Associated Press

Remembering bold Ajax run that never strayed from its philosophy

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Sometimes the football gods show us something special, something that gives us hope even in the face of unimaginable agony. Not necessarily the hope we wanted, but the hope we needed. Hope for the future that somehow touches us even though we are not directly connected.

As we watched a bold young Ajax side make a stunning run through the Champions League, there was a swagger about them that allowed neutral fans to connect with a hidden passion. This team would win, they would do it their way, and they would do it against the best in the world. Every fan likes to watch the giants fall, if done with confidence and gall and poise.

A squad that features a 19-year-old captain, a 23-year-old goalkeeper, a 22-year-old attacking wizard, and a 21-year-old midfield anchor was lighting up the best teams in the world on the biggest stage at the most famous grounds on the planet, and through it all they would not be moved from their creed.

Ultimately, it cost them everything as Spurs galavanted to one of the most stunning comebacks Europe has ever seen in its most prestigious club competition. As Jose Mourinho – who himself completed the feat with Porto in 2004 and again with Inter in 2010 – said after the match, “Sometimes you even need to go against your philosophy to win a football match…but they stuck with their philosophy, they played the game in the second half like they were playing Vitesse in the Dutch league. They played like it was a group phase game, or one more game in their own league.”

(Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
(Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

What Mourinho doesn’t realize is, that was exactly what made Ajax so special. Their best was better than anyone else’s best this year, with maybe only Liverpool coming close. They beat Real Madrid on the road, Juventus on the road, and Tottenham on the road by sticking with their philosophy, and it added to their mystique. These were kids who wouldn’t be bullied by the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Luka Modric, Robert Lewandowski, or any of the other stars they matched up against. They would win their own swashbuckling way, or they’d die trying. They stared giants in the face, and slayed one after another, until like Boromir they took one too many arrows to the chest. But they would not be moved.

As the second half of Wednesday’s match continued and the visitors at Johan Cruyff Arena grew in confidence, Ajax could have bunkered in and looked to defend knowing one more Spurs goal would do them in. Instead, they played as they have all season, attacking at every opportunity. Despite Spurs pouring forward in relentless and desperate fashion, the hosts had five shots in the final 20 minutes – including three in the final 10 minutes – while defending the lead. Hakim Ziyech missed a 62nd minute effort that came agonizingly close to killing off the game – a goal which would have changed the narrative completely – and also had a 78th minute chance go just wide.

This is who they are, and manager Erik ten Hag would not stray from that mentality, even as Spurs scored one, then two, then three to complete the comeback. He had captured lightning in a bottle with some of the best young talent in Europe all together on the field, and so far no one had been able to out-football them. As Ziyech, Frenkie de Jong, Donny van de Beek, David Neres, and Matthijs de Ligt carved up some of the best players in the world with a stunning attacking flow, it was clear that they were tactically superior to their opponents, who were seemingly blindsided that their talent could be matched in such a way.

What this young team gave fans around the world is hope – hope that they too could be a part of something special someday, that lightning in a bottle is not just for Leicester City and its miracle run from seemingly nowhere. No, this type of hope is different than that. A true investment in young talent pays off every so often, and if the stars align just right, anyone can produce what Ajax has gifted the world. This was a calculated process, a system that created a beautiful product that wasn’t just a season of overachievement based on hard work and good management, but instead a base of truly world-class talent at a young age. A process that not only brought Ajax seconds from the Champions League final, but one that will pay off this summer in what surely will culminate in a massive financial windfall for the club.

That is what makes this end to the run so heartbreaking – the Ajax squad will surely be picked apart this summer, and while Edwin van der Sar will do his best to take a balanced approach to the coming transfer window, it will be difficult for the Dutch side to fend off the European vultures. But that is part of the team’s identity – as they progressed through bigger and bigger challenges, and each player’s transfer value grew, they knew the end was near. This was their one and only shot together. They had nothing to lose and everything to gain each time they stepped foot on the pitch, and it showed.

Ajax gave fans around the world hope that with the right mentality, with the right process, a club can stick to its guns and not only recall memories of its great history, but create new moments in time, ones that will shock the world. They may have fallen just short of true glory, but this run should be remembered because it was a story of success through process, one that proves anyone belongs in this great tournament if they earn it.

West Brom – Chelsea: How to watch, start time, team news, prediction, odds

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West Brom – Chelsea: The Blues are in desperate need of a strong rebound when they visit The Hawthorns on Saturday (Watch live at 12:30 pm ET, on NBC and online via NBCSports.com).

WEST BROM – CHELSEA STREAM LIVE

The Baggies, on the other hand, are simply hoping to collect their first point of the season after suffering a 3-0 defeat to Leicester City on the opening day of the 2020-21 season and following that up with a 5-2 beatdown at the hands of Everton last weekend.

As far as favorable matchups go, facing the 20th-place side a week after losing to defending champions Liverpool is quite timely for Chelsea.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]  

Here is everything you need to know ahead of West Brom – Chelsea this Saturday with team news, odds, stream link and more.


Team news: West Brom – Chelsea (INJURY REPORT)

West Brom – QUESTIONABLE: Ahmed Hegazi (thigh), Kamil Grosicki (back), Hal Robson-Kanu (leg) | OUT: Kieran Gibbs (suspension), Conor Gallagher (loan rules), Kenneth Zohore (calf)

Chelsea – QUESTIONABLE: Christian Pulisic (hamstring), Cesar Azpilicueta (thigh) | OUT: Hakim Ziyech (knee), Andrea Christensen (suspension)


What they’re saying: West Brom – Chelsea

West Brom manager Slaven Bilic, on struggling to sign players: “We don’t have a huge budget, that is why we are trying to be creative and lucky. That’s not easy but we are trying. … We have to do it to maintain a good chance.”

Chelsea manager Frank Lampard, on Thiago Silva: “It is exciting for us because he has had just over a week training with us. It was a perfect 60 minutes for him tonight. He will show the qualities he has. Of course, he will get fitter and better. He also gave us something for me on the night in the dressing room and on the pitch of a leader with authority in terms of his demands on others. He can’t speak the language but at the minute that’s not even a problem because his presence and the way he commands people around him is already showing that to me in training and in our game tonight.”


Odds and ends (full odds provided by our partner, PointsBet)

West Brom (+750) represent one of the biggest underdogs — or, opportunities, depending on how you look at it — of the still-young PL season. There’s not much to be won by betting on Chelsea (-280). Even the draw (+400) is pretty far out there.

PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links


Prediction: West Brom – Chelsea

Barring some unforeseen circumstances — for example, a 12th-minute red card — it’s virtually impossible to see West Brom getting anything from this game. They’ve been incredibly poor defensively through two games, and they’re yet to face a side with anything close to the firepower which the Blues possess. West Brom 1-3 Chelsea.


How to watch West Brom – Chelsea stream and start time

Kickoff: 12:30 pm ET Saturday
Online: Stream via NBCSports.com

MLS upcoming schedule, MLS Cup odds

MLS betting odds
Photo by Ira L. Black - Corbis/Getty Images
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MLS betting odds and upcoming schedule: Major League Soccer still has six weeks left of fixtures left in the regular season after its long-awaited return from the COVID-19 shutdown.

[ TRANSFER NEWS: Dest to Barcelona? ]

The regular season is currently scheduled to end on Nov. 8, with the playoffs beginning that same week and culminating with MLS Cup on Dec. 12.

Click here for MLS betting odds and different odds on soccer and beyond from our new official sports betting partner PointsBet, as there will be plenty of selections to make each week with game lines and more available via NBC Sports Bet.

[ MORE: Five-subs rule again voted down by Premier League clubs ]

This page will be updated following the completion of every round of games in 2020, to feature the upcoming set of fixtures and MLS betting odds.


This weekend’s MLS schedule and odds (via PointsBet)

Sunday, Sept. 26

Nashville (+105) v Houston (+235) / Draw (+225) — 3:30 pm ET
NYCFC (-228) v Cincinnati (+550) / Draw (+300) — 7 pm ET

Sunday, Sept. 27

DC United (+225) v New England (+105) / Draw (+230) — 7 pm ET
New York Red Bulls (-167) v Montreal (+375) / Draw (+280) — 7 pm ET
Philadelphia (+120) v Inter Miami (+195) / Draw (+225) — 7:30 pm ET
Chicago (-139) v Atlanta (+300) / Draw (+275) — 7:30 pm ET
Toronto (+120) v Columbus (+195) / Draw (+225) — 7:30 pm ET
Minnesota (-125) v Real Salt Lake (+265) / Draw (+270) — 8 pm ET
FC Dallas (+125) v Orlando City (+170) / Draw (+245) — 8:30 pm ET
Colorado (+145) v Sporting KC (+150) / Draw (+240) — 9 pm ET
Vancouver (+375) v Portland (-189) / Draw (+325) — 10 pm ET
LAFC (-500) v San Jose (+850) / Draw (+525) — 10:30 pm ET
LA Galaxy (+150) v Seattle (+150) / Draw (+235) — 10:30 pm ET


MLS Cup winner odds

Los Angeles FC (+450)
Toronto FC (+450)
Seattle Sounders (+800)
Philadelphia Union (+1100)
Atlanta United (+1400)
Columbus Crew (+1400)
LA Galaxy (+1800)
New York City FC (+1800)
Sporting KC (+1800)
Portland Timbers (+2000)
Minnesota United (+2500)
New England Revolution (+2500)
Orlando City SC (+2500)
New York Red Bulls (+3000)
Montreal Impact (+4000)
FC Dallas (+5000)
Real Salt Lake (+5000)
San Jose Earthquakes (+6000)
Chicago Fire (+10000)
Colorado Rapids (+10000)
D.C. United (+10000)
Houston Dynamo (+10000)
Inter Miami (+12500)
FC Cincinnati (+25000)
Vancouver Whitecaps (+25000)
Nashville SC (+30000)

West Ham – Wolves: How to watch, start time, team news, prediction, odds

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West Ham – Wolves: David Moyes will be watching from home after testing positive for COVID-19, though he reportedly remains asymptomatic, when his West Ham United side welcomes Wolverhampton Wanderers to the London Stadium on Sunday (Watch live at 2 pm ET, online via Peacock).

WEST HAM – WOLVES STREAM LIVE

In recent history, West Ham have had an absolutely torrid time against Nuno Espirito Santo’s side since they won promotion from the EFL Championship. The Hammers have found the back of the net zero times, and collected zero points, in four meetings since Wolves returned to the Premier League.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]  

Here is everything you need to know ahead of West Ham – Wolves this Sunday with team news, odds, stream link and more.


Team news: West Ham – Wolves (INJURY REPORT)

West Ham – QUESTIONABLE: Issa Diop (COVID-19), Josh Cullen (COVID-19)

Wolves – QUESTIONABLE: Fernando Marcal (undisclosed) | OUT: Jonny (knee)


What they’re saying: West Ham – Wolves

Stand-in manager Alan Irvine, on Moyes’ absence: “I’ve spoken to him several times this morning. He is not feeling any symptoms and hasn’t felt them any way through, so obviously it’s a bit frustrating for him, but he’s fine and he’s getting on with other things. Of course, David will be the manager and everything we do will be run through him. He will make the decisions on everything.”

Nuno Espirito Santo, on facing a team with COVID-19 cases: “We are not concerned, I wish David and the players the fastest recovery. What happened to West Ham can happen to any one of us. It’s tough when you are preparing for a game and you cannot be on the touchline. Now we’re not concerned, we’re confident and we trust the authorities to keep things safe for us.”


Odds and ends (full odds provided by our partner, PointsBet)

Everything points to a win for Wolves (+105) with West Ham (+270) made slight home underdogs, which should spell out everything you need to know about the Hammers. Best-case scenario for Moyes and Irvine would be to snatch a draw (+240).

PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links


Prediction: West Ham – Wolves

West Ham might get out of the starting block at some point this season, but Wolves are hardly the ideal opponent you want to see when you have zero points and very few positives to start the season. Misery begets misery, and West Ham are in for a bit more. West Ham 0-2 Wolves.


How to watch West Ham – Wolves stream and start time

Kickoff: 2 pm ET Sunday
Online: Stream via Peacock

Man City – Leicester: How to watch, start time, team news, prediction, odds

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Man City – Leicester: Pep Guardiola will have just 13 first-team players at his disposal when Manchester City hosts Leicester City at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday (Watch live at 11:30 am ET, on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

MAN CITY – LEICESTER STREAM LIVE

With a combination of injuries and confirmed cases of COVID-19 currently ravaging an already-thin squad, City have no choice but to tread water and simply stay afloat in the coming days and weeks as they attempt to reclaim the Premier League title from Liverpool. It’s a difficult position to be in, no doubt about it, and Leicester should present a tricky challenge for Guardiola and Co., without the likes of Bernardo Silva, Aymeric Laporte, Gabriel Jesus, Sergio Aguero and Ilkay Gundogan, among others.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]  

Man City and Leicester spent much of the 2019-20 season second and third — and third and second — in the PL table, each looking up at Liverpool miles and miles ahead, before winding up second and fifth, respectively. City won each of the two meetings last season — 3-1 at home in December, and 1-0 away in February.

Here is everything you need to know ahead of Man City – Leicester this Sunday with team news, odds, stream link and more.


Team news: Man City – Leicester (INJURY REPORT)

Man City – QUESTIONABLE: Ilkay Gundogan (COVID-19), Aymeric Laporte (COVID-19) | OUT: Bernardo Silva (thigh), Gabriel Jesus (undisclosed), Sergio Aguero (knee), Joao Cancelo (foot), Oleksandr Zinchenko (undisclosed)

Leicester – QUESTIONABLE: Demarai Gray (illness) | OUT: Cengiz Under (transfer clearance), Ricardo Pereira (knee), Jonny Evans (thigh), Filip Benkovic (groin), Wilfred Ndidi (groin)


What they’re saying: Man City – Leicester

Pep Guardiola, on Man City’s injury issues: “With the situation we have right now, we need players from the academy. We have just 13 players fit. With the problems we have up front, he will stay with us. We will use him. We cannot forget, like with Phil, he is only 17 years-old. He has a lot of things to improve. We cannot anticipate the progress of every young player. We’ve had Phil, Eric, Liam and we have Cole Palmer, who will be an exceptional player. We congratulate the academy. I am the last step, but before there are a lot of people in the club working for this and it is a big success for them.”

Brendan Rodgers, on how to improve Leicester: “Firstly, we have a number of young players who can improve. Last season, we showed lots of real potential in the squad. I always felt that two things would help us to improve and continue to develop this process. One of those was time. That means time to work with the players who are here, making them better year on year, particularly the young players. They will have gained from the experiences of last season — good and bad. Time will improve James Maddison. Time will improve Harvey Barnes. Consistency will make us better as well. That will come with the introduction of quality.”


Odds and ends (full odds provided by our partner, PointsBet)

Perhaps a bit surprisingly given their ongoing injury issues, City (-350) are heavy betting favorites with Leicester checking in as massive underdogs at +850. The draw (+480) might just make for the perfect speculative wager this weekend.

PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links


Prediction: Man City – Leicester

City struggled to put away Bournemouth in the League Cup on Thursday, and will have largely the same group of players available on Sunday. Facing Leicester will be a significant increase in quality of opposition. Leicester might just get something out of this one and do Liverpool an early-season favor in the process. Man City 1-1 Leicester.


How to watch Man City – Leicester stream and start time

Kickoff: 11:30 am ET Sunday
Online: Stream via NBCSports.com