Napoli had the lowest chance: they needed to beat Arsenal, and hope that Marseille could salvage a point. And, up until the 85th minute, it looked like the partenopei were about to make their dreams come true. They were up 1-0, while Dortmund were even in France. Then Kevin Großkreutz scored. Napoli needed two goals to progress. They managed a second, but couldn’t find a third. With all teams finishing on 12 points, and even on head-t0-head, Dortmund’s and Arsenal’s superior goal differences sent Napoli into Europa League.

Martin Demichelis becomes a scapegoat
Manchester City just can’t catch a break in the Champions League, can they? Even on points with Bayern Munich in the group stage, they fell into the second slot, setting up a meeting with Barcelona. But this season’s Barcelona side showed certain signs of weakness, and it seemed as though City could make it through to the next round.

Then Martin Demichelis happened. The Argentine, whose signing only Manuel Pellegrini could understand, lunged in with a horrific late challenge on Lionel Messi. Out came the red card, in went Messi’s resulting strike. City went on to lose 2-0 at the Etihad, then 2-1 in Barcelona, ending their quest for the quadruple.

(READ MORE: ATLETICO, REAL TAKE THEIR DERBY TO LISBON)

Olympiakos make things interesting against Manchester United
By the time the knockout stages rolled around, United’s domestic campaign was already in tatters. They’d been knocked out of the Capital One Cup by Sunderland, out of the FA Cup by Swansea City. Last year’s title winners looked to have no hope at repeating the feat, or, in fact, even qualifying for the Champions League. Unless, of course, they won it all.

And when they got drawn against Olympiakos, the idea that United could turn things around and make a miraculous run for the Champions League trophy didn’t seem all that far-fetched. Except Manchester United were dreadful in Greece. Olympiakos won 2-0 and while United managed to come back to progress to the next round, they were easily defeated by Bayern Munich.

That goal from that man
Javier Pastore’s been eclipsed at PSG, but for a few minutes back in April, he was a hero. With 90 minutes played, the hosts were up 2-1, and Chelsea fans were feeling rather confident. After all, they’d be taking an away goal back to Stamford Bridge, and the Blues could easily overcome the goal disadvantage. Then came Pastore. Thrown on with just five minutes left, the attacker turned the Chelsea defense inside out, snaking through the blue shirts to dink in PSG’s third.

Of course, this subheading could also be applied to the second leg. Chelsea desperately needed a second goal, so José Mourinho put on…Demba Ba. He silenced his skeptics with a goal in the 87th minute, stretching out his leg to slot the ball home. The Blues were on to the next round.

Unbeaten Atlético hold fast to make the final
It’s not often a team makes it to the final without losing a match – points can be lost in the group stages, or a side can lose one leg of a knockout game, only to win decisively in the other. The last time it happened was in 2008, when Manchester United lifted the trophy in Moscow. Now, it’s Atléti’s turn to shine. The first leg of their semi-final against Chelsea finished in predictable fashion for two sides that really commit to defending: a goalless draw. But those expecting to see more of the same at Stamford Bridge were sorely disappointed (or perhaps thrilled). It was Fernando Torres that scored first, but Mourinho’s game plan fell to pieces once Adrián scored. Atlético put in two more in the second half, setting up this infamous Madrid Derby in Lisbon.

Real Madrid dismantles Bayern Munich
Many believed that los merengues could hang with Bayern Munich, but few thought they’d beat the Bavarians so decisively. Real had edged a 1-0 victory in Madrid, making the game at the Allianz anyone’s for the taking. And Sergio Ramos seized the moment. The defender had his side up 2-0 by the 20th minute, taking advantage of Bayern’s poor defending on set pieces. Then Cristiano Ronaldo scored in, bagging his own brace to give Real the 5-0 aggregate victory.

Suddenly, la decima was again within Real Madrid’s grasp. But they’ll have to get past their city rivals to grab their tenth European Cup…

The saga continues on Saturday.

Sky Blue’s Sam Kerr named NWSL league MVP for 2017

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CHICAGO (AP) Sky Blue FC forward Sam Kerr has been named the National Women’s Soccer League’s Most Valuable Player for this season.

Kerr, a standout on the Australian national team, had a league-record 17 goals and became the league’s fifth Golden Boot winner to also be named MVP.

[ MORE: MLS Decision Day preview ]

She became the first NWSL player to score four goals in a game on Aug. 19 against the Seattle Reign. Kerr rallied Sky Blue from a 3-goal deficit to beat the Reign 5-4.

Kerr’s award was announced Friday. The league had earlier announced the season’s other award winners: North Carolina’s Abby Dahlkemper was named Defender of the Year, teammate Ashley Hatch was named Rookie of the Year, Portland’s Adrianna Franch was named Goalkeeper of the Year and the Thorns’ Mark Parsons was named Coach of the Year.

The Mendy Effect: Pep praises injured back

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Full back Benjamin Mendy cost Pep Guardiola and Manchester City $68 million, but perhaps he’ll be just as valuable as a very expensive sports psychologist.

The “Shark Team” member was amusing on social media even before his ACL injury sent him to the sidelines until at least April, but he’s become a must-follow Twitter fixture with his in-game messages (See some of his work below).

[ MORE: MLS Decision Day preview ]

City faces Burnley at 10 a.m. ET Saturday (Watch live on CNBC and online via NBCSports.com).

It’s fairly clear his act has translated in private, too, as apparently Mendy is just as good in group messages (Let us in, Pep. We won’t tell anyone). From ManCity.com:

“Usually, players who are out for a long time with injury are sad. They sometimes train apart and feel isolated.

“Mendy decided to be present. He is communicating on social media, WhatsApp and he calls his teammates and messages me. He is going to be so important outside the pitch because people like him make the atmosphere much better.”

It’s not surprising for anyone who’s been following the former Le Havre, Marseille and Monaco man.

Keep in mind, these Tweets below are from the last few days alone!

Ozil to Manchester United?!? Wenger reacts to gossip

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Sometimes, even the biggest Arsene Wenger detractors have to feel for the guy.

Coming off a thrilling late win in Serbia, one that saw Olivier Giroud cap off a team goal straight out of the creative Wenger playbook, the manager should’ve been discussing how to stretch those good vibes into this weekend’s visit to Goodison Park.

[ MORE: MLS Decision Day preview ]

Yet no. Instead of talking about how the Gunners would respect the struggling Toffees, Wenger had to address speculation from several outlets claiming Mesut Ozil would move to Manchester United, perhaps as soon as January.

Feeling it? No, no Wenger was not feeling it. From Arsenal.com:

“We have to deal with all kinds of speculation when the players are at the end of their contracts. On the other hand, to be professional is to give 100 per cent as long as you are somewhere. For the rest, we came out many times and said that’s the situation. It [the media] can come out tomorrow and say that he extends his contract here. It will be exactly the same, it will not change anything. When you play the next game, commit 100 per cent. … When a player plays for Arsenal Football Club, his commitment cannot be linked with the length of his contract, it has just to be linked with the responsibility and the ambition he has to win the football game.”
Of course most big clubs have to deal with such drama on a year-to-year basis and, yes, having Ozil and Alexis Sanchez still in town was completely avoidable. But the idea that Ozil could leave, for free, to Manchester United? We’re sure Gooners the world over will be thrilled with the gossip.

MLS Decision Day preview: Much at stake

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Four teams can claim a Western Conference second round berth, while four more can earn a valuable first-round bye in the East.

Yep, there’s plenty to play for beyond the West’s final playoff spot Sunday during Major League Soccer’s Decision Day, when every team will take the pitch for 4 p.m. ET kickoffs.

[ MORE: Conte feels pressure ]

Here’s what we do know regarding the playoffs:

  1. Supporters’ Shield winning Toronto FC gets a first round bye, while No. 6 seed New York Red Bulls are headed to the road for a first round playoff
  2. New England, Montreal, Philadelphia, Orlando, DC, Minnesota, Colorado, and LA will not make the playoffs
  3. Full stop.

So, yes, this will be fun.

First, let’s look at the Eastern Conference Standings ahead of Sunday’s extravaganza:

Eastern Conference
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Toronto FC 33 20 8 5 72 35 37 13-3-1 7-5-4 68
x – New York City FC 33 16 8 9 54 41 13 10-4-2 6-4-7 56
x – Chicago 33 16 7 10 61 44 17 12-3-2 4-4-8 55
x – Atlanta 33 15 9 9 68 38 30 11-2-3 4-7-6 54
x – Columbus 33 16 5 12 51 47 4 12-2-3 4-3-9 53
x – New York 33 13 8 12 51 46 5 9-6-2 4-2-10 47

— New York City FC controls its bye destiny, though Columbus could join them on 56 points and would pass them on tiebreakers (wins).

— If that happens, Chicago could claim the second bye with a win or draw in Houston (The Fire owns the goal differential tiebreaker).

— If New York City and Chicago lose or draw, Atlanta could finish second with a home win over TFC.

— Columbus can finish second with a win and non-wins for Chicago and Atlanta.

Western Conference
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
x – Vancouver 33 15 7 11 49 47 2 9-5-3 6-2-8 52
x – Portland 33 14 8 11 58 49 9 10-4-2 4-4-9 50
x – Seattle 33 13 11 9 49 39 10 10-5-1 3-6-8 50
x – Sporting KC 33 12 13 8 39 27 12 10-6-1 2-7-7 49
x – Houston 33 12 11 10 54 45 9 11-4-1 1-7-9 47
San Jose 33 12 7 14 36 58 -22 9-5-2 3-2-12 43
FC Dallas 33 10 13 10 43 47 -4 7-7-2 3-6-8 43
Real Salt Lake 33 12 6 15 47 54 -7 8-4-4 4-2-11 42

Byes

— Vancouver finishes first with a win or draw at Portland. The ‘Caps could finish as low as third with a loss to Portland and a Seattle win versus Colorado.

— Portland finishes first — and wins the Cascadia Cup — with a win over visiting Vancouver.

— Seattle can claim a first round bye with a win over visiting Colorado and a Vancouver win over Portland.

— Sporting KC can finish second with a win at Real Salt Lake and non-wins for Portland and Seattle.

Final playoff spot

— San Jose claims the sixth seed with a home win over Minnesota. They can also finish sixth with a draw joined by non-wins for FC Dallas at home to LA and Real Salt Lake at home versus SKC.

— FC Dallas claims the sixth seed with a win over LA and a San Jose draw or loss versus Minnesota. FCD gets sixth with a draw, and a San Jose loss coupled with a RSL loss or draw versus SKC.

—  Real Salt Lake gets sixth with a win over SKC, and non-wins from San Jose and Dallas. RSL could also get sixth with a draw and losses for San Jose and Dallas.

(Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images)

Schedule
FC Dallas vs. LA Galaxy
DC United vs. New York Red Bulls
San Jose vs. Minnesota United
Real Salt Lake vs. Sporting KC
Houston vs. Chicago
Seattle vs. Colorado
Philadelphia vs. Orlando City
Portland vs. Vancouver
Montreal vs. New England
New York City vs. Columbus
Atlanta vs. Toronto

Predictions

— NYCFC hangs on for a draw against Columbus, earning a bye, leaving Chicago to host New York Red Bulls and Atlanta off to Columbus for the first round of the playoffs (We have Toronto beating Atlanta on Sunday).

— Vancouver and Portland draw, while Seattle beats Colorado. The ‘Caps and Sounders get byes, while Seattle takes back the Cascadia Cup.

— San Jose beats Minnesota, gaining the West’s sixth seed. The Quakes head to Portland for the first round, while SKC hosts Houston.