Photo credit: Wanda Metropolitano / @Metropolitano

Atletico Madrid go back in time with debut of new stadium (photos)

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MADRID (AP) Atletico Madrid will get closer to the past when it moves into its new stadium this weekend.

The state-of-the-art venue inaugurated on Saturday will thrust the traditional Spanish club into modernity while not letting go of its rich history.

The 68,000-capacity Wanda Metropolitano, named after the Estadio Metropolitano where Atletico played more than half a century ago, will give fans plenty of comfort and luxury.

Wanda Metropolitano also will feature references to Atletico’s history, including four other stadiums where the club played in its 114-year existence. It highlights the small site where it was founded in 1903 to the beloved Vicente Calderon where it played from 1966 until last season.

“The fans obviously will never forget the memories, the nostalgia and the love that they had for the old Metropolitano or for the Calderon,” Atletico coach Diego Simeone said. “And they will fall in love with the Wanda Metropolitano as well, because what makes them fall in love is actually the team and its jersey. And that will never change.”

Fans will be reminded of Atletico’s past when they arrive at the venue in northeastern Madrid.

The subway station inside the stadium is also named after the old Estadio Metropolitano, and the roads leading to the venue all refer to the team’s history. One is named after Atletico great Luis Aragones, a former player and coach, and another makes reference to the team’s foundation date, April 26.

A large statue of the Bear and the Strawberry Tree, Madrid’s city symbol, will welcome fans outside, with five tree roots symbolizing the team’s five stadiums. The symbol is also part of Atletico’s shield.

A huge flag with Atletico’s red, white and blue colors will be outside, measuring 3,638 square feet and touted as the biggest in Spain. It will be hoisted on a 131-feet mast in tribute to the team’s supporters.

As fans advance toward the main entrance, they will go through the “Walk of Legends,” where plaques on the ground will honor each of the more than 150 Atletico players who have 100 or more appearances with the club, including some from the current squad.

Photos of Aragones and Simeone will be on display in the entrance of the locker rooms, along with motivational phrases by the two Atletico greats.

Inside the $286-million venue, fans will have access to modern facilities and top-notch video and sound systems. The club has promised to try to replicate the type of atmosphere that they had in the 55,000-capacity Calderon.

Nearly all of the seats will be covered by an elegant round-shaped roof that can be lit up in different colors. The red-colored seats will be bigger and more comfortable than they were at the rundown Calderon.

Atletico said the Wanda Metropolitano will be the first stadium in the world to use LED technology in its entire lighting system. It will be visible from far away at night and is expected to quickly turn into another city landmark.

There were mixed feelings among fans when Atletico decided to move away from the Calderon, which was outdated but delivered one of the greatest atmospheres in soccer and symbolized Atletico’s persevering spirit.

The fans gradually got behind the idea of the new stadium, and there is already a waiting list to get season tickets.

“Usually there is some initial discontentment when you change stadiums,” Simeone said. “But when you see the new venue, when you see that the club is growing, you are happy and you want the club to keep growing.”

A 12-hour party is planned for Saturday’s opener, starting well before the Spanish league game against Malaga. There will be fan zones and concerts to keep fans entertained throughout the day, and light shows and fireworks are expected just before and after the match at night.

Atletico played its first three league games away to make sure there was enough time to prepare the new stadium. Not everything will be done, but the club said none of the delays will significantly impact the inauguration.

The new venue, which gets the Wanda name from the Chinese company that has a stake in the club, was built around the La Peineta complex in the outskirts of the Spanish capital. It’s near the city’s airport and far from the Calderon’s neighborhood or from where the old Metropolitano stood.

The complex was originally supposed to be upgraded into an Olympic Stadium, but Atletico took over after Madrid lost its bids to host the games in 2012, 2016 or 2020.

“We will forever hold on to the memories of going to the Calderon with our parents or our grandparents,” said Atletico striker Fernando Torres, a club fan since his youth. “And now it’s time for us to go to this new stadium, to take our children to this new stadium.

“It will be up to us to explain to them who was Luis Aragones, explain to them that there was a time when this stadium didn’t exist, but we felt the same way about the old one as they feel about this new one.”

Ronaldo versus Messi: Scoring race heats up in Spain

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MADRID (AP) Regardless of who wins the Spanish league title, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo will be battling it out to the end.

Real Madrid doesn’t have much chance of keeping Barcelona from winning the league, but Ronaldo is making a strong run to snag the scoring title from Messi with nine matches remaining.

[ MORE: (Very) Fresh faces for USMNT ]

Ronaldo added another four goals in Madrid’s 6-3 win over Girona on Sunday, giving him 22 for the season. That is only three below Messi, who scored his 25th in Barcelona’s 2-0 win over Athletic Bilbao.

“Hopefully he can catch him,” Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane said of Ronaldo. “It’s important for him and for us, too. When he’s playing well, the team plays well. He transmits an important and positive energy to the group. He’s always in very good form come the end of the season. He’s got an eye for goal and he’ll never lose that.”

Ronaldo has scored at least one goal in his last eight matches in all competitions. He has 21 goals in his last 11 games.

“He’s unbelievably ambitious and that comes across in every training session and in everything he does on the field,” Zidane said. “If he has a penalty in training, he will take it with the maximum concentration. It’s what makes him different from the rest.”

Ronaldo is trying to keep Messi from winning the top-scorer’s “Pichichi” trophy for the second consecutive year. The Argentina forward scored 37 league goals last season, 12 more than Ronaldo.

Ronaldo hasn’t won the award since 2014-15, when he had 48 goals. That was still shy of Messi’s record of 50 goals in 2011-12.

Despite’s Ronaldo’s impressive run, Madrid’s chances of repeating as league champion remain slim. Madrid trails Barcelona by 15 points after 29 matches. The teams will play again in May in a league match at Camp Nou. They could also meet in the Champions League semifinals or the final.

Messi scored twice against Madrid this season – in a 3-1 loss in the Spanish Super Cup final at the beginning of the season and in a 3-0 win at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium in a league match late last year. Ronaldo scored against the Catalan club in that Spanish Super Cup game.

Messi has scored at least a goal in his last six matches in all competitions. He has scored at least 25 league goals in nine consecutive seasons with Barcelona.

“Messi is the best player in the world and he shows it game after game,” Athletic defender Unai Nunez said after his team’s loss to Barcelona on Sunday.

Ronaldo has scored at least 25 league goals in the last eight seasons. He scored four or more goals in a match with Madrid eight times.

“He’s on unbelievable form at the moment,” Madrid forward Lucas Vazquez said of Ronaldo. “He helps the team with his work, goals and assists. Everyone benefits from it.”

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Manchester United triggers extension for Ashley Young

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Ashley Young has earned another year at Manchester United.

Multiple reports say Young will stay with the club at least through the 2018-19 season, having joined the club from Aston Villa in 2011.

[ MORE: Southampton momentum? ]

Young’s resurgent play under Jose Mourinho earned him a return to the England set-up, with a November cap his first since 2013. He’s been named Man of the Match four times in Premier League play this season.

The versatile 32-year-old wide player is a left back who can man midfield on both sides of the field as well as right back.

He has 320 Premier League appearances in his career, and has hit the pitch 193 times in all competitions for United. He has 74 career goals with 107 assists, 16 and 38 of which have come in a Red Devils shirt.

United beat Brighton and Hove Albion on Saturday to clinch a place in the FA Cup semifinals, where it will face Tottenham Hotspur.

Mourinho is understandably under the microscope, but the work he’s done in restoring Ashley Young and Marouane Fellaini to previous form deserves credit.

Who’s this now? Digging into the USMNT roster

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The United States men’s national team will roll young for this month’s friendly against Paraguay in Cary, North Carolina.

Interim head coach Dave Sarachan named 17 players under the age of 24 for the match and that list does not include Christian Pulisic, who is getting needed respite.

[ MORE: Southampton momentum? ]

It’s an interesting list, with DeAndre Yedlin‘s 49 caps the most followed by Bobby Wood’s 36 and Darlington Nagbe’s 24.

And there are a bunch of “Who?” names for those who aren’t elbow deep in their knowledge of the U.S. player pool, so let’s dance with the ones Sarachan is bringing to North Carolina.

Andriya Novakovich is destroying the Netherlands second-tier, netting 18 times including six goals in his last five matches. Keeping in mind that even the country’s top flight is free-scoring, that’s impressive stuff from the former Reading man, a tall 21-year-old striker.

Shaq Moore became the first American to make a La Liga start since Oguchi Onyewu in 2013. The 21-year-old Levante right back got the playing time due to injury, making eight total appearances, but is back on the bench in recent weeks.

Antonee Robinson left Everton for a loan spell at Bolton Wanderers, and the 20-year-old could maybe, possibly, hopefully, please-sir-please be a long-term left back. It’s his first appearance in the U.S. set-up since 2014, and the English-American could start a recruiting battle should he continue his growth at Everton. He has five assists in more than 2,400 minutes between left back and left mid for Bolton.

Cameron Carter-Vickers is a name many in this space will know, but in case you don’t: The Spurs center back, 20, suffered through fits and starts in a Championship loan at Sheffield United, much like the club itself, which was cut short. Sent to Ipswich Town, “CCV” has been one of their finer players over the second half of the season.

And, just for fun, how might we see the Yanks line up in North Carolina?


Yedlin — Carter-Vickers — Miazga — Lichaj

Nagbe — McKennie — Adams — Saief

Wood — Novakovich

“A new impulse” – Hughes, Hojbjerg hope to ride Saints momentum

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It’s safe to say this is a season neither Mark Hughes nor Southampton had planned when it began this summer.

Saints are plodding along near the bottom of the table for most of the campaign while Hughes was fired from his post as Stoke City boss as his club found a similar level of underachievement.

[ MORE: USMNT names squad for friendly ]

Now both have a chance to stay in the Premier League together, and took a decent step in establishing some positive momentum with a 2-0 FA Cup win over Wigan Athletic on Sunday.

“I think I speak on everyone’s behalf when I say it has been positive,” said Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg. “It is a new impulse, new energy, good vibes, a fresh start. He worked a lot on intensity and discipline, and the desire to go the extra yards as individuals and as a team.

“We have some really good players and maybe this is the perfect fit, nothing is perfect in this world but it’s a good start, let me just say that.”

As for Hughes, his hiring comes straight out of the relegation scrap playbook. And it comes as no surprise he’s following it to a T when it comes to post-match talk.

He’s starting with the fans.

“We thank each and every one of them,” Hughes said, “Because it’s clearly not been an easy period for anybody with allegiances to Southampton FC.

“I like to think this was a reflection of what this group can do for them – we just need their support from now until the end of the season.

“If we get that, which I’m sure we will on the evidence of today, and everybody’s in it together, we will be fine.”

It is absurdly early in Hughes stint to make judgments, but Sunday’s win is a positive start. Next up is a critical tilt at West Ham on March 31, and a win will push Saints ahead of their hosts.