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Josef Martinez picks up Golden Boot from surprise presenter

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MARIETTA, Ga. (AP) Josef Martinez knew he was receiving one of Major League Soccer’s top awards.

The Atlanta United star was caught off guard by the presenter.

After the greatest goal-scoring season in MLS history, the Venezuelan striker got a surprise when countryman and Atlanta Braves outfielder Ender Inciarte showed up Thursday at United’s training facility to hand out the Golden Boot.

[ REPORT: Sterling agrees new deal ]

Inciarte said Martinez’s 31-goal season , which shattered the league’s previous scoring record, provided a much-needed bit of good news to their troubled homeland.

“I love the things he’s been able to accomplish not only for Atlanta, but also for Venezuela,” said Inciarte, who donned United’s red-and-black, five-striped jersey for the ceremony and also got a tour of the team’s training facility. “A lot of people in Venezuela are going through a lot. Having somebody doing great things, the way he’s been doing, it’s a sign of hope for them.”

Martinez broke the previous MLS record of 27 goals, which was shared by Roy Lassiter, Chris Wondolowski and Bradley Wright-Phillips, leading United to a second-place finish in the Eastern Conference and its second straight playoff appearance.

Atlanta will begin a two-legged conference semifinal series against New York City FC on Sunday at Yankee Stadium.

The 25-year-old Martinez was clearly pleased with his first Golden Boot, but he’s more focused on bringing another trophy to Atlanta.

The MLS Cup.

“There’s still a lot to accomplish this season,” Martinez said through an interpreter. “That’s why we’re here: to win things. If it’s as a team, that’s even better, because that’s what’s important.”

[ MORE: PL Club Power Rankings ]

Martinez formerly played with Torino in Italy’s Serie A, but he struggled as a winger and scored just seven goals in 58 league games.

Acquired by Atlanta for its inaugural 2017 season, he moved to a more natural position in front of the net and responded with 19 goals in 20 games. If not for missing more than two months with a quadriceps injury sustained in an international match with Venezuela, he might’ve broken the scoring record a year ago.

This season, Martinez improved his skills away from the ball and showed an ability to score with either foot and especially his head, even though he’s generously listed at just 5-foot-7.

He said his most memorable goal was No. 28, the record breaker against Orlando. Julian Gressel delivered a pass to Martinez, who quickly flicked the ball ahead and gave a shoulder-dipping deke that sent a defender flying past him and put keeper Joe Bendik on his backside. Martinez turned the ball back inside off his left foot and calmly flicked it over Bendik with his right to clinch a 2-1 victory.

Martinez, who is also a finalist for the league’s MVP award, endured a four-game scoring drought late in the season, finally breaking through with a penalty kick in the finale at Toronto. It was the only highlight in a 4-1 loss that cost United its first major trophy. New York Red Bulls won their final game and edged out Atlanta by two points for the Supporters’ Shield that goes to the team with top regular-season record.

Coach Tata Martino, who was instrumental in putting Martinez in an attacking system where he could flourish, has announced he will leave United at the end of the playoffs , reportedly to take over as Mexico’s national team coach.

“He’s the one who opened the door for me to come to Atlanta,” Martinez said. “We have a great relationship on and off the field. Usually, when I talk about our relationship, I’m not talking about soccer. I’m talking about other things in life. We just have to take advantage of him while he’s here.”

Martino’s impending departure has led to speculation that Martinez may be looking to get out as well, perhaps for another shot in Europe.

“He’s definitely someone who has left his footprint on Atlanta,” Martinez said. “But now we have two really important games that we’re focusing on. We’ll see what happens in the future.”

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Premier League social media wrap: Brighton, teqball, remembering Tiote

Premier League social media
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Premier League sides are fully back in the flow of training with scheduled matches coming within a fortnight.

[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]

So it’s no surprise that banter’s back, too.

That’s where we’ll start Friday, with Irish center back Shane Duffy making sure he’s keeping things light as Brighton and Hove Albion prepares to defend its Premier League place.

Duffy turned a sprinkler on his teammates at training, showing that, yes, your high school career has some things in common with Premier League footballers.

How about some skills as Manchester United gets ready for its return to the PL pitch?

Bruno Fernandes and Andreas Pereira tangled with Fred and Diogo Dalot in a match of Teqball.

You’ll have to watch to see who won.

There’s also a sad anniversary on this day.

It’s been three years since former Newcastle United wrecking ball Cheick Tiote passed away at age 30 after collapsing during a training session with Chinese side Beijing Enterprises, causing shock and grief around the Premier League.

His former teammates were remembering him on Friday, the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations winner was definitely beloved and will always be remembered for his incredible goal to cap off Newcastle’s 4-4 comeback draw with Arsenal.

We’ll start with Norwich City backstop Tim Krul, who spent time with Tiote at Newcastle.

Former Magpies wizard Yohan Cabaye pinned an old memorial to his Twitter wall.

 

Preview: Borussia Dortmund v. Hertha Berlin

Borussia Dortmund v. Hertha preview, how to watch
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Four Bundesliga teams are unbeaten in their last five matches and Hertha Berlin is the unlikeliest of the bunch.

They’ll tangle with Borussia Dortmund at the Westfalenstadion on Saturday in the latest challenge of the Bruno Labaddia era in Berlin.

[ BUNDESLIGA: Week 30 preview and predictions ]

Labbadia is Hertha’s third manager of the season and Hertha has played a scrappy brand of football that has punched and counter-punched under his tutelage. That doesn’t mean they’ve failed to find finish, as Liverpool loanee Marko Grujic and Brazilian youngster Matheus Cunha have been potent.

Borussia Dortmund is a bigger ask, though Hertha made RB Leipzig make mistakes in a 2-2 tie.

[ LIVE: Bundesliga scores, stats ]

Will it be able to get a result at the Westfalenstadion? Perhaps this is a bridge too far, because Dortmund’s shown an explosive offense and its defense has been strong far more often than not this season.

That said, Erling Haaland is just returning to fitness and has just one goal since the league’s restart from the coronavirus pause. Mats Hummels will miss with a yellow card suspension and Marco Reus still isn’t back.

Maybe American teen Giovanni Reyna will get prolonged run along with Jadon Sancho. We’ll see!

Borussia Dortmund v. Hertha Berlin, how to watch

  • TV Channels: FS2
  • Stream LiveVia Fox Soccer
  • Americans Abroad: Giovanni Reyna (Dortmund)
  • When: Saturday, June 6 – 12:30 p.m. ET: Dortmund v. Hertha

Sheffield United season restart preview

Sheffield 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.

Sheffield United is next.

[ MORE: Remaining PL schedule in full ]

Let’s take a closer look at all things Blades when it comes to the season restart.


Outlook: Sheffield United has welcomed itself to the Premier League and put its feet up on the big boys’ tables while asking what’s for dinner. Blades sit seventh and will hope to continue a fairytale which has them on the precipice of the Europa League. Their fixture list in monstrous, especially at Bramall Lane, but Wilder’s proven capable of outwitting even the smartest of bosses for long periods of time. A name to remember is Simon Moore. The backup keeper and starter from Blades’ League One days could become vital should Manchester United defy expectation and pull Dean Henderson home from his loan upon its June 30 expiry.

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


Tactical analysis: Chris Wilder has flummoxed many a Premier League manager with his creative use of defenders in attack. United typically uses Jack O’Connell, John Egan and Chris Basham as a back-3 with Enda Stevens and George Baldock as the two wingbacks. Those players have accounted for six of United’s 18 PL assists this season. For more on the tactics, Wilder laid things out in entertaining fashion for Arlo White late last month.


Possible XI (3-5-2) 

—– Henderson* —–

— Basham — O’Connell — Egan —

— Baldock — Fleck —  Berge —– Norwood — Stevens—

—– McBurnie —– Mousset —–

The challenge here is fitting January signing Berge into the mix, as fellow central midfielders John Fleck, Oliver Norwood, and John Lundstram have been instrumental in this amazing season. Lundstram seems the most likely to cede his spot if someone will, which really says something about Berge’s immense talent. David McGoldrick and Billy Sharp have provided a lot up top, so McBurnie and Mousset will see plenty of time on the bench. And the biggest question of all is Henderson, who’s on loan from top seven rival Manchester United.

[ MORE: The 2 Robbies assess Sheffield United’s chances ]


[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]

Remaining schedule
Home: Spurs, Wolves, Chelsea, Everton
Away: Newcastle, Manchester United, Burnley, Leicester City, Southampton

Predicted finish: The Blades will get the chance to defend their home turf from not one, not two, not three, but four would-be European rivals (It’s a little generous to include Everton, but the talent is there). Throw in Leicester and Manchesteer United away, and there is a huge bridge to cross for Wilder’s men to keep their incredible season on the path toward unprecedented heights. It’s not just about keeping Spurs and Arsenal in the rear view mirror, as Blades meet the next four teams above their seventh-place footing.

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.