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Atlanta’s MLS Cup celebration is joyous, but short-lived

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ATLANTA (AP) Despite cold, drizzly weather, thousands of fans turned out Monday for a downtown parade and rally to celebrate the city’s first championship since 1995.

The revelry won’t last long.

Atlanta United must find a coach to replace Tata Martino and likely cope with the loss of star midfielder Miguel Almiron before returning to the field in February for their first appearance in the CONCACAF Champions League.

“That puzzle exists every year in professional sports,” team owner Arthur Blank told reporters after the rally outside Mercedes-Benz Stadium. “The great organizations, the great teams find a way to respond to that. What we’ve built here is a sustainable, winning organization, so we’re looking forward to being back – not just competing, but being back on this stage a year from now.”

In just its second season since entering Major League Soccer as an expansion team, Atlanta United won the championship with a 2-0 victory over the Portland Timbers on Saturday night.

Less than 48 hours later, the city toasted its first championship team since the Atlanta Braves won the 1995 World Series .

“We did it! We broke the curse!” said rapper Archie Eversole, whose song “We Ready” became a popular theme at home games.

The players rode a double-decker bus on the 1-mile-long parade route, holding up the cup for the cheering crowd as they passed the Georgia Aquarium, College Football Hall of Fame and Centennial Olympic Park. Blank, team president Darren Eales and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms revved up fans in convertibles at the front of the procession.

The parade ended in a grassy lot alongside Mercedes-Benz Stadium, where some 15,000 turned out for a lunchtime rally also attended by outgoing Gov. Nathan Deal.

“We’ve won a championship in only our second season,” Eales said. “That’s pretty incredible.”

In probably his last appearance with the team, Martino hammered in the golden spike while the crowd roared. The Argentine coach is reportedly headed to Mexico to become that country’s national team coach.

“Coach Martino is one of the great coaches in the world,” Blank said. “He saw the vision, he bought into the vision, and he executed the vision with this incredible group of players.”

That group will be changing.

Atlanta already made several moves, announcing the day after the game that it declined contract options on five players including captain Michael Parkhurst, though the 34-year-old defender is expected to return in 2019. The team said it has already begun negotiations on a new contract with Parkhurst, who finally won the MLS Cup after playing on four runner-up teams.

The biggest moves are still to come. Almiron, who was runner-up in the MVP voting to teammate Josef Martinez, is expected to follow through on his desired move to Europe, which should bring United a hefty transfer fee.

The team seems to have already lined up a replacement.

Argentine star Gonzalo “Pity” Martinez, who scored the clinching goal in River Plate’s victory Sunday in the Copa Libertadores final, announced on the field right after the game that he’s leaving the team. He told media in his native country that he’s headed to Atlanta United.

Martinez, who scored a record 31 goals during the regular season and added four more in the playoffs , appears likely to remain with the team for at least one more season. He’s had much more success in MLS than his previous stint in Italy’s Serie A.

“I am going to be here as long as they want me,” Martinez said after winning the MVP award. “I feel like I’m at home.”

Atlanta United could target another South American coach as Martino’s replacement, with an eye toward maintaining a pipeline to promising young players from that continent. As Almiron has shown, the MLS can provide a useful steppingstone to those wishing to further their careers in Europe.

Among those mentioned as candidates: Guillermo Barros Schelotto, who previously won the MLS Cup as a player in Columbus and coached Boca Juniors to the Copa Libertadores final this season; along with Marcelo Bielsa, who has close ties to Martino and is currently managing Leeds in England’s second division.

Atlanta United will have an additional priority in 2019 after qualifying for the CONCACAF Champions League, the continent’s top club competition. They will face Herediano in the two-legged opening round, with the first game to be played in Costa Rica in a Feb. 19-21 window before the second leg at Mercedes-Benz Stadium a week later.

That 16-team competition, which runs through the first of May, figures to be the team’s top priority in the early part of the 2019 season. The only U.S. team to win the title was D.C. United two decades ago.

But Atlanta is intent on defending its MLS championship, as well.

“It’s an honor to represent this city,” said goalkeeper Brad Guzan, saluting the fans who broke numerous attendance records during the club’s first two seasons. “We’ll be back next year to defend this cup.”

RSL’s Savarino downs Atlanta United in 94th minute

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Atlanta United dropped its second straight match, this time in gut-wrenching fashion, as Jefferson Savarino scored a 94th minute winner to hand Real Salt Lake a 2-1 win over Frank De Boer‘s bunch.

Josef Martinez appeared to have rescued Atlanta with his 78th minute equalizer, cancelling out Sebastian Saucedo’s first-half opener, but Savarino struck a blistering stunner from outside the box with the minimum three minutes of added time already passed. Savarino used straight muscle to shield a charging Leandro Gonzalez Pires off the ball, and the strike punished Brad Guzan for creeping just inches too far towards his near post.

The late winner redeemed a Real Salt Lake defense that fell asleep just a fraction too early on Martinez’s goal, as a low cross from Franco Escobar should have been easily dealt with, but the Venezuelan waited for the right moment and pounced in front of a snoozing Justin Glad to poke home the delivery.

While the two sides split the possession, RSL out-shot Atlanta and held the lead most of the way after Bofo put them in front just past the half-hour mark. The 22-year-old was given way too much space just outside the top of the box and placed a curler past Guzan for the opener for his second goal in two weeks.

The win gave RSL its third straight victory in what has become a streaky season. The campaign so far features two winning streaks and two losing streaks through 13 matches, with just one draw among the group. For Atlanta, the second straight loss leaves them stuck in fourth, squandering the chance to pass third-placed Montreal who sits a just point ahead.

LA Galaxy moves third in West with 1-0 win over Orlando

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A Jonathan dos Santos howitzer was enough to give the LA Galaxy a 1-0 win over Orlando City at home to move them into third place in the Western Conference standings.

The win not only boosted the Galaxy back up the standings but also stopped a brutal four-game losing skid that had threatened to erase the fabulous winning start to the season. It marks the club’s first clean sheet since a 0-0 draw with Minnesota United in late April.

The winner came in the 19th minute, a blast for his second goal of the season and first since mid March.

The clean sheet did not come easily. Dave Bingham stopped a Nani penalty in the 32nd minute after dos Santos tackled Sebastian Mendez in the area. Perry Kitchen – off the bench for his 2019 debut – was on hand to clear off the line after Bingham whiffed on a 68th minute Sacha Kljestan cross, while Bingham came up big three minutes later to stop a header by Chris Mueller off a corner.

Los Angeles’s victory moves them to 25 points, one behind Seattle who has a game in hand, and two ahead of Houston who has played three fewer games. For Orlando, they remain on 15 points, good for 10th in the East.

Ligue 1: PSG, Lille stumble to finish line

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Paris Saint-Germain’s late-season stumble came to a final conclusion on Friday as the Parisian giants lost to Stade de Rimes 3-1 on the road to close out the Ligue 1 season.

Kylian Mbappe scored in the 59th minute, but it wasn’t enough to overcome Baba Rahman, Mathieu Cafaro, and Pablo Chavarria all who found the back of the net for the hosts. The loss marks PSG’s third in the final seven weeks of the season, and fourth in the last 10. They had not lost a single league match all season until a 2-1 result against Lyon in early February, the first of five eventual league defeats.

PSG finished the year 16 points atop the league table, but having wrapped up the title weeks ago, the club’s poor finish to the year could weigh on Thomas Tuchel’s job security moving forward. Tuchel responded to continued questions about his precarious position with a joke, saying, “Honestly, I am worried… I get the impression that everybody knows something that I do not!”

Still, the bright spot was Mbappe’s goal, his 33rd of the league campaign, the most for any Frenchman in the domestic top-flight since 1966.

Elsewhere, second-placed Lille saw an eight-match unbeaten streak come to a close as they fell on the final day of the season to Stade Rennes by a 3-1 scoreline. Loic Remy scored a 35th minute equalizer for Lille but Ismaila Sarr’s 59th minute strike proved the difference, while M’Baye Niang’s second of the day – a 75th minute penalty – added icing on the cake. Still, Lille’s season is considered an unabashed success, finishing 16 points back of PSG and three above third-placed Lyon to qualify for the Champions League group stage.

Lyon saw victory on the road to close out the season thanks to a 91st minute winner from Tanguy Ndombele who gave the visitors a 3-2 win at Nimes. A second goal from Maxwel Cornet had brought Lyon level just two minutes prior, and Ndobele’s near-post flick on a Leo Dubois cross completed the comeback win. They finish safely in third, ending the season on a six-game unbeaten streak with five wins in that span. Two games in early April – losses to 20th-placed Dijon and 15th-placed Nantes – likely cost them a shot at second place.

Monaco is safely in the top flight next season, but barely, as they fell at Nice 2-0 on the final day to finish just two points above the relegation zone. They finish with just one win in the final nine matches, and were saved by a seven-match unbeaten run through February and March that 15 of their 36 points on the season.

Marseille finished the season with a 1-0 win over Montpellier thanks to a 58th minute Florian Thauvin strike, but it wasn’t enough as St. Etienne finished five points clear in fourth on 66 points, with Marseille on 61 in fifth, missing out on a Champions League place.

Rapinoe kicks FIFA, says women’s soccer not treated equally

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NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. star Megan Rapinoe gave FIFA some kicks two weeks ahead of the World Cup, maintaining the sport’s top executives are not doing enough to close a huge gender disparity in investment.

“They have essentially unlimited resources. I don’t think that it’s really been a huge change at all,” the 33-year-old Californian said Friday, two days ahead of the Americans’ send-off match against Mexico. “Sort of the incremental change that we’ve seen is just not enough.”

A champion at the 2012 London Olympics and the 2015 World Cup, the Seattle Reign midfielder has been the most outspoken American player.

FIFA doubled prize money for the women to $30 million this year from the amount four years ago and the amount for the winning team to $4 million. That remains a fraction of the money at last year’s men’s World Cup, where France received $38 million from a $400 million pool. FIFA has raised the men’s pool to $440 million for 2022.

“I would like to see a major paradigm shift and sort of a major overhaul,” Rapinoe said. “There’s been such a lack of investment for all of these years and such a lack of care and attention that doubling or tripling or quadrupling investment, care, attention to the women’s game I think would be appropriate.”

Rapinoe also criticized FIFA for allowing three major finals to take place on the same day, splitting focus that could otherwise be solely on the women. The women’s final in Lyon, France, will kick off at 11 a.m. EDT and be followed by the Copa America championship match in Rio de Janeiro at 4 p.m. EDT and the CONCACAF Gold Cup final in Chicago at 9 p.m. EDT.

“It’s ridiculous and disappointing, to be honest,” Rapinoe said.

FIFA general secretary Fatma Samoura, the sport’s highest-ranking woman executive, and the FIFA media office did not respond to an email seeking comment.

Players on the U.S. team have sued the U.S. Soccer Federation in March, charging institutionalized gender discrimination. The USSF countered that pay and benefits for members of the men’s and women’s teams, bargained by separate unions, can’t be compared and said there was no basis for allegations of illegal conduct.

“It’s not this divide. It’s very much a cohesive unit,” U.S. coach Jill Ellis said. “It doesn’t enter the locker room. It doesn’t enter the meeting space. We’re working together and making this work and, yeah, I understand. I’m a woman. I have a young daughter. I understand a lot of the bigger social issues out there in terms of that. But I also know right now the job is to get the team focused and they are focused.”

Preparing for her third World Cup, Rapinoe is among three American co-captains, joined by two-time FIFA player of the year Carli Lloyd and Alex Morgan. With short, spikey dyed blond hair, Rapinoe is the most recognizable U.S. women’s player.

Before the 2012 Olympics, she came out as gay . She knelt during the national anthem three years ago in support of NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick and this year became the first openly gay woman to appear in Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue .

Rapinoe is not surprised at attacks on LGBTQ rights and abortion rights.

“Equality for all requires people who have more of it right now to give up some which I think, obviously, is a good thing for everyone,” she said. “But some people don’t want to give that up, so they’re doing everything they can to keep all of it to themselves. I don’t think it’s surprising. I think those people are probably going to do everything they can to keep all the power that they have for as long as they possibly can.”

She maintains inequality for women in sports goes beyond soccer.

“I think it’s pretty clear women in sport have not been treated with the same care and financing and all of that that men’s sports has,” she said. “So I don’t think anyone’s really arguing about that anymore.”