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United, they stand: Atlanta quickly embraces new MLS team

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ATLANTA (AP) The stands are packed with red-and-black-clad fans who chant incessantly, accompanied by a steady drumbeat and swirling flags.

“Atlanta!” they shout from one end of Bobby Dodd Stadium

“United!” everyone else responds.

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There’s plenty to cheer about with an expansion team that has already displayed a dynamic style of play, scoring 11 goals in its first three games.

It’s early, but say this: Atlanta has really embraced Major League Soccer.

“It’s like a party out there every time you take the field,” midfielder Julian Gressel said. “Even coming out for warmups, you get goosebumps on your body. It’s just a great feeling.”

While impressive on the field, winning the last two games by a combined score of 10-1, United’s best work has some in the stands.

The inaugural contest, a 2-1 loss to New York Red Bulls that United led most of the way before surrendering two late goals, attracted a sellout of 55,297 to a stadium best known as the home of Georgia Tech’s college football team.

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It was larger than any crowd drawn this past season by the Yellow Jackets.

That was followed by turnout of 45,922 for Saturday’s 4-0 blowout of Chicago – another sellout, essentially, since the school closed off 10,000 seats in the upper deck for previously planned renovation work.

Not too shabby, considering United won’t even move into its permanent home, $1.5 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium, until late July.

“The support has been just amazing. We’re very, very fortunate that we’ve got this atmosphere to play in front of,” defender Michael Parkhurst said. “We don’t want to take it for granted. We want to make this a real fortress and a place where teams dread to come to play.”

United is one of two new franchises that joined MLS this season, but it hardly has the look of a neophyte organization.

Not with a big-pockets owner such as Arthur Blank, who also owns the NFL Falcons. Not with a well-known coach such as Gerardo “Tata” Martino, whose previous stints include Barcelona and guiding the mighty Argentina national team. Not with a roster that includes Josef Martinez, a 23-year-old Venezuelan on loan from Italian Serie A club Torino, as well as players such as Miguel Almiron, Hector Villalba and Yamil Asad to press the attack.

[ MORE: Man Utd heading to USA this summer ]

 Atlanta United forward Martinez (AP Photo/Todd Kirkland, File)

Martinez already has an MLS-leading five goals, including two of the world-class variety in United’s latest victory.

Taking advantage of a Fire team that played most of the game a man down, Almiron threaded a pass between four defenders to send Martinez into the clear for his first goal in the 60th minute. Then, after another brilliant pass from Asad, the speedy forward flicked the ball away from the goalkeeper and managed to slowly curl the ball just inside the far post in the 82nd to finish off the rout.

“Josef Martinez is probably the best forward in this league,” Gressel said. “It’s not surprising to me that we can go out there and score four or five goals a game.”

After an international break, United faces a very tough stretch that will give a better indication of whether this team is a legitimate playoff contender in its very first season. Atlanta plays its next four games on the road before finally returning home April 30.

“It’s definitely still an expansion team,” Parkhurst said. “We’ve got our bumps and bruises along the way. Off the field, everyone’s still trying to get sorted and situated to the new city.”

Indeed, United’s debut hasn’t been entirely smooth.

In addition to blowing a lead in the opener, some Atlanta fans came under fire for chanting an anti-gay slur . Team officials quickly apologized and vowed to toss anyone who did it again. The crowd was on its best behavior Saturday, even unveiling a banner before the game that said, “Give Racism A Red Card.”

After the match was over, a long line snaked up to a merchandise stand on the west side of Bobby Dodd Stadium, everyone standing eagerly with credit cards in hand to gobble up more United gear.

In a city starved for championships, especially after the Falcons squandered a 25-point lead and lost to New England in last month’s Super Bowl, this team has provided a quick salve.

“It’s really special,” said goalkeeper Alec Kann, a native of the Atlanta area. “Things are moving in the right direction, for sure.”

Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/paul-newberry .

For video on AP’s YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4NFqhyY2qCc

Five Premier League teams listed among most valuable sports franchises

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The rich are getting richer. Literally.

Forbes has released its latest list of the top 50 most valuable sports teams on the planet, with eight soccer teams in the top 50 as 52 teams are worth at least $2 billion.

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Five Premier League teams make it, with Manchester United in sixth with a value of $3.81 billion, Man City in 25th at $2.69 billion, Chelsea 32nd at $2.58 billion, Arsenal in 42nd at $2.27 billion and Liverpool in 45th at $2.18 billion.

Real Madrid and Barcelona lead the charge of most valuable soccer teams, sitting in third and fourth respectively with values of just over $4 billion, while Bayern Munich are in 17th with a valuation of $3.02 billion.

In previous years Man United topped Forbes’ list and they were the only team in the world to be worth over $2 billion back in 2012.

Real Madrid were the last soccer team atop Forbes’ list but the Dallas Cowboys have now been in top spot since 2016 with the NFL dominating this list.

26 of the top 50 most valuable teams are from the NFL, with eight soccer clubs, nine MLB franchises and seven NBA teams making up the rest.

Below is the list of the value of the top 10 sports franchises on the planet.


1. Dallas Cowboys – $5 billion
2. New York Yankees – $4.6 billion
3. Real Madrid – $4.2 billion
4. Barcelona – $4.02 billion
5. New York Knicks – $4 billion
6. Manchester United – $3.81 billion
7. New England Patriots – $3.8 billion
8. Los Angeles Lakers – $3.7 billion
9. Golden State Warriors – $3.5 billion
10=. New York Giants – $3.3 billion
10=. Los Angeles Dodgers – $3.3 billion

Newcastle close to $50 million Joelinton signing

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Newcastle United’s fans are about to have a new hero.

Brazilian forward Joelinton is on Tyneside and is undergoing a medical ahead of a club-record $50 million transfer from Bundesliga side Hoffenheim.

According to our partners Sky Sports, Joelinton, 22, is finalizing his move to St James’ Park and will become Steve Bruce‘s first signings as Magpies boss.

Much-maligned owner Mike Ashley has promised to reinvest the money Newcastle bring in via transfer fees back into the playing squad, and this move would not only prove that but also suggests he could stick around as a potential sale of the club continues to drag on.

Newcastle’s need for a new striker is clear for all to see as they’ve lost top goalscorer from last season, Salomon Rondon, who returned to parent club West Brom after his loan and has since joined former Newcastle boss Rafael Benitez at Dalian Yifang in China.

With Ayoze Perez sold to Leicester City for $40 million, Bruce badly needed attacking reinforcements and Joelinton’s impending arrival is a huge deal, as the previous club-record transfer was the $27 million they paid for Miguel Almiron in January.

Maybe this will lift some of the gloom which has hung over Newcastle this offseason…

Does Joelinton fit the bill? He scored 11 goals in 33 outings for Hoffenheim last season and is a Brazilian youth international. The last Brazilian striker to leave Hoffenheim for the Premier League has had a pretty good impact (sarcasm alert) as Roberto Firmino arrived for $40 million in the summer of 2015.

But Joelinton is a much different striker to Firmino. In many ways he is the perfect replacement for Rondon, as he is strong in the air, a powerful runner on the break and has a calmness in front of goal to finish off mazy runs or speedy counters.

That will be music to the ears of Newcastle’s fans, as the likes of Almiron and Matt Ritchie will whip in plenty of crosses for him to attack next season. His figures in Germany haven’t been prolific but Joelinton is still young and all of his attributes align with the direct style of play Newcastle had under Benitez and that’s how they will likely play under Bruce.

Take a look at the video above to see Joelinton in all his glory for Hoffenheim last season.

We’re not saying he’s going to be the next Alan Shearer, but he has the potential to be exactly what Newcastle need as they aim to cement their place in the Premier League.

Man United next? Deals for Fernandes, Pepe developing

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Manchester United could be looking a lot different by the time the summer transfer window closes on Aug. 8.

After already signing pacy youngsters Daniel James and Aaron Wan-Bissaka for a combined $83 million, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be enthused to hear about the latest developments regarding two of his other targets.

With Man United on their preseason tour of Australia and the Far East, Executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward has remained in England to sort out transfer deals and there have been updates on their pursuit of winger Nicolas Pepe and attacking midfielder Bruno Fernandes, with both players consistently linked with a move to Old Trafford this summer.

Pepe, 24, lit up Ligue 1 last season as Lille finished second in the table and qualified for the UEFA Champions League. The Ivory Coast winger has just returned from the Africa Cup of Nations and here’s  what Lille club president Gerard Lopez had to say about his future at the club.

“For Nico, it is almost done and he could have left last summer,” Lopez said. “It is true that there are big offers and big clubs in for him, so I think [he will leave].”

As for Fernandes, he has spoken to the media ahead of Sporting Lisbon’s trip to New York City to play a friendly against Liverpool on Wednesday and admitted he wants to move to the Premier League.

“I don’t care about the market, I’ve talked about this many times. The only thing I can do now is that I need to catch the plane so I don’t miss it,” Fernandes said. “‘Will this be the last match for Sporting?’ I don’t know, it’s the coach who decides. I told you I’d like to play in England, but that’s not what interests me. It may be when the club decides.”

Sporting’s president Frederico Varandas has said earlier this week that Fernandes will not leave for anything less than $65 million, even though Fernandes has a much smaller release clause in his contract.

There is a clause which Sporting have in his contract which says they can pay Fernandes $6 million direct if they reject any offer over his release clause. So, yeah, that deal is a little more complicated.

As for Pepe, it is believed Lille want around $75 million for the clinical winger and although both Bayern Munich and Liverpool have been linked with a move for him, Man United are now the new favorites to sign him.

Even though United should spend more money on their defensive unit, both of these players bring one main thing: Goals. And plenty of them.

Pepe scored 22 in France’s top-flight last season, while Fernandes, 24, scored 31 times for Sporting Lisbon in all competitions as the Portuguese midfielder had a breakout year.

With a $100 million move for Leicester’s Harry Maguire lined up, plus Newcastle’s Sean Longstaff still courted, Solskjaer is focusing on bringing in players 26 years old or younger.

That is the correct approach as United want to match the intensity of the way Liverpool and Man City play to push themselves back into the top four and return to being perennial title challengers.

As for the rest of their squad, Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku, for now, are still around, while David De Gea is set to sign a new contract with the Red Devils in the coming days. If Lukaku leaves, which looks likely, then Mason Greenwood seems ready to step in and give Solskjaer yet another attacking option.

Taking into account these possible moves and the signings United have already made, here’s what their matchday squad could look like this season.

Not bad, eh?

Possible Man United matchday squad, 2019-20

—– De Gea —–

— Wan-Bissaka — Lindelof — Maguire — Shaw —

—– Matic —– 

— Pepe — Pogba — Fernandes — Martial —

—– Rashford —- 

Bench
Romero (GK)
Bailly
Young
Longstaff
James
Lingard
Greenwood

Pulisic dazzles as Chelsea beat Barcelona

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Christian Pulisic‘s first start for Chelsea saw him put on a show as the Premier League side beat Barcelona 2-1 in Saitama, Japan on Tuesday.

The USMNT star made his first start of preseason for the Blues and his pace off the left flank tore Barca apart on numerous occasions.

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His early shot was parried by Marc Andre ter Stegen and Tammy Abraham should have finished off the rebound but blazed over the bar. Abraham did grab the winner though, as Jorginho intercepted the ball in a key area which led to Abraham showing quick feet to finish in the first half. Ross Barkley then came on in the second and scored a beauty for Chelsea’s second, and although Ivan Rakitic pulled one back in stoppage time, Frank Lampard grabbed his second preseason win as Chelsea’s new boss.

As for Pulisic, he played the first 60 minutes and again wore the No.24 shirt for the Blues. His squad number for this season is yet to be confirmed (USMNT fans everywhere are still waiting with bated breath to buy their Chelsea shirts) but the Pennsylvania native is unlikely to get Eden Hazard‘s No.10 jersey as Willian has confirmed to Brazilian media he will wear that next season.

The 20-year-old impressed Lampard by cutting short his summer break after playing for the U.S. at the Gold Cup. Pulisic is quite fresh after being in and out of the Borussia Dortmund team last season due to injuries and the emergence of Jadon Sancho, but the fact he wanted to hit the ground running with Chelsea as soon as possible certainly starts his Blues career off in the correct manner.

Putting in an impressive display against Barcelona in a preseason friendly will no doubt help his chances of being a key player for Lampard as he battles with Pedro, Willian and other to start in one of the wide positions early in the season.

A fairly strong Barcelona side (missing Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez as they rest after the Copa America) did see Antoine Griezmann play his first game for Blaugrana as they will Vissel Kobe, Arsenal and Napoli in Japan, Spain and the USA as their mammoth preseason tour continues.

Chelsea will now return to England to play against Reading, then travel to Red Bull Salzburg in Austria and Borussia Monchengladbach in Germany before their opening game of the Premier League season against Manchester United on Aug. 11 (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Pulisic is certainly pushing to be in the Blues’ starting lineup at Old Trafford on the opening day.