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Fairytale to tragedy: Chapecoense the “Leicester City of Brazil”

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Chapecoense’s dramatic rise to the top levels of South American soccer has been halted in the most tragic way imaginable.

Late on Monday a charter plane transporting 77 people, including the Chapecoense team and its officials, crashed on its final approach to the Colombian city of Medellin, killing 71 people.

[ MORE: World soccer in mourning ]  

Chapecoense were due to play the Copa Sudamericana final (the South American equivalent of the UEFA Europa League) first leg against Atletico Nacional on Wednesday and they had captured the imagination of fans across Brazil and South America with their incredible rise from the fourth-tier of Brazilian soccer in 2009 to the top-flight in 2013 and on the brink of winning a continental title.

What could have become the finest week in the small clubs history had become a monumental tragedy.

With only a reported five survivors from the crash, three of them are believed to be Chapecoense players Jakson Follmann, Alan Ruschel and Heilio Neto.

Chapecoense manager Caio Junior, 51, is believed to have died among with his coaching staff and most of his players, plus 21 journalists perished on the flight, with arcraft mechanic Erwin Tumiri and journalist Rafael Valmorbida the only other survivors.

Speaking after a marquee win against Brazilian powerhouse Fluminese back in September, Cadu likened his teams rise to that of Leicester City, the 5000-1 shots who stunned the soccer world to win the Premier League in the 2015-16 season.

“Our team really reminds me of Leicester, a team from an unfancied city that was able to win an important title. I want to make a mark this season with this club, this group of players,” Cadu said.

Their star player was former Atletico Madrid and Real Mallorca midfielder Cleber Santana but aside from that they were a team full of tough, hard-working players from the unassuming city of Chapeco in southern Brazil. They had gone on a glorious run through the Copa Sudamericana and reached the final, knocking off Argentinian sides Independiente and San Lorenzo on the way to becoming the first Brazilian team in three years to reach a continental final.

After their incredible rise through the Brazilian leagues to the top-flight for the first time since 1979 (they were on course for a top 10 finish ahead of the final game of the Brazilian Serie A season) this two-legged final was meant to be the pinnacle for Chapecoense. It was the most important week in club history, manager Cadu had said before his team set off on their journey to Medellin.

Now, he and many others will never return and the sheer scale of the tragedy has led to three days of national mourning in Brazil.

Chapecoense were truly a team which captured the imagination of the people.

Below is a list of the Chapecoense players said to be on the flight to Medellin ahead of the first leg of the Copa Sudamericana final, only three of which are said to have survived.


Danilo
Gimenez
Rafael Lima
Neto – Survived
Josimar
Dener
Lourency
Gil (on loan from Coritiba)
Bruno Rangel
Hyoran
Ananias (on loan from Cruzeiro)
Marcelo Boeck
Marcelo
Mateus Caramelo (on loan from São Paulo)
Lucas Gomes (on loan from Londrina)
Willian Thiego
Moises
Nenem
Kempes
Sergio Manoel
Nivaldo
Jakson Follmann – Survived
Claudio Winck (on loan from Internacional)
Demerson
Filipe Machado
Arthur Maia (on loan from Vitoria)
Ailton Canela
Matheus Biteco (on loan from Hoffenheim)
Rafael Bastos
Alejandro Martinuccio
Cleber Santana (captain)
Alan Ruschel (on loan from Internacional) – Survived
Tiaguinho

USMNT eyeing the table as it kicks off training camp

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COMMERCE CITY, Colo. (AP) Goalkeeper Tim Howard‘s uniform was filled with grass stains after the first day of training camp.

And this was considered a light workout.

“Just getting everybody back together, getting a sweat,” Howard said Monday after the U.S. squad went through a roughly 60-minute workout. “Day by day, we’re just trying to add on to the pile, put some concepts in and get some understanding between players.”

What awaits the squad in resumption of the final round of World Cup qualifying is certainly a gantlet. They have a game against Trinidad and Tobago on June 8 in Commerce City and then at Mexico three days later.

[ MORE: Wenger would pay Sanchez, Ozil ]

There’s little margin for error, with the U.S. currently in fourth place in the six-team standings. They have three home and three away matches remaining. The top three teams qualify, with the fourth-place squad going to a playoff against Asia’s No. 5 nation.

“We need to keep climbing that table. We feel like this is a good opportunity to do it,” said Howard, now with the Colorado Rapids and who will feel right at home with the Trinidad game on his turf at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. “One game, that’s as far as you can look. You can’t look to next week or the week after or two months from now.”

For now, Howard will be coach Bruce Arena’s goalkeeper over Brad Guzan, Ethan Horvath and Nick Rimando, who all were invited to camp. But it’s an ongoing evaluation.

“We have good goalkeepers here. That’s the least of my worries, to be honest,” Arena said.

Given the short amount of time between games, Arena fully plans on using more players than usual. One particular competition to watch will be at right back between Timmy Chandler and DeAndre Yedlin.

“I have a close eye on everything,” Arena said. “We have a bunch of good players here. … We’re watching everybody and thinking about how we can best utilize everyone.”

[ MORE: Kroenke, Wenger meet; Decision looms ]

The roster features a solid blend of youth and experience. Leading the youngsters is Christian Pulisic, the 18-year-old Borussia Dortmund midfielder who last weekend became the youngest American to win a club medal in Europe.

On the veteran side are players such as Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, DaMarcus Beasley, Michael Bradley and Howard, all of whom have more than 30 World Cup qualifying appearances.

“We’re past the experimentation phase. These are all guys who the manager believes in whole-heartedly,” Howard said. “They’re not here for anything other than to play minutes, play important minutes.”

Arena couldn’t agree more.

“This is a nice group we have here. Hopefully, we can find the right balance in the team, putting them in the right position to complement them both individually and collectively,” Arena said. “If we can accomplish that, there’s no reason to believe we can’t be successful in these two games.”

Joining the camp in Colorado are a few players who weren’t with the squad in March. Guzan, Chandler, Fabian Johnson, Bobby Wood and Yedlin are all on the field. Guzan didn’t participate because his wife was expecting their second child, while the others were dealing with injuries, illnesses and yellow-card suspension.

Now, it’s a matter of getting their timing down – and accustomed to the altitude.

“There’s no reason to make it an excuse,” midfielder Paul Arriola said. “Just doing the best we can to acclimate to it.”

Arena’s squad will get things rolling in a friendly against Venezuela in Sandy, Utah, on Saturday.

“That’s a good game for us,” Arena said. “It gives us a little bit of exercise at lower altitude, which isn’t perfect for what we need to do to get ready here and Mexico City, but it’s a start. Think it will be good to give a chance to 16 players and build from there – get us ready for Trinidad and Mexico.”

Stam after Reading playoff final loss: “Tough to take”

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Jaap Stam has won silverware in three different leagues for five different teams, and has a Champions League title from his time at Manchester United.

He’s used to winning, and that includes his first stop as a full-time manager. And that makes Reading’s loss in Monday’s playoff final sting a bit more.

[ MORE: Wenger would pay Sanchez, Ozil ]

Reading lost in penalty kicks and it’s not like the Royals were thoroughly outclassed by Huddersfield Town. But it still burns. From Sky Sports:

“You don’t want to play football to be in the grey areas, you want to get the max out of your career, win trophies and play at the highest level.

“It’s tough to take, but it has to be difficult. It’s not good to lose a game like this, you need to feel it and experience it and then take that forward if you get into the same moment again. The good players do that.”

Reading loses a trio of loan players — Lewis Grabban, Reece Oxford, and Jordon Mutch — as well as American midfielder Danny Williams. It won’t be easy for Reading to get back into the playoffs without an injection of money, but Stam’s first rodeo as a manager was a good ride that came up just short.

Wenger, Kroenke meet; Board to learn decision Tues.

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Wenger watch is entering its final hours.

The BBC is reporting that Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke met with longtime manager Arsene Wenger on Monday to discuss the Frenchman’s future, and that the decision was going to be made together.

[ MORE: Wenger would pay Sanchez, Ozil ]

It seems almost certain that Wenger is going to come back to the Emirates Stadium. From the BBC:

The outcome is unclear but the decision rests solely with Wenger and Kroenke and will be relayed to directors at a Tuesday board meeting.

Fresh terms were agreed in principle some months ago, but nothing is signed.

There have been questions about whether Wenger would accept a sporting director being placed above him, and if Kroenke believes the repercussions of keeping the boss would negatively impact the business.

Barcelona to keep goalkeeper Ter Stegen until 2022

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says it has reached a deal to extend the contract of goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen until June 2022.

The club said the new agreement, which has a buyout clause of 180 million euros ($201 million), will be signed on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Yaya to stay at Man City ]

Ter Stegen has been with the club since 2014, helping it win nine titles in three seasons.

The German goalkeeper has played 93 matches with Barcelona, conceding 90 goals in 71 wins, 10 draws and 12 losses.

Barcelona has already renewed the contracts of Javier Mascherano, Luis Suarez, Neymar, Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic. It is still working on new deals for Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi.