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Serie A: Milan tops Atalanta in massive win, Cagliari grabs 3 points

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AC Milan has scored one of the most important results of the Serie A season in what has turned out to be a vicious battle for the final Champions League places, coming from behind to beat Atalanta 3-1 on a brace from new signing Krzysztof Piatek. The win gave Milan a four-point gap between themselves and fifth-placed Atalanta, with Roma and Lazio all right there in the chase as well.

Both teams struggled to find good chances through the first 45 minutes, as the only two shots on target of the first half resulted in goals. Atalanta struck first through Remo Freuler, although Gianluigi Donnarumma will want it back. Just past the half-hour mark, great work from Josip Ilicic on the right-hand edge of the box led to a cutback where Freuler was waiting in acres of space, but his shot was right at Donnarumma. Unfortunately for the visitors, he was unable to stop the shot completely, and it trickled away to his right and over the line.

Milan was able to change the halftime feel of the game right on the stroke of the break as Piatek scored his 16th goal of the season and third for Milan since joining in the winter by somehow managing to touch Ricardo Rodriguez’s cross into the far corner despite his back to the target, contorting his body so that his leg whip redirected it inside the far post.

The visitors took the lead just after the break, a meaningful strike in more ways than one as Hakan Calhanoglu bagged his first goal of the season to a thunderous response from the Milan bench. His low strike from the top-left corner of the penalty area found the far post past a diving Etrit Berisha. Less than a week ago, Milan boss Gennaro Gattuso had called Calhanoglu out for poor play, saying “I expect more” from the Turkish winger. The goal is his first in league play since he ended last season with a run of three goals in the final four games of the campaign.

Piatek made it 3-1 just minutes after by heading in a Calhanoglu corner, and that was the ballgame wrapped up. Milan won its second in a row and fourth in its last six league matches. With just one league loss since the November international break, Milan has strengthened its Champions League hopes, just a point back of third-placed Inter who is set to host Sampdoria tomorrow.

Elsewhere, Cagliari also came from behind, beating Parma 2-1 on a brace from Leonardo Pavoletti despite falling behind before halftime.

The visitors at Sardegna Arena went in front in the 40th minute on an absolutely stunning header from Juraj Kucka, redirecting a free-kick from a great distance out, looping his header up and over Cagliari goalkeeper  Alessio Cragno, clipping the underside of the bar and deflecting into the net.

Cagliari stormed back and Pavoletti struck for the first time just past the hour mark, touching home on a set-piece development after Luca Cigarini’s looped free-kick found Luca Ceppitelli’s head, touching the ball across the face of goal right to the doorstep where Pavoletti was streaking in.

The hosts owned both the bulk of possession and the advantage in the shot count, finishing with 16 to Parma’s nine, but they struggled to get them on target. Finally, in the 85th minute, Pavoletti won it as Nicolo Barella produced a wonderful cutback delivery from the left touchline and his looping cross found the 30-year-old’s head leaving Parma goalkeeper Luigi Sepe no chance.

The win pushes Cagliari to 14th in the table, six points above the relegation zone and just one point below their opponents.

Atletico Madrid roster for MLS All-Star Game includes Felix

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Major League Soccer fans will get a good luck at one of the hottest prospects in world soccer when the MLS All Stars take on Atletico Madrid in next week’s MLS All Star Game.

Joao Felix, the $142 million 19-year-old, is among the roster announced by Diego Simeone for the match.

[ MORE: Newcastle in for $28M Saint-Maximin ]

Felix scored 20 times with 11 assists in 40 matches for Benfica before moving to Atleti in the summer. Those numbers include a hat trick against Eintracht Frankfurt in the Europa League quarterfinals first leg.

The other stars will be there, too, provided no transfers happen in the interim. Koke, Thomas Lemar, Diego Costa, and Saul Niguez are in the squad.

New Atleti defender Kieran Trippier and longtime El Tri hero Hector Herrera will also be sure to help drive attendance in Orlando City.

The full roster is here.

Leagues Cup preview: MLS gets its next shot at Liga MX

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It’s not a typo; The s is very real.

The Leagues Cup — not the League Cup — is the new competition pitting Major League Soccer sides against some of the top sides from Mexico’s Liga MX.

The tournament has been expanded before it’s even seen a ball kicked in competition, as the second edition with go from eight to 16 teams.

[ MORE: Newcastle in for $28M Saint-Maximin ]

For now, though, we’ve got four American and four Mexican sides meeting over the next two months in a bid for North American supremacy not unlike a CONCACAF Champions League stripped of all the minnows.

Much like the CCL, the Mexican sides will be expected to triumph, even with all of the quarterfinals being staged in the United States.

Chicago Fire hosts Cruz Azul on Tuesday, followed by the LA Galaxy’s visit from Club Tijuana.

Wednesday will see the Houston Dynamo host Club America, and Tigres UANL at Real Salt Lake.

The winners meet Aug. 20, while the final will be played Sept. 18 in Las Vegas.

There’s a lot of promise in this, and it gives MLS another chance to make some statements about the distance between it and Liga MX. The Mexican sides have flat out dominated the CCL, and it’s not difficult to make the same prediction for this tournament.

But, like many tournaments, it also gives success-starved clubs a chance to give their fans something big and their players a tonic. For Bastian Schweinsteiger‘s Chicago, for one, it’s a huge opportunity. And for Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the Galaxy, it’s a look toward another piece of silverware for one of the world’s biggest trophy cases.

USMNT prospect Ledezma earns praise from van Nistelrooy

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Even for talents of the highest levels with top soccer education, sometimes a kid’s gotta learn how to eat.

Richard “Richie” Ledezma, 18, is in the midst of his first year at Eredivisie side PSV Eindhoven, a spot which beckoned after a five-match, one-goal season in the USL with Real Monarchs of the USL.

[ MORE: Chicago adds USMNT hero ]

Ledezma starred for U.S. U-20 team at the World Cup after his first half-season with PSV, which saw him play with the U-19s while trying to lose some weight.

From Goal.com:

“PSV help me with my nutrition, with my food and how I eat. It’s the quantity of food you eat, I guess,” he added. “Because I came a little chubby, when I got here, I guess. They all called me ‘fatty’ and stuff, so I was like, cool, you know? So no more McDonald’s.”

Goal’s James Westwood had a wide-ranging interview with Ledezma and also spoke with soccer royalty: longtime Real Madrid and Manchester United scorer Ruud van Nistelrooy was Ledezma’s coach with the U-19s.

“He’s making a difference in midfield with very quick-thinking passes, movement, can score a goal, play people in, he’s creating chances for the whole team.”

That’s not just good praise from a legend, but a solid sign for fans of the United States men’s national team. A proper No. 10 or playmaking midfielder could allow Gregg Berhalter or another future USMNT coach to use Christian Pulisic on the wings.

Ledezma has some work to do before he breaks into the first team of the Dutch runners-up, who have signed former Stoke City man Ibrahim Afellay and has Gaston Pereiro in the fold as well.

Newcastle reportedly in for $28M mercurial Nice attacker

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L’Equipe says that Newcastle United have returned to Nice in the hopes of landing Allan Saint-Maximin.

The Ligue 1 outfit wants $28 million for the playmaker, who could team up with Miguel Almiron and (maybe) Joelinton to give the Magpies a much-improved attack.

[ MORE: Chicago adds USMNT hero ]

Saint-Maximin, 22, has 10 goals and 10 assists across his last two seasons with Nice, and played everywhere in attack for Patrick Vieira: both wings, center forward, second striker, attacking mid… even some left and right midfield.

The player, however, has been a headache for Vieira at times, with the manager saying Saint-Maximin believes that he has enough talent to reach the highest level without the required amount of work.

That said, the youngster’s skill set is electric. He’s a March birth date, too, so a relatively young 22. That $28 million would be another transfer record broken for Newcastle, assuming it happens ahead of the Joelinton move.

Or… as Newcastle fan knows, neither could go through.