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Grateful and geared up: Nyarko, DC United take aim at MLS Cup

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On Thursday, Patrick Nyarko will hit the RFK Stadium pitch with DC United for just his second playoff game of this decade, and he’s going to make sure no member of the Black-and-Red takes the opportunity for granted.

“I walked into the locker room after we clinched a spot and the guys were like, ‘Whatever’. DC had been in the playoffs the last few years,” Nyarko said with a laugh in a Tuesday conversation with ProSoccerTalk.

“I was like, ‘Guys! I’m excited, man. I haven’t been here in a while. I’m overly ecstatic.’ Hopefully we can get it together, make a run, and create something special.”

[ MORE: MLS Cup predictions ]

The 30-year-old Ghanaian international with one cap was once one of those who took team success as a given. Nyarko walked off the College Cup pitch for Virginia Tech in 2007 and was picked 7th overall by the Chicago Fire. He promptly appeared in the MLS Cup semifinals in each of his first two seasons in Chicago.

BRIDGEVIEW, IL - SEPTEMBER 22: Patrick Nyarko #14 of the Chicago Fire advances the ball on the Columbus Crew during their MLS soccer match at Toyota Park on September 22, 2012 in Bridgeview, Illinois. The Fire defeated the Crew 2-1. (Photo by John Gress/Getty Images)
(Photo by John Gress/Getty Images)

“I thought this was how things went. With the teams we had, I thought it was going to be an eternal thing and we would always enjoy these things,” Nyarko said.

It turns out postseason success isn’t as simple as that. Aside from a 2012 knockout round loss to Houston, the longtime Fire man didn’t see playoff action.

So Thursday, yeah, you can bet it’s special. After 222 regular season MLS games and 23 goals — all but 26 of them with Chicago — Nyarko is back for just his fourth playoff campaign.

“It makes the decision to move on from Chicago kinda worth it,” Nyarko said. “Being in Chicago for that long, through the good through the bad, I finally decided to leave. If it had not resulted in a successful year and the playoffs, it would’ve been for nothing. I couldn’t have justified that.”

[ MORE: Power rankings — Going to the playoffs edition ]

Now DC is a sneaky, if not chic, pick to surprise in the East. The Black-and-Red have lost just once in their last seven games, and that was a Decision Day loss in which head coach Ben Olsen sat the vast majority of his starters in order to rest for Thursday. In the past six weeks, the No. 4 seed earned results against the trio of teams ahead of it in the Eastern Conference standings.

In other words, no one wants to see DC on their schedule right now. PST made the case for each team’s championship chances on Monday, and Nyarko is convinced that DC can make a long, long run to the final.

“We are high in confidence right now, and the way we’ve closed out the season we discovered our identity,” Nyarko said. “Everyone works for each other, covers each other, we attack together, and we keep up that intensity.”

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Nyarko’s traditional stats aren’t going to jump out at you; His four goals match his career-high, and his eight assists are second to Luciano Acosta, but Nyarko brings a different level of savvy to the squad.

On a team with United States men’s national team center back Steve Birnbaum, you could argue that midfielder Nyarko is the team’s best defensive asset. He does the dirty things and is fouled more than anyone else on the team, but has also completed the second-most key passes on the team (to Acosta).

And the advanced stats say he’s getting the job done, too. Squawka has him in pretty good company as a Top Five midfielder when it comes to defensive performance score per game.

Nyarko DC MLS

“It’s unfortunate how the stats are usually what’s preached out to the fans,” Nyarko said. “I look for people who can make their team better. I’m ecstatic when the teams wins, and shattered when the team loses. I won’t necessarily be the last person to touch the ball before someone scores, but before that, the double teams, the division, that’s what I pride myself on. I know what I bring to a team.”

Which isn’t to say he wasn’t scratching his head when DC started the season winless through five matches, especially when he was the new guy.

[ MORE: Three MLS sides advance to Champions League knockout rounds ]

April 23 2016: D.C. United forward Patrick Nyarko (12) makes a long pass during a MLS match at RFK Stadium, in Washington D.C. DC United defeated the New England Revolution 3-0. (Photo by Tony Quinn/Iconsportswire)
(Photo by Tony Quinn/Iconsportswire)

“This year, making the change was the hardest, not knowing what to expect, getting into a new team that had been in the playoffs the last few years,” Nyarko said. “When things weren’t going well, especially early in the year when I was inconsistent, I took a lot of the blame. Am I messing up the chemistry? I knew I was playing well, but you can’t help but think that.”

The midfielder credits Olsen and the veteran locker room for bringing the team together this season, calling Olsen the “ultimate player’s coach”. Nyarko only needs two fingers to count the times Olsen has lost his cool this season, and learned that his coach was a different breed when he approached him early in the season to talk about the offense.

“Usually I try not to get into coaches, but we weren’t scoring as many goals,” Nyarko said. “He wasn’t worried about it. He made a comment like, ‘I’m not gonna get on you guys, the chances are there, it’s just not going in. I’m not going to yell. It’s not like you’re deciding not to finish.’ I was like, ‘Woah, this guy thinks like a player’. The freedom he gives you, he knows everyone’s ability, and he doesn’t restrict you. Don’t be afraid to make a mistake.”

Nyarko also points to a player as an emblem of DC’s success, and that’s Lamar Neagle. The ex-Seattle Sounders man has been in on 15 goals but hasn’t complained that he’s been used off the bench in his 10 of his 31 appearances.

“This guy’s leading us in goals and he doesn’t start and he’s mentally strong enough to want to help our team,” Nyarko said. “This is an exciting team that came along at the last part of the season and we hope to continue our push toward MLS Cup.”

 

Adams: RB Leipzig ‘really, really excited’ to face PSG in UCL semifinal

Tyler Adams RB Leipzig
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Tyler Adams, RB Leipzig hero? The 21-year-old American midfielder wasn’t the hero RB Leipzig fans — or U.S. men’s national team fans, even — expected to celebrate on Thursday, but that’s the reality after he scored an 88th-minute winner (WATCH HERE) to knock off Atletico Madrid in the quarterfinals of the Champions League.

[ MORE: Transfer news: Man City want Thiago; Man Utd still chasing Sancho ]

The victory sends Leipzig to its first-ever UCL semifinal appearance, where they’ll face French powerhouse Paris Saint-Germain on Tuesday. Adams didn’t start the game — he came on as a 72nd-minute substitute — and while he found that a bit disappointing at first, the New York Red Bulls academy product played his part and provided a far greater impact than anyone could have expected — quotes from CBS Sports (video below):

“It was very difficult. For the first 70 minutes, it was a close game so when I came on I wanted to bring energy and help the team in any way possible. Getting your first goal is unexpected for me — I’m not a typical goalscorer — but I’m happy that I could help the team.”

“Coming into this game, I was told that I wasn’t going to start but I needed to be ready to come off the bench and make an impact. I had to get myself in the right mindset to help the team in any way possible. We had a great game plan and everybody gave everything that they had. Not everybody is necessarily 90-minutes fit right now after a three-week holiday, so we had to be prepared and we were.”

“We’re really, really excited. We know that Paris are a great team, we saw what they did against Atalanta yesterday and they’ve got really good players. Now it’s about recovering in the right way, getting ourselves right mentally and working on the game plan. We’re confident in ourselves, you saw that today.”

USMNT’s Tyler Adams’ goal sends RB Leipzig to UCL semifinal (video)

Tyler Adams goal
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Tyler Adams goal: The American scored an 88th-minute goal, which proved to be the game-winner, to send RB Leipzig to its first-ever UEFA Champions League semifinal appearance on Thursday, knocking off Atletico Madrid 2-1 in the process.

[ MORE: Champions League predictions ]

All three goals were scored in the second half after a forgettable first half was short on scoring chances, and it was Adams, who came into the game as a 72nd-minute substitute who delivered the decisive blow.

Atleti’s first chance of the game came in the 10th minute. Stefan Savic rose above the crowd to get his head to Renan Lodi’s floated free kick, but Peter Gulacsi managed to get both hands on the ball and keep it from crossing the goal line despite backpedaling and falling to the ground.

Atleti’s best chance of the first half came when Yannick Carrasco went dangerously close to putting Atleti ahead in the 13th minute, but Gulacsi was quick to cover his near post and palm the ball wide. After starting brightly, it was virtual radio silence from Los Rojiblancos after that.

To be fair to Atleti, it wasn’t any better for Leipzig — in fact, it was worse in the opening 45 minutes. To illustrate their inability to create scoring chances, let alone shots, a stat: despite holding more than 62 percent of possession at halftime, their four shots were taken by their defensive midfielder (1), a center back (1) and another center back (2).

[ LIVE: Champions League schedule ]

Leipzig’s first shot taken by an attacking player came in the 51st minute, and it resulted in the game’s opening goal. It began with a prolonged period of possession to free Marcel Sabitzer down the right side of Atleti’s penatly area. The Austrian cross into the box floated ever so dangerously toward the penalty spot, and Dani Olmo arrive just in the nick of time to glance it past Jan Oblak.

Atleti were handed a lifeline in the 70th minute, though, as Lukas Klostermann was badly beaten by Joao Felix as he made a diagonal run into the penalty area and received the ball near the penalty spot. Klostermann cut him down from behind and gave away a penalty kick. It was Felix, who only entered the game as a substitute in the 58th minute who stepped up and converted past Gulacsi, with ice in his veins.

Coincidentally enough, it was Felix’s introduction — and immediate impact on the game — which appeared to necessitate Adams’ introduction to stifle the Portuguese’s threat. The rest, as they say, is history.

Up next for Leipzig is a semifinal clash with Paris Saint-Germain, who needed a stoppage-time comeback to knock off Atalanta and advance from Thursday’s quarterfinal.

Transfer news: Man City want Thiago; Man Utd still chasing Sancho

Man City Thiago
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In the latest transfer news, Man City have entered the race to sign Thiago Alcantara, Manchester United aren’t giving up on Jadon Sancho, and an entire squad has been put up for sale…

[ MORE: World Cup winner Matuidi reunites with Beckham at Inter Miami ]

Man City enter race for Thiago

On Wednesday, Bayern Munich manager Hansi Flick endorsed Thiago’s heavily rumored move to the Premier League after negotiations over a new contract had reportedly reached an impasse. That seemed to pave the way for Thiago, who’ll be out of contract next summer, to move to Liverpool, the most commonly reported destination in recent weeks. Not so fast, according to a report out of Germany, as Manchester City and Pep Guardiola, who worked with Thiago while at Barcelona and Bayern Munich, have reportedly entered the race. Liverpool are reportedly only willing to pay $35 million for the free agent-to-be.

Man United still chasing Sancho

Despite Borussia Dortmund’s increasing annoyance over a lack of progress in negotiations for winger Sancho, Manchester United continue to pursue the 20-year-old Englishman and have reportedly put all other transfer business on hold while doing so. According to another report, the contract Man United offered to Sancho would have resulted in the player taking a pay cut upon completing the move.

[ MORE: Thiago to Liverpool: Bayern boss urges Premier League move ]

Lacazette to Juventus

According to a report out of Italy, Juventus have made initial contact with Arsenal over a possible deal for forward Alexandre Lacazette. The 29-year-old has two years remaining on his contract, but the thinking here seems to be that Lacazette is quite clearly the no. 2 forward behind Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and Juve are prepared to offer the Frenchman a chance to be more of a star man.

Fire sale at Valencia

Valencia have put their entire squad, with the lone exception of Jose Gaya, up for sale in an attempt to balance their financial books. The La Liga side’s desperate need for funds comes as a result of missing out on all European competitions after finishing ninth in the league, combined with the financial hardships brought about by COVID-19. Clubs all around Europe have been alerted to Valencia’s fire-sale approach. It remains to be seen how much of a “deal” can be had, or if Valencia can squeeze maximum value out of each player with so little leverage.

Key battles in Champions League quarterfinals

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The UEFA Champions League quarterfinals take center stage this week and we’re going to select one key battle which should determine the outcome of all four games.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ] 

With Manchester City the favorites against Lyon, a massive clash between Barcelona and Bayern Munich, plus an intriguing tie between RB Leipzig v. Atletico Madrid, the final few games in the 2019-20 Champions League campaign will be so tight to call.

[ MORE: Man City beat Real Madrid ]

In the next few days the Champions League quarterfinals will excite as the mini tournament in Portugal begins.

Man City beat Real Madrid 4-2 on aggregate to reach the last eight and Pep Guardiola’s boys will be confident but wary after Lyon dumped out Juventus in the Round of 16. Bayern v. Barcelona should be all-out attack, while Atletico v. Leipzig will be full of grit.

Lisbon, Portugal will host the Champions League games from the quarterfinal stage onwards, and there will be one heck of a show over the next few days.

Below is a look at the key battles, as well as how to watch and follow all of the Champions League quarterfinal fixtures in the USA.


How to watch, stream Champions League quarterfinals

Dates: August 5-23
Location: Quarterfinals onwards in Lisbon
How to watch: CBS Sports
Live updates: UCL here at NBCSports.com & Europa League here at NBCSports.com


Team news

Diego Simeone has gone extremely defensive — even for him — by selecting defensive midfielder Marcos Llorente as a second striker alongside Diego Costa. Meanwhile for Leipzig, U.S. men’s national team youngster Tyler Adams is on the bench.


Key battles

RB Leipzig – Atletico Madrid: Dayot Upamecano v.Diego Costa

This should be an epic head-to-head. Costa loves the one-on-one scraps and Upamecano is among the finest center backs in Europe right now. The young Frenchman doesn’t get bullied often but Costa will have a good go. Costa has hardly been prolific in his second spell at Atletico but he so often sets the tone for their scrappy displays under Diego Simeone. Leipzig like to play a back three at times and that could leave space for Costa to run at Upamecano. This will be intriguing. Watch out for Costa to put down his marker early on with elbows and everything else flying at Upamecano.

Barcelona – Bayern Munich: Lionel Messi v. David Alaba

Barcelona - Bayern
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Okay, so, we know how Jerome Boateng v. Lionel Messi went before. Somewhere, somebody is still using that gif of Boateng tangling his own legs like spaghetti as Messi bamboozled him to score at the Nou Camp. So it’s probably best if versatile Austrian star David Alaba goes up against Messi. It’s likely that Alaba will play at the back but he should basically mark Messi, and when (or if, because this is Messi) he gets the ball back he has the quality to start attacks. Bayern and Barcelona both score plenty of goals but defensively they have to improve if they’re going to win the Champions League this season.

Manchester City – Lyon: Aymeric Laporte v. Memphis Depay

Everyone is tipping Man City to beat Lyon easily, but that’s what everyone said about Lyon against Juventus. Memphis Depay is a real threat up top and Lyon usually do very well against Man City. Pep Guardiola needs Aymeric Laporte to be at his very best and it is likely he and Fernandinho will again line up together at center back. Laporte will line up on the left and Memphis will start on the right side of Lyon’s central strikers, so this will be a battle to look out for. Laporte has class but his pace is sometimes questioned and if City leave him exposed on the break, Memphis can take advantage of those situations.

Atalanta – PSG: Marten de Roon v. Ander Herrera

Yes, that Marten de Roon from Middlesbrough. The Dutch midfielder has been a sensation at Atalanta and does most of the dirty work for Gomez, Zapata et al. to score boat loads of goals. His battle in the engine room against Ander Herrera will be crucial. Marco Verratti is out injured and that is a big blow, especially with Kylian Mbappe and Angel di Maria out too for PSG. Neymar and Icardi will be looking for the midfield to give them the ball as much as possible and if that happens, PSG could run riot. That said, if De Roon can win that battle with Herrera, Atalanta’s attackers can cause PSG’s defense big problems. Whoever wins the midfield battle will win this game. It should be tight and full of goals. Enjoy.