Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images

Messi back to his best ahead of games against Real Madrid

Leave a comment

MADRID (AP) With consecutive matches coming up against Barcelona, Real Madrid got a glimpse of a Lionel Messi that it would rather not see again this week.

After a series of lackluster performances, Messi had a stellar game against Sevilla in the Spanish league, scoring a hat trick and erasing any doubts about his form.

Messi regained his scoring touch just before the two decisive matches against Real Madrid – in the semifinals of the Copa del Rey on Wednesday and in the Spanish league on Saturday, both at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium in Madrid.

“When everything flows, things go well for us,” Messi said after the 4-2 win in Seville on Saturday, when he also set up a goal. “We were back to playing like we know how.”

Messi had struggled recently and had not performed up to his standards since getting injured at the beginning of the month. His right leg injury kept him from playing in the first leg against Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey three weeks ago, when Barcelona was held to a 1-1 draw at Camp Nou.

The Catalan club went through a slump while Messi underperformed, winning only one of five matches and losing momentum ahead of the two matches this week. But with one of the best games of his career against Sevilla, Messi quickly put Barcelona back on track.

“We are just a small step away from another final,” Messi said. “It’s a match that is going to be very hard, against Real Madrid, at their stadium. But we are confident that we can go there and win it. Then we will start thinking about the league again. We are going to try to win everything.”

Real Madrid, on the other hand, is far from where it wants to be heading into the two games against its biggest rival.

Despite the advantage of having scored the away goal in the first leg, Madrid has not played well recently. It is coming off a demoralizing home loss to relegation-threatened Girona last weekend, and it struggled in a 2-1 win at Levante on Sunday, when it scored from two controversial penalty kicks.

Real Madrid had been in high spirits ahead of the first leg of the Copa del Rey, carrying a five-game winning streak in all competitions. It was gradually cutting into Barcelona’s lead in the league, but it will be nine points behind when the teams meet on Saturday. It also trails second-place Atletico Madrid by two points, and anything but victory in the league match will practically end the team’s title hopes.

Madrid players downplayed the team’s recent form and said they were fully prepared, even to face Messi at his best.

“We are ready for everything,” Madrid forward Vinicius Junior said. “Messi is an incredible player who does things that nobody else can do. But we are not afraid of him. Even though he is a great player, we have the best players in the world in our squad. We are excited to have these two `clasicos’ this week.”

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

Atletico Madrid roster for MLS All-Star Game includes Felix

Photo by TF-Images/TF-Images via Getty Images
Leave a comment

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

Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images
Leave a comment

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

Photo by Quality Sport Images/Getty Images
Leave a comment

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

VALERY HACHE/AFP/Getty Images
Leave a comment

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.