Fuel on the fire — Sporting KC’s Feilhaber says “I’ve never liked Real Salt Lake”

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Trust me, I’m well aware that this weekend’s marquee matchup in Major League Soccer is the Cascadia Cup clash between the Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers (Sunday 9:30 pm ET) at CenturyLink Field.

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While we give credit to the Seattle vs. Portland feud as one of MLS’s very best — if not the best —  rivalries, there’s quite the deep hatred brewing between another pair of MLS teams, this time in “flyover country,” and it reared its ugly head again on Thursday, for no real apparent reason.

Speaking to the media ahead of Sporting Kansas City’s meeting with the Houston Dynamo (Saturday, 8:30 pm ET), another of Sporting KC’s recent rivals in MLS Cup Playoffs gone by, Sporting midfielder Benny Feilhaber was asked, “What’s the team that stands out to you that causes you to say to yourself, ‘I hate those guys,'” with the assumed intention of garnering a half-interesting quote about the Dynamo.

But Feilhaber quickly diverted attention away from Saturday’s opponent and took aim at the club’s other, and his own personal favorite, rival, Real Salt Lake.

Feilhaber, from MLSsoccer.com:

“I’ve never liked Salt Lake. I think they’re…yeah, I don’t like them. I like playing against them. I like beating them, even though we haven’t been able to the last two years, but this year, we get to play them a couple more times.

“Salt Lake, I don’t know if it’s the game that I look forward to the most, but it’s the team that, like you said, I hate the most, I guess.”

Sure, the two teams met in that epic 2013 MLS Cup final, which required 10 rounds of penalty kicks to crown a champion, but the beef between Sporting and RSL is an animosity that goes back much further than that. Further than even Feilhaber’s time in Kansas City.

In 2011, a closed-door preseason game between the two teams was cut short after a series of hard tackles reportedly led to an all-out brawl between the two sides. More bad blood ensued later that season when Roger Espinoza was sent off for a hard tackle from behind on RSL captain Kyle Beckerman during a regular season meeting at Sporting Park.

[ MORE: MLS Power Rankings, Volume II — Two months into the season ]

In 2013, Feilhaber’s first season in Kansas City, then-RSL defender Chris Wingert leveled then-SKC winger Kei Kamara with a vicious shoulder to the head just six seconds into their league game at Rio Tinto Stadium. Later that year came the MLS Cup instant-classic.

2014’s lone matchup between SKC and RSL, just as their first meeting of 2015 two weeks ago, was an ugly, physical 0-0 draw played at Sporting Park. On the back of that, Feilhaber already had their next two encounters — June 21 and July 24 — on his mind and was more than happy to explain exactly from where his distaste for RSL comes.

“I just don’t like them. I’ll leave it at that.”

“Some individuals, I don’t hate. Some guys on the team, I like. But I guess, as a whole, I don’t like them too much.”

“I just think they’re…snobby, almost. They think they’re something special, when they’re not. So, that’s pretty much it.”

Living in Kansas City myself, I will assure anyone out there that everything in the above quotes conveys precisely the feelings that every SKC fan harbors for RSL.

This is a good feud, a strong feud, a real feud born out of high-quality, competitive play on the field; not from the marketing arm of a team or the league trying to drive interest in their product. Best of all, it looks set to burn white-hot for some time to come.

Get ready, June 21 is only 59 days away.

Man United reveal plans for the future; financial results announced

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Manchester United’s executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward has a plan.

He shared it in a statement on Monday, as the Red Devils have picked up some momentum over the past few weeks with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s side back in the hunt for a top four finish in the Premier League.

The leading man at the PL giants confirmed that producing their own young group of players in the first team is now their main aim.

“We have a clear vision in terms of football philosophy and recruitment,” Woodward said. “The significant investments that we have made in recent years in areas such as transfers, recruitment infrastructure, analytics and our Academy are already beginning to bear fruit.

“We are very proud to be shortly approaching a milestone 4,000th game featuring an Academy player, and we are particularly optimistic regarding the considerable young talent currently coming through. Our ultimate goal is to win trophies by playing exciting football with a team that fuses graduates from our Academy with world-class acquisitions.”

Academy products Marcus Rashford, Andreas Pereira and Scott McTominay are key players in United’s first team this season while the likes of Brandon Williams, Axel Tuanzebe and Mason Greenwood have all gained valuable experience.

That said, Woodward will no doubt realize that United have to spend on key additions in the upcoming windows alongside promoting their talented youngsters.

Solskjaer has already mentioned that the January transfer window is something United will look at closely, as they are currently in seventh place in the Premier League table and nine points off the top four. An attacking midfielder is likely to be their key target as they failed to bring in Sporting Lisbon’s Bruno Fernandes this summer.

With regards to the finances, United’s net debt rose by $177.9 million which was in essence due to bringing in Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Harry Maguire and Daniel James this summer. However, their first quarter revenue for this year was slightly up to $175.5 million year-on-year.

They are expected to bring in $86.8 million less in the next 12 months from TV revenue and prize money as they failed to qualify for the UEFA Champions League, but players wages did fall 8.8 percent with the likes of Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez off the wage bill, as that now stands at $90 million.

As always, a lack of success on the pitch doesn’t really seem to hurt United off it.

Senegal, Nigeria stay perfect in African Cup qualifying

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Famara Diedhiou scored a hat trick in a game interrupted by heavy rain as Senegal beat Eswatini 4-1 on Sunday for two wins out of two in qualifying for the 2021 African Cup of Nations.

Diedhiou missed an early penalty and it was 0-0 at halftime when Senegal coach Aliou Cisse substituted Sadio Mane.

Diedhiou netted all three of his goals in a nine-minute period from the 59th to keep this year’s African Cup runner-up on course in the final stage of qualifying for the 2021 tournament. Badou Ndiaye scored Senegal’s fourth in Manzini against the kingdom formerly known as Swaziland.

Senegal lost to Algeria in the final of this year’s African Cup of Nations in Egypt and is embarking on another attempt to win the continental title for the first time.

Like Senegal, Nigeria has also won its first two of six games in the qualifiers’ decisive group stage after the Super Eagles benefited from an outstanding performance by forward Victor Osimhen in a 4-2 win over Lesotho. Osimhen scored twice and set up the other two as Nigeria again came from behind to win, like it did in its opening qualifier.

South Africa beat Sudan 1-0 with a goal by Lebogang Phiri for its first win of the qualifiers after losing to Ghana first up. Cameroon, which will host the 2021 African Cup, also registered a first win by beating Rwanda 1-0. Midfielder Ngoumo Ngamaleu scored in Cameroon’s first competitive win under new coach Toni Conceicao and first in six games.

Cameroon has already qualified as host but is still taking part in qualifying. The top two teams in each of the 12 groups will qualify with the exception of Cameroon’s group. There, the highest-placed of the other three teams – currently Mozambique – goes through to the 24-team finals which will be played in mid-2021.

Guinea and Mali sit in the qualifying positions in Group A – Mali won 2-0 in Chad and Guinea 2-0 at home to Namibia. There were also wins on Sunday for Uganda, Benin, Republic of Congo and Gabon.

More AP soccer https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Griezmann: Playing for Barcelona is ‘not the easiest’

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Over the summer, Barcelona shelled a whopping $135 million to land Antoine Griezmann from Atletico Madrid.

It was a match made in heaven; the rest was supposed to be history.

Only that hasn’t been the case for the Frenchman in Barcelona.

Despite scoring a brace in his debut at the Camp Nou, Griezmann’s impact and influence on the field has quickly dwindled. In 11 league appearances with the Catalan giants, the 28-year-old has scored four goals and added three assists, signs that the World Cup winner is, in fact, struggling with his new team.

Speaking to Telefoot, Griezmann revealed that playing for Barcelona is not an easy thing to do, but that with hard work, his fortunes will turn around for the best:

“It is hard, I knew it would be, it is not the easiest place. This is a new team, a new club, new tactics, a new position. I have to work, try to understand my team-mates, after they will understand me too and it will work just like that… Critics will always be there. But I am good, I am proud of where I am. Only work pays off. I have to take confidence and it will all come just like that.”

This season, Barcelona manager Ernesto Valverde has frequently deployed the Frenchman as a left winger, with the hope that he will link up with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez. The positives form such an ideology have yet to be reaped, however. Griezmann is scoring a goal every 224 minutes, a career worst.

The 28-year-old, too, has played in a central role on a couple of occasions, specifically during the absences of Messi and Suarez, but it hasn’t worked out for a player that has made a career from roaming that part of the field.

The building clamor at the Camp Nou is borderline justifiable – mainly because it’s now evident that Griezmann is wrestling with adapting to the expectations and systems in place in Barcelona.

But the high-flying attacker has proven he’s worth the price time and time again, and now he’s on the record saying that he’ll do everything in his power to do so with his new club.

Real Monarchs beat Louisville City to win first ever USL Cup

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Real Monarchs scored three unanswered goals as they routed Louisville City 3-1 at Lynn Stadium to win their first ever USL Cup title.

Noah Powder’s goal in the 66th minute sealed the deal for the visitor’s, adding to the goals scored by defenders Erik Holt and Konrad Plewa in the first half.

Surprisingly enough, it was Lou City who got off to a superb start on Sunday night, though.

Only six minutes after the initial whistle, Lou City’s leading goalscorer, Magnus Rasmussen, scored the game’s first goal, breaking a record for the fastest goal in a USL Cup final.

The defeat brings an end to Lou City’s historic run of consecutive USL Cup-winning seasons.

On July 1, former Real Salt Lake defender, Jamison Olave, took over as the Monarchs interim coach following Martin Vasquez’s unexpected resignation.