Biggest party in Leicester’s history gets fairytale ending

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LEICESTER — From the moment the sun came up until the moment it went down, May 7, 2016 will live in the memory of Leicester City fans forever.

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Scratch that. It’s a day citizens of Leicester will never forget.

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From flares being let off in the street in the morning, to dance parties and spraying champagne outside the King Power Stadium before the game, the entire Midlands city of just over 300,000 people came to a standstill to salute their champions.

On Saturday Leicester City’s captain Wes Morgan lifted the Premier League trophy into the air to mark the Foxes’ first top-flight title win in their 132-year history. They were supposed to get relegated this season but shocked everyone to win it all. This felt like a scene from a movie.

It felt like Leicester was at the center of the universe. It probably was. It was the greatest day in their history.

With the sun beating down on Leicester, the party was in full swing from way before midday. Banners of every player and the manager adorned lamp posts along the main city streets and messages from national bookmakers Ladbrokes proudly stated “Congratulations, Leicester City! We’ve paid out £3 million” in their shop window near Leicester market.

Of course, I’m sure you don’t need reminding, but Leicester were 5000-1 to win the PL title before this season began. They’ve lost just three games out of 37 so far this season and have become the first new champion of England since Nottingham Forest in 1978. They’ve come from nowhere to inspire the world that true underdog stories can still happen as they’ve defied the powerful and wealthy elite of the Premier League.

I spoke to one Leicester fan who was choking up as he sipped on a beer and took in the sights around him. He was in his 60s and even though he’d had five days for it to sink in, he couldn’t believe it.

A group of lads I sat with in a pub in the center of town just sat there with massive grins on their faces.

Every direction you looked in you saw signs marking Leicester’s title win, in shop windows, hanging from churches, at the train station, car windows had flags hanging out of them. Since they won the title on Monday night courtesy of Tottenham Hotspur drawing at Chelsea, the last five days has been one huge party.

Leicester fans told me that they took it easier after Tuesday and were saving themselves for Saturday. It certainly looked like that.

As I walked through the streets, Leicester City’s flag was flying on the famous cathedral, fans were hanging out in pubs and a mob of Italian supporters who had flown over from Italy to salute Ranieri were rampaging around town.

Speaking to some of Ranieri’s Italian fans, they told me they flew in this morning from all over Italy to witness this moment. They wanted to salute what their countryman had achieved.

Walking the streets from the central area just over a mile to the King Power Stadium, cars along the way honked their horns and families walked to the stadium together with huge smiles on their faces. The local pubs were packed to the rafters with Kasabian, the city’s favorite rock band, blaring out of the speakers. Everyone said similar things: “I can’t believe this is happening!” and “Is this real?”

Leicester must have been the happiest city on the planet on Saturday. I’m sure of it.

Outside the stadium the local Sikh community were handing out free food and providing entertainment, a gospel choir was in full flow and thousands of fans who couldn’t get tickets to the game — some tickets were being sold for around $10,000 each by scalpers — partied in the streets. Free pizza, beer and crisps (potato chips) were given out to home fans and even though the heavens opened and a huge rain storm rolled in an hour before kick off, the party went on. Nothing could dampen the spirits of the people of Leicester.

Leicester is a hugely multicultural city and people of different faith and race spoke to me about how this day, this team, this title had brought all of the people of the city together.

32,140 fans packed into the stadium and were given a real treat from start to finish.

Andrea Bocelli brought the house down with his pregame performance on the pitch as the legendary Italian tenor stood side-by-side with Leicester boss Claudio Ranieri who had arranged the impromptu gig. It was spine-tingling.

Cries of “Champions of England, we know what we are!” and “Stand up for the Champions!” began early and Leicester’s fans went through the full repertoire of songs, lauding Ranieri for taking their team to the UEFA Champions League and soon they were singing the famous “Jamie Vardy‘s having a party!” song.

Vardy — as he likes to do — started the party early with a neat finish from Andy King‘s pinpoint cross and then King himself, the man who’s been with Leicester since their days in the third-tier, got in on the act as he added a second.

The Mexican wave then came out as the party atmosphere was cranked up a few notches despite the pouring rain and thunder and lightning overhead.

Leicester were rampant, going close through Riyad Mahrez, Wes Morgan and Vardy again, with the Foxes marking their special day with a special performance against a subpar Everton.

At half time Leicester lad Mark Selby, who won the Snooker World Championship on the same night Leicester won the PL, was paraded around the pitch along with former legends such as Gordon Banks.

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 07: Leicester City supporters enjoy the atmosphere prior to the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and Everton at The King Power Stadium on May 7, 2016 in Leicester, United Kingdom. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

In the second half Vardy added another from the penalty spot and then Everton’s woeful defense gave away another penalty which Vardy this time ballooned over as he missed the chance to grab a hat trick. That would have been too perfect, wouldn’t it? Late on Kevin Mirallas pulled one back as the game ended 3-1. In truth, nobody cared about the action on the pitch.

One more rendition of “Championes, championes, ole, ole, ole!” was belted out in stoppage time as the final whistle saw incredible celebrations in the stands and on the pitch.

When the game was over the moment everybody had really turned up for arrived.

At 7:40 pm local time, Morgan stood tall and proud as he clutched the PL trophy and thrust it into the air with Ranieri and his teammates by his side.

The fans went wild. The world watched on. Leicester City were crowned Premier League champions on a day the Midlands city will never, ever forget.

It was a perfect day to cap a fairytale season and as fans streamed out of the King Power the party was set to continue long into the night. It probably won’t stop for weeks, if not months. The magnitude of what this city in Leicestershire has witnessed over the past nine months is indescribable. We may never see a more unpredictable title win in Premier League history. This may well be the best moment in PL history.

And Leicester will likely never, ever see another party like this.

MLS weekend preview: Two big rivalries, and Atlanta meets DC

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It’s been a fun midweek for Major League Soccer, one that doesn’t even reach its conclusion until Thursday’s doubleheader ends with Orlando City and Portland meeting in Oregon.

But looking ahead to the weekend brings plenty more worthy of anticipation, beginning with Friday’s “El Trafico.”

[ MORE: De Ligt joins Juve ]

Bob Bradley and LAFC have been threatening to destroy the record books, driven by Carlos Vela’s tremendous play. The Mexican 30-year-old has 19 goals and eight assists before the calendar hits August.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic isn’t too impressed, and Guillermo Barros Schelotto’s Galaxy are 12 points behind the black and gold. They’d be thrilled to climb into second with a Friday win and a statement of local sway (especially after losing the Cali Clasico to San Jose earlier this month).

A full docket on Saturday is followed by a quadruple header of sorts on Sunday, with four matches kicking off between 4 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. ET. Two of them are beauties.

DC United and Atlanta United meet in what could be an Eastern Conference Final preview. Both are within a win Sunday and match-in-hand of holding the East in the palm of its hand, but neither has been playing particularly well (at least until the Five Stripes waxed Houston 5-0 on Wednesday).

DC plays Cincinnati on Thursday and faces a quicker turnaround than Atlanta. If the Black-and-Red can manage a win over the expansion side, it can will enter the Five Stripes’ match-up in second.

Finally, Sunday concludes with a Cascadia Cup meeting between Portland and Seattle in Washington.

So far, Vancouver leads the table with four points, but has played thrice. Seattle has the same amount of points but has played one fewer game.

Portland has only played one Cup match falling 1-0 in Vancouver, and has the advantage of playing its final two matches at home.

But first is this meeting with Seattle. The Sounders sit second in the West and will love the idea of keeping the Timbers two results back of a playoff spot (albeit with multiple matches-in-hand on the field).

Bruce explains taking wheel at wobbly Newcastle United

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Steve Bruce didn’t have it in him to turn down his boyhood club again.

The well-traveled manager and Manchester United legend has taken the reins at combustible Newcastle United after Rafa Benitez walked away from the club this summer.

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Bruce was Sheffield Wednesday manager when that happened, but simply could not resist the lure of managing at St. James’ Park.

He’s also quite confident in his abilities. From The Chronicle:

“I know in some people’s eyes, I’m not Rafa and I know there are big shoes to fill but believe me, I’ll give it everything I possibly can and hopefully I prove the doubters wrong.”

Bruce certainly does not have Benitez’s resume, but has had success in lower leagues. He’s led Birmingham City and Hull City to a pair of promotions each.

If Newcastle backs him as rumored, he may be able to have one of his better Premier League seasons, but his being backed is a wobbly proposition at best (The club is being linked with monster Hoffenheim forward Joelinton).

Bruce knows things have been largely poor at Newcastle United under owner Mike Ashley, and that the club could be taken over by new owners with different ambitions for their manager’s position.

But, again, this is the club he’s supported since he was a boy.

“As I said the easy thing would to have been to say no but I just hope that people show the respect which you obviously only gain by getting results and doing the job, but hopefully that will go hand in hand.”

It’s another Zlatan day, as Galaxy star rips Vela, talks Area 51

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic took a shot at his rivals and his league in one fell swoop.

Perhaps Major League Soccer’s hit is down to proximity and not intent, but the LA Galaxy star certainly didn’t disguise his feelings when asked whether LAFC star Carlos Vela is the best player in the league.

[ MORE: De Ligt joins Juve ]

Vela, 30, has lit MLS on fire to the tune of 19 goals and eight assists in 19 matches, driving the second-year squad to the top of the Western Conference.

Zlatan and the Galaxy’s seasons have trailed behind, relatively speaking. The third-place Galaxy are 12 points behind LAFC, with Ibrahimovic contributing 13 goals and three assists in three fewer games.

“29, he’s playing in MLS and he’s in his prime. When I was 29, where was I?”

Herculez Gomez replies that Ibrahimovic was in Europe (Vela turned 30 in March. At 29, Ibrahimovic scored 21 goals in 41 appearances for AC Milan, on loan from Barcelona. At 30, he scored 35 in 44 for Milan).

“Big difference, exactly.”

Vela, for what it’s worth, spent 2005-17 in Europe. Anyway, here is the exchange.

But wait, there’s more.

Zlatan was also quizzed on Area 51 while in a scrum. For those who may not know, Area 51 is a classified United States military facility in Nevada which has long been speculated as the home of extraterrestrial testing and scientific experimentation.

He doesn’t need to worry about going there, because he has his own Area 51 and there is only one Zlatan.

Who will make Ballon d’Or final three?

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When Luka Modric won the Ballon d’Or last summer, marking the first victor neither named Lionel Messi nor Cristiano Ronaldo since 2007, it threatened to signal a new era for the trophy in more ways than one.

Ronaldo didn’t win the honors, finishing second, but Messi was inexplicably left off the final ballot altogether.

[ MORE: De Ligt joins Juve ]

Could this be the year that neither makes the top three? Probably not, but it could be the first time Ronaldo fails to make the list since Barca swept the honors Messi, Andres Iniesta, Xavi in 2010.

So while most of us are not thinking of the award right now, Ronaldo has it on his brain. It’s no surprise that Marca, known for its backing of Real Madrid royalty, has thrown his name in the mix as a “favorite” given his scudetto with Juventus. That it mentions his performance in the UEFA Nations League is a little goofy — it was a two-match summer — but such is life.

Ronaldo and Messi are deadlocked on five Ballons d’Or, the most ever, and Messi’s year was superior to his longtime rival. Both won their leagues and Messi did not claim domestic honors at the Copa America — in fact he was not his phenomenal self — but Messi scored 12 goals in 10 Champions League appearances before Liverpool stunned Barcelona prior to the final (Ronaldo’s Juve lost to Ajax).

Marca proffers this “I don’t care but obviously I very much care” from CR7:

“I don’t live with an obsession about awards,” Ronaldo explained. “My numbers don’t lie, this year I’ve won three titles and I’ve been good in the Nations League. What else can I do?”

Ronaldo, it should be noted, was still incredible last season. He scored all three goals as Juventus erased a 2-0 first leg deficit in the UCL Round of 16 versus old rivals Atletico Madrid, then scored in both legs of the side’s exit via Ajax. And he likely would’ve won the top scorer’s prize in Italy had he not missed six matches through injury and rest.

Messi again breached the half-century mark in goals, scoring 51 times in all competitions for Barcelona. He chipped in 22 assists and also missed six matches between the UCL and La Liga.

Are there three players who could surpass both to make a new final three?

It would be stunning if Liverpool and Netherlands center back Virgil Van Dijk was kept off the top three, while Sadio Mane may have a Champions League crown and Africa Cup of Nations victory. And you can follow the Luka Modric logic to a land where treble- and Nations League-winning Bernardo Silva is in the discussion (Raheem Sterling was also great).

Kylian Mbappe had probably the best-looking season on Earth, scoring 39 times with 17 assists in 43 matches and navigating the attention that came with Neymar’s long-term absence by shouldering the burden to great success. We made the argument that his 19 goals and six assists in 23 Neymar-free matches is one of the prime reasons he’s be worth almost any transfer fee.

Also remember that the odds of the captains of international teams having enough ballots without Ronaldo and/or Messi named is very difficult to imagine.

Still, Messi, Mbappe, and Van Dijk seems like the final three to us. What do you think?