Photo credit: Wanda Metropolitano / @Metropolitano

Atletico Madrid go back in time with debut of new stadium (photos)

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MADRID (AP) Atletico Madrid will get closer to the past when it moves into its new stadium this weekend.

The state-of-the-art venue inaugurated on Saturday will thrust the traditional Spanish club into modernity while not letting go of its rich history.

The 68,000-capacity Wanda Metropolitano, named after the Estadio Metropolitano where Atletico played more than half a century ago, will give fans plenty of comfort and luxury.

Wanda Metropolitano also will feature references to Atletico’s history, including four other stadiums where the club played in its 114-year existence. It highlights the small site where it was founded in 1903 to the beloved Vicente Calderon where it played from 1966 until last season.

“The fans obviously will never forget the memories, the nostalgia and the love that they had for the old Metropolitano or for the Calderon,” Atletico coach Diego Simeone said. “And they will fall in love with the Wanda Metropolitano as well, because what makes them fall in love is actually the team and its jersey. And that will never change.”

Fans will be reminded of Atletico’s past when they arrive at the venue in northeastern Madrid.

The subway station inside the stadium is also named after the old Estadio Metropolitano, and the roads leading to the venue all refer to the team’s history. One is named after Atletico great Luis Aragones, a former player and coach, and another makes reference to the team’s foundation date, April 26.

A large statue of the Bear and the Strawberry Tree, Madrid’s city symbol, will welcome fans outside, with five tree roots symbolizing the team’s five stadiums. The symbol is also part of Atletico’s shield.

A huge flag with Atletico’s red, white and blue colors will be outside, measuring 3,638 square feet and touted as the biggest in Spain. It will be hoisted on a 131-feet mast in tribute to the team’s supporters.

As fans advance toward the main entrance, they will go through the “Walk of Legends,” where plaques on the ground will honor each of the more than 150 Atletico players who have 100 or more appearances with the club, including some from the current squad.

Photos of Aragones and Simeone will be on display in the entrance of the locker rooms, along with motivational phrases by the two Atletico greats.

Inside the $286-million venue, fans will have access to modern facilities and top-notch video and sound systems. The club has promised to try to replicate the type of atmosphere that they had in the 55,000-capacity Calderon.

Nearly all of the seats will be covered by an elegant round-shaped roof that can be lit up in different colors. The red-colored seats will be bigger and more comfortable than they were at the rundown Calderon.

Atletico said the Wanda Metropolitano will be the first stadium in the world to use LED technology in its entire lighting system. It will be visible from far away at night and is expected to quickly turn into another city landmark.

There were mixed feelings among fans when Atletico decided to move away from the Calderon, which was outdated but delivered one of the greatest atmospheres in soccer and symbolized Atletico’s persevering spirit.

The fans gradually got behind the idea of the new stadium, and there is already a waiting list to get season tickets.

“Usually there is some initial discontentment when you change stadiums,” Simeone said. “But when you see the new venue, when you see that the club is growing, you are happy and you want the club to keep growing.”

A 12-hour party is planned for Saturday’s opener, starting well before the Spanish league game against Malaga. There will be fan zones and concerts to keep fans entertained throughout the day, and light shows and fireworks are expected just before and after the match at night.

Atletico played its first three league games away to make sure there was enough time to prepare the new stadium. Not everything will be done, but the club said none of the delays will significantly impact the inauguration.

The new venue, which gets the Wanda name from the Chinese company that has a stake in the club, was built around the La Peineta complex in the outskirts of the Spanish capital. It’s near the city’s airport and far from the Calderon’s neighborhood or from where the old Metropolitano stood.

The complex was originally supposed to be upgraded into an Olympic Stadium, but Atletico took over after Madrid lost its bids to host the games in 2012, 2016 or 2020.

“We will forever hold on to the memories of going to the Calderon with our parents or our grandparents,” said Atletico striker Fernando Torres, a club fan since his youth. “And now it’s time for us to go to this new stadium, to take our children to this new stadium.

“It will be up to us to explain to them who was Luis Aragones, explain to them that there was a time when this stadium didn’t exist, but we felt the same way about the old one as they feel about this new one.”

MLS preview: TFC, Seattle running out of time; Rooney vs. ATL

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Week 21 of the 2018 MLS season features 10 games on Saturday (nine) and Sunday (one). Here’s a few key storylines to keep an eye on…

[ MORE: Miami City Commission sends Beckham stadium to Nov. ballot ]

Jozy’s back, but is it too late?

It’s been nearly three months since Jozy Altidore last appeared for Toronto FC, and not much has changed with regard to the Reds’ place in the standings: they at south of the playoff line then (after going all-in on the CONCACAF Champions League), and they remain there ahead of Saturday’s trip to Chicago. Greg Vanney’s defending champions currently sit 11 points back of sixth place with 15 games left to play.

As for Altidore, he was hugely important in TFC’s run to the CCL final, but it would be a massive oversimplification to say his absence has been the only — or main, even — cause for struggles this season. In fact, it’s been injuries up and down the entire squad (every center back on the roster, multiple midfielders and playmakers, as well as Altidore). Finally, after months of walking wounded, nearly everyone is back and available for selection. TFC’s charge up the stands begins, presumably, soon.

Rooney makes DCU better, but by how much?

As I opined following his D.C. United debut last weekend, Wayne Rooney was quite good during the opening 32 minutes of his MLS career. That was against the Vancouver Whitecaps, one of the slowest playing teams in the entire league, though. On Saturday, Rooney and Co., will come up against something not so dissimilar to European quality and competition in Atlanta United.

There’s the level on competition to consider as Rooney continues on in his MLS journey, but also this: against Vancouver, there was very little flash or attempt at end product from Rooney, which was fine considering he quickly and smartly facilitated play and opened the field up for others to make and score the goals. The questions are: for how long is he happy to be a simple cog in the machine, and are United getting their money’s worth if that’s Rooney’s regular contribution?

What about Seattle?

Just like Toronto, the Seattle Sounders currently find themselves 11 points back of sixth place (though they do have one more game still to play). Just like Toronto, injuries have completely ruined the Sounders’ 2018 season. Just like Toronto, they have been to back-to-back MLS Cups, and won one. Just like Toronto, they can’t really miss the playoffs, can they?

Now, though, Raul Ruidiaz has been added for some much-needed firepower up top (the Peruvian is a back-to-back Golden Boot winner in Liga MX), Gustav Svensson is back from the World Cup, and Nicolas Lodeiro has shown signs of coming out of his slumber in recent weeks. Just like Toronto, Brian Schmetzer’s men have no choice but to begin their playoff chase on Saturday, when Vancouver comes to town.

Full weekend schedule

Atlanta United vs. D.C. United — 3:30 p.m. ET
Seattle Sounders vs. Vancouver Whitecaps — 4 p.m. ET
Chicago Fire vs. Toronto FC — 7 p.m. ET
Philadelphia Union vs. LA Galaxy — 7 p.m. ET
New York Red Bulls vs. New England Revolution — 7 p.m. ET
Columbus Crew SC vs. Orlando City SC — 7:30 p.m. ET
Houston Dynamo vs. FC Dallas — 9 p.m. ET
Real Salt Lake vs. Colorado Rapids — 10 p.m. ET
Portland Timbers vs. Montreal Impact — 11 p.m. ET
Minnesota United vs. Los Angeles FC — 7 p.m. ET (Sunday)

Leicester sign Ward from Liverpool; Boufal out on loan

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LONDON (AP) — Leicester signed Wales goalkeeper Danny Ward from Liverpool on a four-year contract on Friday.

Ward dropped in the pecking order at Anfield following the arrival of Brazil goalie Alisson.

Leicester’s fourth signing of the offseason will offer competition to Kasper Schmeichel and Eldin Jakupovic.

Ward will join the team on Monday for a training camp in Austria.

“I’ve come here to develop my allround game and hopefully help deliver some more success,” he said.

Southampton winger Sofiane Boufal was sent to Spanish club Celta Vigo on a season-long loan.

Boufal came to Southampton in 2016 from Lille, and made 59 appearances, scoring four times.

The Moroccan fell out of favor with manager Mark Hughes at the end of last season.

Neymar says he’s staying at PSG; rumors “invented by the press”

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Neymar insists he is going nowhere this summer, that he’ll spend (at least) one more season at Paris Saint-Germain, and he intends to bring another handful of trophies back to the French capital in doing so.

[ MORE: PSG in “advanced negotiations” for N’Golo Kante, but must sell first ]

Speaking during a press conference on Friday, his first media availability session since Brazil were eliminated in the 2018 World Cup quarterfinals, the 26-year-old superstar went so far as to say that reports linking him with a move to other European mega-clubs (most notably, Real Madrid) were “invented by the press” — quotes from ESPN:

“Yes, I will stay in Paris. I have a contract with PSG. The speculation? The majority of it is invented by the press.

“I have a contract and people know the objective, the reason why I went to PSG. I want to win with this club and I hope this season will be wonderful.”

While it seems a no-brainer that PSG would want Neymar to stay, there’s unquestionably a case to be made that selling him would give them the financial flexibility needed to address needs elsewhere in the squad. N'Golo Kante, for instance, is reportedly transfer target no. 1 at the Parc des Princes, but sales will have to be made before a fee of that size can be paid, due to financial regulations.

Report: PSG in “advanced negotiations” for Kante, but must sell first

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N'Golo Kante might just be the best midfielder in the world, and he might just be leaving Chelsea for Paris Saint-Germain in the coming days or weeks, as French newspaper Le Parisien has reported that the defending Ligue 1 champions are in “advanced negotiations” over a mega-bucks contract with the World Cup winner.

[ MORE: Neymar says he’s staying at PSG; rumors “invented by the press” ]

The report goes so far as to say that a “provisional contract” has already been agreed. “Provisional,” in this instance, means there has likely been little — if any — contact between the two clubs thus far.

One major sticking point remains: following last summer’s outlandish spending spree, in which they shelled out nearly $500 million to sign Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, PSG are in serious danger of failing to comply with financial regulations set forth by UEFA and could/would be banned from European competition should they fail to achieve compliance.

The likes of Angel Di Maria, Goncalo Guedes, Grzegorz Krychowiak, Jese Rodriguez and Alphonse Areola have had their names floated as possible departures to recoup the necessary funds before paying another fee of (presumably) over $100 million.

[ MORE: Conte to sue Chelsea over how firing was handled ]

After helping the Blues to the Premier League title two seasons ago (and doing the same with Leicester City three campaigns gone by), Kante was powerless in saving Chelsea from themselves in 2017-18. They finished fifth in the PL and failed to qualify for this season’s Champions League.

Given his age — 27 — it’s wholly understandable that Kante would prioritize playing in club soccer’s top competition (while also making even more money) every season going forward. Throw in the fact that uncertainty is the only certainty at Stamford Bridge these days, and trading west London for Paris — where Kante was born — starts to sounds pretty good, pretty quickly.

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