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Atlanta becomes U.S. soccer’s new hotbed, but will it last?

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ATLANTA (AP) The cheer begins slowly, rhythmically – everyone raising their hands above their heads, clapping in sync to the beat of the drum, screaming in unison and picking up speed with each chant.

A! ….. T! ….. L!

A! … T! ….L!

A! T! L!

[ MORE: Latest in Crew relocation saga ]

Welcome to soccer’s newest hotbed, which has sprouted in a city known for its fickle sports fans and all the heartbreak doled out by its teams.

Atlanta United has been a shining star amid a year of intense disappointment for American soccer , a dashing, high-scoring team that has drawn record crowds and stirred fervent passion in its very first season.

From packed stands at Bobby Dodd Stadium and Mercedes-Benz Stadium, to flag-waving fans who bounce up and down from the opening kick to the final whistle , an Atlanta United game provide the latest glimmer of hope that the U.S. might someday embrace the world’s most popular sport the way the rest of the world does.

“This is unprecedented, certainly in our sport,” said Don Garber, the commissioner of Major League Soccer. “This team has attracted the attention of the entire soccer- and football-playing world.”

[ RECAP: Spurs 2-3 West Ham | Pochettino reacts ]

Garber knew something was up when United sold more than 30,000 season tickets Before playing its first game. Then, a crowd of 55,000 turned out for opening night , which was held in a college football stadium on Georgia Tech’s campus while workers scrambled to finish $1.5 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium .

As the days and weeks and months passed, from the promise of spring through the heat of summer to the changing leaves of fall, the fans kept coming. When the team finally moved into new retractable-roof home in mid-September, they didn’t let up. Finally, this past weekend, a crowd of 71,874 attended the regular-season finale , more than any other single game in MLS history.

It was hardly an anomaly. United set the previous record five weeks earlier with its first 70,000-plus turnout. For the season, Atlanta averaged 48,200 per game, easily eclipsing the mark set two years earlier by Seattle, the MLS’ flagship franchise. For comparison’s sake, United’s numbers eclipsed the top team in Italy’s Serie A during the 2016-17 season and would’ve ranked in the upper half of the attendance table for any of Europe’s top leagues.

United has provided some much-needed good news for American soccer, which is still reeling from the stunning failure of the U.S. national team to qualify for next year’s World Cup in Russia .

“Without any history on this club, to build something like that, to build the support that we got, that’s very impressive, that in just one year we could get to this point,” said Kevin Kratz, a German midfielder who plays for United.

Actually, Atlanta’s soccer history goes back to the fledgling days of the sport in the U.S.

The Chiefs were founded in 1967 and captured the first championship in the North American Soccer League (NASL). But the team never drew as many as 7,000 fans per game, bouncing between Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, Georgia Tech’s stadium and even a high school facility south of the city. Hardly anyone noticed when the franchise went out of business in 1973, having spent its final year known as the Apollos.

[ MORE: Cyle Larin says he’s ready for Europe ]

The Chiefs returned in 1979, this time owned by Ted Turner, but not much changed. Attendance was poor and the team struggled on the field, lasting only three years before folding again.

This is a totally different scenario. United was built for success, from owner Arthur Blank (who also owns the NFL Falcons) to a new stadium to a metro area that is now home to nearly 6 million people and a far more diverse population than it had during the Chiefs era.

Still, the popularity of the team caught everyone off guard.

“There was just an energy and a passion that I think is just similar to whether you’re in Europe watching a game, whether you’re in South America,” United president Darren Eales said. “The fans stand up for the whole game, the fans doing the A-T-L Icelandic chant, those sort of rituals and excitement behind the game … I think it’s a new America. It’s a sport that brought together the city of Atlanta, a city of transplants that’s very international.

“It’s become their club.”

The day after the regular season ended, United was recognized for its impressive debut when MLS awarded the 2018 All-Star Game to Mercedes-Benz Stadium . But the team has more immediate priorities, having qualified for the playoffs and the chance to host a first-round game against Columbus – an original MLS franchise that, in an interesting twist, is pondering a possible move to Texas because of waning attendance and demands for a new stadium.

Another huge, raucous crowd is expected Thursday night.

“They aren’t just spectators,” said United goalkeeper Brad Guzan, a longtime member of the U.S. national team. “They’re involved in terms of their voice. … It’s truly remarkable.”

United is hoping to build the sort of championship success that has eluded Atlanta’s big league teams. Other than the Chiefs’ long-forgotten title, the Braves are the only other franchise to win it all, and that was more than two decades ago in the 1995 World Series.

More indicative of the city’s sports history was the Falcons’ performance in the last Super Bowl. They squandered a 25-point lead in the second half and lost to the New England Patriots in overtime, casting a pall over Atlanta that still lingers just a bit .

Off the field, United still must prove it can hold the city’s attention for a sustained period.

Look no further than Atlanta’s two National Hockey League teams, the Flames and the Thrashers. Both drew large crowds in their early days, but it didn’t last.

Both wound up leaving the city .

United intends to write a new chapter.

They may be on to something.

“Actually, I’m not surprised,” said Elizabeth Edwards, who attended the final regular-season game. “Soccer has been huge in Georgia, and it’s getting bigger and bigger and bigger. I’m a middle-school teacher, so I watch my kids play. They care more about soccer than they do football.”

Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 . His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/paul%20newberry

Remaining Premier League fixtures ahead of June 17 return

Premier League schedule
Photo by David Price/Arsenal FC via Getty Images
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The 2019-20 Premier League season will restart on June 17, the league confirmed Thursday, as ‘Project Restart’ readies for empty stadiums around England.

So who’s left on the schedule? The slate of 92 matches features some doozies including the Merseyside Derby (Matchday 30), the North London Derby (Matchday 35), and — of course — Liverpool’s visit to Manchester City (Matchday 32)

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Check out all the stats for the season so far, as well as the state of play for all 20 clubs’ seasons in the races for the Champions League, Europa League, and safety from relegation.

Of course, you’ll be able to watch the Premier League via NBCSports.com all summer long.

Additionally, the matches will be staged in non-traditional windows. Here are the kickoff times for midweek and weekend matches.

Matchday 28 — June 17

Aston Villa v. Sheffield United
Manchester City v. Arsenal

Matchday 30

Aston Villa v. Chelsea
Bournemouth v. Crystal Palace
Brighton and Hove Albion v. Arsenal
Everton v. Liverpool
Manchester City v. Burnley
Newcastle United v. Sheffield United
Norwich City v. Southampton
Tottenham v. Manchester United
Watford v. Leicester City
West Ham v. Wolves

(Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Matchday 31

Burnley v. Watford
Liverpool v. Crystal Palace
Tottenham v. West Ham
Wolves v. Bournemouth

Matchday 31 to be rescheduled due to FA Cup quarters
Chelsea v. Manchester City
Leicester City v. Brighton and Hove Albion
Manchester United v. Sheffield United
Newcastle United v. Aston Villa
Norwich City v. Everton
Southampton v. Arsenal

Matchday 32

Arsenal v. Norwich City
Aston Villa v. Wolves
Bournemouth v. Newcastle United
Brighton and Hove Albion v. Manchester United
Crystal Palace v. Burnley
Everton v. Leicester City
Manchester City v. Liverpool
Sheffield United v. Tottenham
Watford v. Southampton
West Ham v. Chelsea

Matchday 33

Burnley v. Sheffield United
Chelsea v. Watford
Leicester City v. Crystal Palace
Liverpool v. Aston Villa
Manchester United v. Bournemouth
Newcastle United v. West Ham
Norwich City v. Brighton and Hove Albion
Southampton v. Manchester City
Tottenham v. Everton
Wolves v. Arsenal

(Paul Harding/PA via AP)

Matchday 34

Arsenal v. Leicester City
Aston Villa v. Manchester United
Brighton and Hove Albion v. Liverpool
Bournemouth v. Tottenham
Crystal Palace v. Chelsea
Everton v. Southampton
Manchester City v. Newcastle United
Sheffield United v. Wolves
Watford v. Norwich City
West Ham v. Burnley

Matchday 35

Aston Villa v. Crystal Palace
Bournemouth v. Leicester City
Brighton and Hove Albion v. Manchester City
Liverpool v. Burnley
Manchester United v. Southampton
Norwich City v. West Ham
Sheffield United v. Chelsea
Tottenham v. Arsenal
Watford v. Newcastle United
Wolves v. Everton

(Photo by Visionhaus)

Matchday 36

Arsenal v. Liverpool
Burnley v. Wolves
Chelsea v. Norwich City
Crystal Palace v. Manchester United
Everton v. Aston Villa
Leicester City v. Sheffield United
Manchester City v. Bournemouth
Newcastle United v. Tottenham
Southampton v. Brighton and Hove Albion
West Ham v. Watford

Matchday 37

Aston Villa v. Arsenal
Bournemouth v. Southampton
Brighton and Hove Albion v. Newcastle United
Liverpool v. Chelsea
Manchester United v. West Ham
Norwich City v. Burnley
Sheffield United v. Everton
Tottenham v. Leicester City
Watford v. Manchester City
Wolves v. Crystal Palace

Matchday 38

Arsenal v. Watford
Burnley v. Brighton and Hove Albion
Chelsea v. Wolves
Crystal Palace v. Tottenham
Everton v. Bournemouth
Leicester City v. Manchester United
Manchester City v. Norwich City
Newcastle United v. Liverpool
Southampton v. Sheffield United
West Ham v. Aston Villa

Ndidi
(Photo by Martin Rickett/PA Images via Getty Images)

LIVE, Bundesliga: Week 29 begins with Freiburg-Bayer

Freiburg v. Bayer Leverkusen live
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Week 29 in Germany begins with two clubs holding onto hope of berths in the Champions League and Europa League, respectively, when Bayer Leverkusen visit Freiburg at the Black Forest Stadium.

Last time out, the scrappy hosts tossed away a 2-goal lead in drawing Eintracht, while Bayer saw its red-hot form cooled off with an exclamation point in a 4-1 loss to Wolfsburg. Freiburg’s now four points out of sixth and Bayer’s outside the top four on goal difference. That said, Kai Havertz’s Bayer has weapons for days and the creativity to get through the compact, physical Freiburg formation.

[ Bundesliga: Live scores | Week 29 preview, predictions  ] 

Matchweek 29 in the Bundesliga will again see games played in empty stadiums, which is the plan for the rest of the season and beyond. If you’re new to Germany’s top-flight, here’s a guide to help you pick a club to support.

How to Watch the Bundesliga

You can check out the full schedulestandings and find out how to watch the action, while we will have you covered right here on ProSoccerTalk with analysis, reaction and more.

[ MORE: Takeaways from Week 28 of the Bundesliga ]

Transfer news: Tecatito to Chelsea update; Pellistri to Man City

Tecatito
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In the latest transfer news there have been new updates surrounding Jesus ‘Tecatito’ Corona heading to Chelsea, while Man City have been linked with Uruguayan youngster Facundo Pellistri.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Starting at Chelsea, there were reports about Mexico winger Tecatito heading from FC Porto to the Blues and it appears they are some legs there.

Tecatito’s agent Matias Bunge confirmed to Medio Tiempo that they have held talks with Chelsea.

“At some point we talked to them,” Bunge said. “I cannot say if he’s option A, B or C, now they are rather rumours. We’ll have to wait a bit for this to continue moving forward and for the leagues to begin again, and from there see what the next movements will be because the market is a little bit stopped. He has two years left on his contract. He did awaken a lot of interest for his participation in this particular tournament (Primera Liga), which has been outstanding and at a high level. But now with the current situation of the virus everything has slowed down a bit, now the signings are in quarantine.”

Tecatito, 27, has had a really good season for Porto, scoring twice and adding 17 assists from the wing as he’s played in a more defensive role in recent months.

That flexibility will be key for Frank Lampard’s Chelsea as they like to switch between a 3-4-3 and 4-3-3 and Tecatito can play in both attacking and defensive roles easily. He’s also a much cheaper option than Jadon Sancho, who Chelsea have been linked with.

It is believed Inter Milan and Sevilla are both interested in Tecatito too and with Willian and Pedro set to leave Chelsea, they will be a little short of options out wide despite having Christian Pulisic, Callum Hudson-Odoi and the impending arrival of Hakim Ziyech.

Moving to Manchester, Man City have been linked with a move for Uruguayan teenager Facundo Pellistri.

Pellistri, 18, is also interesting Newcastle United but City are reportedly keen on the young winger, according to the Daily Mail. Per the report, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, Napoli and Boca Juniors are also following the teenager known as ‘Facu’ closely and he is coached by former Man Untied, Atletico and Uruguay forward Diego Forlan.

The Penarol winger is being tracked closely by City who have a full time scout in Uruguay and also a sister club Montevideo City Torque and reports state they’ve already spoken to his agent.

A talented winger, Pellistri is valued at $12.5 million and would likely be loaned out and developed before making a push for Man City’s first team in the years to come. Man City snapped up Gabriel Jesus as a teenager and that has worked out pretty well and South America is an area where both Real Madrid and Barcelona have plucked plenty of young gems from over the last few decades.

Bundesliga preview: Bayern Munich v Fortuna Dusseldorf

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Bayern Munich can take another huge step towards winning an eight-straight Bundesliga title when they host Fortuna Dusseldorf on Saturday at the Allianz Arena and below are details on how you can watch in the USA.

The German giants are now seven points clear atop the Bundesliga table after winning 1-0 at second-place Borussia Dortmund in midweek and Hansi Flick’s squad are now just 12 points away from sealing another title. Four wins from their final six games will guarantee a 30th German title, as they play before title rivals Dortmund and RB Leipzig this weekend.

[ LIVE: Bundesliga scores ]

However, the stakes are high for Fortuna Dusseldorf too. Uwe Rosler’s side launched a stunning comeback to beat Schalke 2-1 in midweek and were 2-0 up in the 88th minute at Cologne last weekend before coughing up two late goals to draw 2-2. Fortuna, who sit in the relegation playoff spot but are just one point behind Mainz in 15th, are direct and dangerous on the counter and Bayern will be wary of an upset at the end of a gruelling week in Germany’s top-flight.

In team news, Bayern will be without midfielders Thiago, Philippe Coutinho and Corentin Tolisso and an intriguing stat centers around top goalscorer Robert Lewandowski, who hasn’t scored against Fortuna in five previous outings. One of the stars of the show since Flick took over has been Canadian teenage sensation Alphonso Davies, who has excelled out of position at left back and was nicknamed ‘Roadrunner’ by Bayern teammate Thomas Muller after another fine display at Dortmund.

Fortuna haven’t beat Bayern in 30 years and Kenan Karaman has scored five times in his last five games to give them hope in their relegation battle. USMNT midfielder Alfredo Morales could return for Fortuna but U.S. goalkeeper Zack Steffen, on loan from Man City, remains out injured.

Below is how to watch Bayern Munich v Fortuna Dusseldorf on TV in the USA this Saturday, while above you can follow the action live, as the three points are so valuable to both clubs but for very different reasons.

Bundesliga schedule

  • TV Channels: FS1
  • Stream Live: Via Fox Soccer
  • When: Saturday, May 30 – 12:30 p.m. ET: Bayern Munich v Fortuna Dusseldorf