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MLS All-Stars get chance to make statement vs Real Madrid

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CHICAGO (AP) The best team in the world facing off against the local lads sounds like a recipe for disaster – just not when it takes place in the MLS All-Star Game.

Then, it’s a showcase.

For the 13th straight year, North America’s best take on a top international team, this time glamour-boys Real Madrid on Wednesday night at sold-out Soldier Field.

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The game caps a three-day, MLS-styled celebration of the sport – from matches on the sand at Oak Street beach to star-studded endorsements of the town’s deep-dish pizza – that had fans in the City of Big Shoulders following along with their feet.

The payoff for those inside the venerable 61,000-seat stadium, coincidentally the site of the inaugural match of the 1994 World Cup, will be an embarrassment of soccer riches.

[ MORE: Latest MLS standings ]

Real’s Cristiano Ronaldo won’t be on hand for what amounts to another preseason friendly, but Sergio Ramos, Gareth Bale, Isco, Luka Modric and nearly all the front-liners who helped every important club championship in sight, will. They’ll encounter some familiar, if aging, faces across the pitch.

They range from World Cup winner, former German national team and current Chicago Fire midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger, to one-time Real teammate and Orlando City playmaker Kaka, as well former Atletico Madrid rival and New York City FC striker David Villa. Also familiar will be a handful of Americans who logged considerable time with the U.S. national team and European clubs, among them Toronto’s Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore, Houston’s DaMarcus Beasley and Seattle goalkeeper Tim Howard.

Expect a competitive match, even though Real manager Zinedine Zidane is expected to reach deep into his bench after the starters played the opening 60 minutes against Barcelona in Miami last Saturday as part of their preseason tour. The MLS team has won seven of the previous matches.

[ MORE: MLS stats ]

“I do not know how the game will go,” said Kaka, “but we have a great team to play a very even match with Real Madrid.”

MLS fans chafe at the perception the league lags well behind their top-tier counterparts in Europe and want their team to show up once again with something to prove. The All-Stars’ 2-1 win over Bayern Munich in 2014, however, may have been too competitive; then-Bayern manager Pep Guardiola left that game without shaking hands, instead wagging his finger at what he considered unnecessarily hard tackles by MLS defenders.

Yet the games have proved worthwhile for both sides, providing MLS with an opportunity to gauge its level of play against top-flight competition and show stadiums packed with passionate and knowledgeable fans to the rest of the world. In return, the international clubs – often English Premier League giants like Manchester United and Chelsea, but also Roma from Italy’s Serie A, Bayern from Germany’s Bundesliga and now Spain’s Real Madrid – have used the exposure from the game and their tours to build their brand with U.S. and Canadian audiences.

No matter the final score, the game offers little more than a snapshot of how far MLS has closed the gap since it was founded as a condition to host the 1994 World Cup. Asked to make the comparison, decorated MLS imports like Schweinsteiger cite the faster pace of play elsewhere and the experience that enables even young teammates to anticipate how attacks will unfold and exploit the smallest vulnerabilities in opposing defenses.

But fans can glimpse now what MLS could become by imagining themselves standing in the boots of Brooks Lennon, or any of the other promising young Americans gathered here for the game. The 19-year-old winger, who joined Real Salt Lake this year on a season-long loan from Liverpool, didn’t make the MLS All-Star squad and instead played Tuesday night in MLS’ “Homegrown Game” against Chivas Guadalajara’s under-20 team.

Lennon has been a force everywhere he’s played so far: as a youngster with Real Salt Lake’s youth development team and then, from 2015-17, in Liverpool’s academy. He progressed to become a regular with the English side’s under-23 team, as well as a member of the U.S. national under-18 and under-20 teams.

But when he looked at the next step, joining Liverpool’s senior club, Lennon saw players like Philippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino on the roster and realized he needed more seasoning. He returned to Salt Lake and was an immediate hit, but he’ll have to decide his next step at the end of the MLS season.

“The 2 + years in Liverpool were incredible. I matured a lot, as a person and a player,” Lennon said. “My choice will probably be dictated by which situation offers the best chance to continue that.

“Right now, though,” he added, “my focus is here and what my team needs to do to make the playoffs.”

Brian McBride, who coached the MLS “Homegrown” team, understands Lennon’s dilemma. He starred for the U.S. national team and played in Germany and England as well as MLS. He thinks Lennon’s upside will make him a valuable commodity on either side of the Atlantic.

“He’s already learned the basics of how to be a pro. You can see that not just in his play, but the way he conducts himself,” McBride said. “Playing here, or over there, are different experiences. But as long as he continues to grow, there’s really no wrong decision.”

The MLS is drawing better players to these shores than ever, thanks to the improving caliber of play and higher pay. So many mid-level players have come over in recent years, especially from South America, that the number of U.S.-born players starting from MLS clubs has dropped from 51 percent just three years ago to 42 percent in 2017 – even though three more teams and 33 more starting spots were added through expansion.

“That’s a healthy sign,” said Alexi Lalas, a TV analyst for FOX who played for the U.S. national team, in Italy’s Serie A and the MLS. “It tells you there’s more talent here now – and more competition for every spot. And we’re looking at a generation of kids who grew up watching MLS teams and maybe dreaming someday about playing for them.

“We need to keep getting better. But we’re clearly headed in the right direction. You know the perception and more important, the reality, has changed when a guy like (All-Star midfielder) Diego Valeri chooses to play in Portland during the prime of his career,” he added. “I can’t wait to see what the future holds.”

Petersen’s header leads Freiburg past 10-man Gladbach

Freiburg v. Borussia Monchengladbach recap
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Nils Petersen’s second half goal led Freiburg to a huge 1-0 win over 10-man Borussia Monchengladbach at the Schwarzwald-Stadion on Friday.

Freiburg keeps its Europa League hopes alive by moving onto 41 points, one behind sixth and seventh.

Gladbach fails in a bid to go third and remains fourth with 56 points, ahead of Bayer Leverkusen on goal differential.

A second yellow card to Plea was a double curse to Gladbach, who went down a man and now will miss a star forward against Bayern Munich.

[ LIVE: Bundesliga scores, stats ]

Bayer’s Ramy Bensebaini utilized a slick backheel turn to nutmeg an opponent and send in a cross that was put out for a corner kick.

Freiburg keeper Alexander Schwolow made a tight-angle save on Alassane Plea just after the quarter-hour mark.

Gladbach saw a chance chalked off after two dangerous bids resulted in an offside deflection into the goal.

Florian Neuhaus came close to scoring again when Lars Stindl headed the penultimate move of a fine team play into the six, but he popped it over the frame.

[ BUNDESLIGA: Week 30 preview and predictions ]

Gladbach’s second half again settled into the Freiburg final third, but it was a home sub that paid dividends at the other end.

Petersen improved his club record for goals when he nodded Vincenzo Grifo’s free kick home in the 59th.

Stindl wasn’t too far from equalizing with a 17-yard shot at the hour mark, but Plea’s second yellow card damaged Gladbach’s hopes of a comeback.

LA Galaxy release Katai after wife’s social media mocks protestors

Aleksandar Katai released
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The LA Galaxy have “parted ways” with Aleksandar Katai after the Serbian winger’s wife posted racist and violent comments regarding protestors.

On Tuesday, Tea Katai posted a comment to “kill the s—-” with an accompanying video of a New York PD police vehicle ramming into a barricade help up by protestors and another photo of looters with sneakers she captioned, “Black Nikes Matter.”

[ BUNDESLIGA: Week 30 preview and predictions ]

Aleksandar Katai issued an apology on Instagram saying that the views would not “be tolerated in my family” and condemned white supremacy while posting that “Black Lives Matter.”

That wouldn’t be enough for the Galaxy, who announced they would meet with Katai on Thursday. Their consideration may have been affected by protests outside their stadium.

According to the LA Times’ Kevin Baxter:

On Thursday four men stood before a statue of David Beckham outside the team’s stadium holding a bedsheet-sized banner that read “No Racists in Our Club” with Katai’s uniform No. 7 encircled with a red line through it.

Katai, 29, was in his first season with the Galaxy after spending 66 matches with the Chicago Fire, scoring 19 goals with 12 assists. Prior to that, he spent time with Red Star Belgrade and Vojvodina. He is nine times capped by Serbia including thrice in 2019.

Newcastle United season restart preview

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With the 2019-20 Premier League season soon to restart, let’s focus on all 20 clubs and see where they stand ahead of the final nine matches of the season.

Newcastle United is next.

[ MORE: Remaining PL schedule in full ]

Here is a closer look at all things Magpies when it comes to the season restart.


Outlook: The Magpies won’t be qualifying for Europe and also are extremely unlikely to be relegated, but is there some danger of the latter? It seems more likely that Newcastle’s season will be more headline watching to see if its controversial takeover is approved and serious pitch-analyzing to see if Joelinton can rediscover what he did well in the Bundesliga last season. Steve Bruce’s men are also in the FA Cup quarterfinals but have Man City coming to St. James’ Park, but the veteran manager getting a result against Pep Guardiola twice in one season seems a tall ask.

[ MORE: Ranking every Newcastle player in 2019-20 ]


Tactical analysis: The Magpies have done their best work replicating the system Rafa Benitez implemented last season, but Bruce has shown some real nous in getting four of six points from a flat back four in the final two matches before the pause (That said, the Burnley draw was abysmal).

It’s easy to imagine Bruce using four at the back for the first two matches of the restart, home outings against Blades and Villa, though the Magpies’ 2-0 defeat of Sheffield United at Bramall Lane saw the side effective in a 3-4-3. How it goes from there could dictate Bruce’s plans, though expect more 5-man back lines with Man City, Liverpool, and Spurs yet to come.

[ MORE: The 2 Robbies assess Newcastle’s chances ]


Possible XI (4-2-3-1) 

—– Dubravka —–

— Manquillo — Lascelles — Fernandez — Rose —

—– Shelvey —– S. Longstaff —–

— Ritchie— Almiron — Saint-Maximin—

—– Joelinton —–

There are plenty of things that could and should change here. Loan signings Valentino Lazaro and Nabil Bentaleb have good chances to start and Isaac Hayden’s been more consistently than sophomore-slumping Sean Longstaff. The club also will want to court Matty Longstaff into a new deal and Geordie hero Andy Carroll is healthy and works well in place of or next to Joelinton, who can move to the wing. Fabian Schar and Ciaran Clark are starting caliber backs looking for homes since Steve Bruce moved away from a back five, and Paul Dummett is a healthy and adequate CB, too.


[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]

Remaining schedule
Home: Sheffield United (6/21), Aston Villa (6/24), West Ham, Spurs, Liverpool
Away: Bournemouth (7/1), Man City, Watford, Brighton and Hove Albion

Predicted finish: We’ll know plenty within three days of the season’s restart, as Blades and Villa visit St. James’ Park and the Magpies could sit top half in no time. Eight points clear of the drop zone is not entirely safe with eight matches left, though, so there’s some potential for danger if they lose those winnable matches at an empty SJP. That said, there are too many ways to cross the 40-point mark and so many teams behind them. They sit 13th, and they’ll finish within a place or two of that.

LIVE, Bundesliga: Freiburg hosts top four hopefuls Gladbach

Freiburg v. Borussia Monchengladbach live
Photo by Christian Verheyen/Borussia Moenchengladbach via Getty Images
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Alassane Plea and Marcus Thuram bring red-hot form and top four hopes to Freiburg when Borussia Monchengladbach visits the Schwarzwald-Stadion on Friday for a 2:30 p.m. ET kickoff.

Gladbach is ahead of fifth-place Bayer Leverkusen on goal differential and four points back of second-place Borussia Dortmund.

[ LIVE: Bundesliga scores, stats ]

Freiburg is winless in four and staring down a tough run of fixtures while their Europa League hopes have taken a massive hit.

There were six goals between the sides in late November when Gladbach took all the points in a 4-2 win.

[ BUNDESLIGA: Week 30 preview and predictions ]

Below is the schedule for the Bundesliga game early on Friday and how you can watch live on TV in the USA and online and follow along via the link above.

Bundesliga how to watch

  • TV Channels: FS2
  • Stream LiveVia Fox Soccer
  • USMNT players to watch: Fabian Johnson, Gladbach (not on bench)
  • Kick off time: 2:30 p.m. ET — Freiburg v. Gladbach