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UCL Preview: Will CR7 continue to haunt Bayern Munich?

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Bayern Munich hopes home field can be the key to its first win over Real Madrid in six tries.

The German powers have lost five-straight UEFA Champions League encounters against Real heading into Wednesday’s semifinal first leg at the Allianz Arena (2:45 p.m. ET kickoff).

[ MORE: LFC 2-1 Roma | Klopp reacts ]

Real knocked Bayern out of the 2013-14 and 2016-17 UCL, with Bayern eliminated Real in penalty kicks during the semifinal round of 2011-12.

All told, this is the 12th time Real and Bayern have met on the road to the European Cup.

It was the quarterfinal stage last season that saw Cristiano Ronaldo score five times over two legs including both goals in a 2-1 first leg win in Germany. He also scored twice against the Bavarians in 2013-14, and twice in 2011-12 (though he missed the first penalty of the semifinal shootout).

Real’s German midfielder, Toni Kroos, is quite wary of the superpowers from his home nation:

“I’ve been playing alongside a lot of Bayern players for many years now in the national team, but if you look at Bayern’s possible line-up, you can see that they have a lot of very good players. They’re in better shape than they were last year and we’ve got to go out and play our game.”

Real boss Zinedine Zidane knows there’s a juicy subplot with James Rodriguez on loan at Bayern and very much enjoying his football, but says it’s media-driven and nothing on the mind of Zizou or James.

“I didn’t want James to go, he decided to go. I never had any problem with James and it’s more about what is said in the press,” Zidane said, according to Goal.com. “I think he will be motivated because he is a football player. He doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone. Anyone that thinks I am against James is wrong. He will want to go out and prove himself but because he likes football and that’s it.”

Rodriguez has six goals and 12 assists across 34 appearances for Bayern this season, though just one assist has come in the UCL.

Bayern boss Jupp Heynckes says James’ exit from Real might’ve been desired but it wasn’t easy for the player.

“He was a little depressed,” Heynckes said. “I took care of him, I had lots of talks with him, and step by step he found confidence. He is more relaxed within the team. Our fans here, when they see him play football, they enjoy it. Above all he is a player who has fantasy, has an overview. He is more open-minded and gives the impression he feels well and has settled in Munich.”

Olosunde, Parks headline newcomers in latest USMNT roster

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The U.S. Men’s National Team will have three good opportunities to assess talents over the coming weeks, and a number of new faces to get closer glances at.

On Sunday, the USMNT announced its 22-man roster ahead of the country’s friendlies against Bolivia, Ireland and France.

Among the notable names to be included by manager Dave Sarachan are Matthew Olosunde of Manchester United, Benfica’s Keaton Parks and Julian Green, who hasn’t made a national team appearance since 2016.

Meanwhile, the selection of forwards from Sarachan features a lot of youth, including Werder Bremen’s Josh Sargent, Paris Saint-Germain’s Tim Weah and Andrija Novakovich — who has been on a goalscoring tear in 2017/18 with Dutch side Telstar.


Goalkeepers: Alex Bono, Bill Hamid, Ethan Horvath

Defenders: Cameron Carter-Vickers, Eric Lichaj, Matt Miazga, Matthew Olosunde, Erik Palmer-Brown, Antonee Robinson, Jorge Villafana, Walker Zimmerman

Midfielders: Joe Corona, Julian Green, Weston McKennie, Keaton Parks, Christian Pulisic, Rubio Rubin, Tim Weah

Forwards: Andrija Novakovich, Josh Sargent

Mario Balotelli earns first Italy call up since 2014 World Cup

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Mario Balotelli‘s career has been anything but routine, however, the veteran striker has regained his confidence in Ligue 1 and revitalized a career that once looked like it was headed for absolute stardom.

[ MORE: Mourinho’s tactics gift Chelsea FA Cup title ]

The 27-year-old was recalled to Italy’s national team squad on Saturday for the first time since the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, courtesy of new Azzurri manager Roberto Mancini.

Mancini and Balotelli has a long-standing relationship, after the two first connected at Inter Milan and then Manchester City.

The Nice striker has re-captured his form in France over the past two seasons, scoring 43 goals in all competitions during that span.

With Italy not qualified for this summer’s World Cup, Mancini and Co. have the opportunity to explore new players, and in Balotelli’s case, revisit old ones.

The Azzurri will take on Saudi Arabia on May 28, before meeting France and the Netherlands on June 1 and June 4, respectively.

NYCFC manager Patrick Vieira “very close” to Nice contract

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Patrick Vieira’s tenure in Major League Soccer has brought about significant improvement in his New York City FC side, but his current club will have to forge its progress without the Frenchman.

[ MORE: Man City defender Vincent Kompany talks with PST ]

Pro Soccer Talk can confirm reports out of France that the former Arsenal midfielder is in contact with Ligue 1 side Nice to become the club’s next manager, however, Vieira hasn’t finalized a deal yet.

This story was first reported by French outlet L’Equipe on Sunday morning.

PST has learned through several sources that Vieira is “very close” to signing with the eighth-place French side from 2017/18, and a deal is expected to be completed within the coming days despite Vieira’s commitment to NYCFC.

Vieira’s contract with NYCFC runs through the conclusion of the 2018 MLS season.

Another source close to the situation told PST that Vieira will likely take over his new post prior to the start of this summer’s World Cup in Russia, which begins on June 14, pending finalization of a deal with Nice.

Meanwhile, Nantes — who recently parted ways with manager Claudio Ranieri — has also had interest in Vieira’s services. Nantes finished one spot behind Nice in the final Ligue 1 table this season.

The French transfer window doesn’t open until June 1, despite the Premier League’s recent shift to a May 17 opening and August 9 close — prior to the opening kick off of the season.

Other top European leagues, including La Liga, Bundesliga and Serie A have all continued their June 1 start dates for the summer transfer window — which runs until the final day of August.

Former Nice manager Lucien Favre has already found a new destination with Borussia Dortmund, who will once again be involved in the UEFA Champions League next season.

Nice features a number of top-rated players at the moment, including notable transfer targets Mario Balotelli, Jean-Michael Seri and on-loan defender Marlon Santos (Barcelona).

Vieira joined NYCFC in 2016, after previously being involved in parent club Manchester City’s Elite Development Squad (EDS) as a coach.

He played professionally from 1994 to 2011, including a lengthy stint internationally for France, which featured a 1998 World Cup win and runner up in 2006 to Italy.

Since taking over in the Bronx, NYCFC has become one of MLS’ elite sides, and currently sits in second place in the Eastern Conference and MLS table on 24 points through 12 matches.

The 41-year-old Frenchman recently received some interest from Arsenal over the London side’s vacant managerial position left by Arsene Wenger, however, Vieira suggested that the approach from the Gunners was a mere gesture of courtesy.

Vieira has previously been linked to a number of European jobs, including Saint Etienne and Southampton, neither of which came to fruition.

Small clubs cross fingers for World Cup windfalls

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TORCY, France (AP) The ideal scenario for the club where Paul Pogba played football as a kid might go something like this: The France midfielder shines so brightly at the World Cup that a money-no-object club – for argument’s sake, let’s say Real Madrid – decides that it cannot live without him and pays a nine-figure fee to shake him loose from Manchester United.

[ MORE: Mourinho’s tactics gift Chelsea FA Cup win ]

US Torcy, the amateur club in the east Paris suburbs where Pogba’s photo still hangs proudly in the canteen serving fizzy beer and fresh croissants, could then sit back and wait for a fat check from Madrid to land in its bank account.

Not all the money that will change hands after the World Cup, as clubs trade players who distinguish themselves on football’s biggest stage, will line the pockets of selling clubs, agents and the players themselves. A little slice – far too little, some argue – of the likely deluge in post-World Cup transfer fees will also trickle down to football’s grassroots, to unpretentious, volunteer-run clubs like Torcy where kids take first steps toward their big dreams of making a career in football.

Pogba’s move from Italy to Manchester in August 2016, after he burnished his star credentials in France’s run that summer to the final of the European Championship, was like hitting the jackpot for Torcy. Because Pogba spent a year at Torcy in his formative years, FIFA’s transfer rules entitled the club to 0.25 percent of the then-world record fee of 105 million euros ($116 million) United paid to Juventus. The windfall for Torcy was about 300,000 euros ($330,000).

Torcy’s president, Pascal Antonetti, won’t discuss the exact amount, citing a non-disclosure agreement he says he signed with United. But the money was enough to buy three new minibuses to transport Torcy’s players to matches and training. The club now also allows itself the luxury of getting hotel rooms for its teams when they play away from Paris, so they’re not exhausted by travel on the day of their games. And it has kept some of the money in reserve, just to be safe.

“The club is protected from an eventual financial problem, just so long as we don’t get delusions of grandeur and spend the money recklessly,” Antonetti said in an interview with The Associated Press on a recent weekend when the club hosted a two-day cup competition for kids’ teams from around Europe, among them Manchester City, Juventus, Paris Saint-Germain and other famous clubs.

“We won’t be buying cars for each of our senior players in the first XI, for example,” he added. “We’ve kept our head on our shoulders and our feet on the ground.”

These so-called “solidarity” payments recompense clubs for training and educating players who later, as professionals, become valuable, money-spinning commodities. FIFA’s transfer regulations stipulate that when a player contracted with one club moves to another club in another country, up to 5 percent of the fee must be set aside and distributed to clubs that nurtured him, from ages 12 to 23.

In Pogba’s case, United paid not only Torcy, where he played for a year at age 13, but also his first boyhood club, US Roissy-en-Brie, also in the east Paris suburbs where Pogba grew up. The club says it received about 400,000 euros and has spent some of it on two new minibuses, movable goals and other equipment.

Still, such payments to the grassroots represent only a drop in the ocean of money splashing around professional football. In 2017, spending on international transfers soared to $6.4 billion, FIFA says. But only a sliver of that – $64 million, or just 1 percent of the total – went to breeder clubs as solidarity contributions, according to FIFA’s report on the 2017 transfer market .

Antonetti, the Torcy president, is among those who say solidarity payments aren’t generous enough.

“We get only a tiny slice of a transfer like Paul Pogba’s,” he said. “The financial windfalls aren’t sufficiently redistributed.”

And not all the compensation that should be paid to training clubs actually reaches them, FIFA says. It says it has a task force looking at ways to make solidarity payments “more efficient and easy to administer.”

Still, there’ll be plenty of small clubs around the world crossing fingers that players they nurtured will shine in Russia, because a big transfer at the top of the football pyramid can be life-changing for clubs toward the bottom.

When Premier League champion Manchester City signed Aymeric Laporte in January from Bilbao in Spain, it paid 689,000 euros – about 1 percent of the total fee – to SU Agen, the club in the defender’s hometown in southwest France where he played to age 15.

Laporte didn’t make France coach Didier Deschamps’ World Cup squad . But his childhood club, previously loaded in debt, is now flush thanks to his transfer, its future assured, says its president, Jean-Claude Brunel.

The money is funding renovations to the club house, with a new television and a better kitchen, as well as a new minibus and uniforms for Agen’s players. Carefully managed, the remainder should ensure the club’s survival well into the next decade, Brunel said in a phone interview.

“It has allowed us to be serene and to look beyond tomorrow,” he said. “Before, we didn’t know what tomorrow would bring.”

John Leicester is an international sports columnist for The Associated Press. Follow him at http://twitter.com/johnleicester

More AP World Cup coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/WorldCup