Kevin Walker closing in on Swedish “Idol,” league title double

Photo by Michael Campanella/Getty Images
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STOCKHOLM (AP) Winning Sweden’s biggest reality talent show has opened up plenty of opportunities in Kevin Walker’s burgeoning music career.

He has worked with some of the country’s top songwriters, written and performed his own singles which have been played millions of times on Spotify, and would be a good bet to represent Sweden in the Eurovision Song Contest sometime in the not-so-distant future.

He dreams of one day singing at Madison Square Garden in New York, or Wembley Stadium in London.

Walker isn’t forgetting about his day job, though.

When he’s not in a studio or making music videos, the 30-year-old Walker is a soccer player with Djurgarden, which is in contention to win the Swedish league title for the first time in 14 years.

A professional since 2006, he has played for Sweden’s national youth teams and won domestic cup competitions. But this would be his first league title, the crowning achievement of his soccer career.

And, heading into the final pressure-filled three weeks of the season, Walker is using his experience in “Idol” – the singing competition that thrust him into the national consciousness six years ago – as something of a lesson.

“I went out of my comfort zone, did something in front of millions of people that I wasn’t trained to do,” the central midfielder told The Associated Press in an interview on a chilly afternoon before Djurgarden’s practice session in central Stockholm.

“I got through that, and really learned about how I work under immense pressure and when I get nervous. It was developing for me as a person, and I’ll carry that with me for the rest of my life.”

Somewhat accidentally, Walker became one of the most famous soccer players in Sweden despite never having played for the national team at senior level.

In 2013, he was playing for Sundsvall in Sweden’s second division. A teammate was due to perform at an open mic night at the city’s casino but couldn’t find a babysitter, so he asked Walker if he wanted to stand in.

He had always liked a “sing-song” from when he was a small child and he used to go to Ireland – the birthplace of his father, Pat, a former soccer player and coach – to visit family. So Walker took the plunge.

Someone filmed him singing four songs alongside a piano player, and the video was shown to a producer of “Idol” when the show was in town looking for contestants. Walker ended up applying, passing the auditions, and winning the whole thing – earning a contract with Universal Music in the process.

“I was standing there singing with Robbie Williams in The Globe,” Walker said, referring to his duet with the world-famous pop singer in the arena in Stockholm that staged “Idol.” “It was pretty surreal.”

During “Idol,” he became front-page news. Commercial flights from Sundsvall to Stockholm were held back to allow Walker to get to the airport after soccer practice and fly down to the capital to perform live on stage. Swedish TV rearranged the time of a Sundsvall game to accommodate Walker’s appearance on the show.

His debut album – “Belong” – went platinum. His popularity was soaring. So it gave Walker a dilemma: Stick with soccer or become a full-time musician?

Still in his mid-20s, he chose soccer.

“They have a saying in Sweden, `While the iron is hot,’ – but I felt differently,” Walker said. “I thought, `This is great, now I have a platform which, if I play my cards right, I can develop and have a product after football.'”

So he has intermittently released singles off his own back, having ended his contract with Universal to allow him to write his own songs and dictate the pace of his music career.

“The Wind” was released in 2016 without a record label and has been his most popular song on Spotify, with more than 2.5 million plays. His latest single – “Maybe I” – was released in August and Walker said it had 120,000 streams in a month and a half. He plans to release an EP soon.

He has worked with producer Per Gessle, the male half of pop duo Roxette, and collaborated with Jorgen Elofsson, who has co-written songs for the likes of Kelly Clarkson and Britney Spears.

But Walker, now a father of two, doesn’t see himself as having a “rock-star lifestyle.” He simply wants to stay relevant in music until his days as a soccer player are over, when he can really go hard at his new career.

That’s something he still sees as being a few years off.

“When I start thinking that my next football contract should be pegged up for my music, then maybe I shouldn’t be signing that contract,” said Walker, who has one year left on his deal with Djurgarden.

“I’m in a good place now. Probably in my prime, football-wise, for the next two, three years. So I think football will dictate the next contract. But I’d have to think of the bigger picture as well.”

Walker started playing for Djurgarden in 2015, was soon made captain, and helped the team win the Swedish Cup last year. He has had to battle for his place in the team this season but is still a key member of a squad that is tied on points with Malmo with three matches remaining.

“For my personal record, this is 14 or 15 years in the works,” said Walker, whose Irish heritage comes out when he talks. “There’s a lot that has been leading up to this point.”

Walker was at AIK, another Stockholm-based soccer team, when it won the league in 2009 but he didn’t get a winner’s medal because he missed the whole season with a blood-poisoning illness.

It was during that year he bought a guitar and keyboard, and started writing songs at home to kill some time.

A decade later, Walker – a musician, rather improbably, in his own right – could finally become a soccer champion, too.

Man City vs Man United: How to watch live, stream link, team news

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Manchester City vs Manchester United: Erling Haaland is set for his Manchester derby debut when the two-time defending champions host the rapidly improving Red Devils at Etihad Stadium on Sunday (watch live, 9 am ET on Peacock Premium). 

STREAM LIVE MAN CITY vs MAN UNITED

Haaland has taken the Premier League by storm with an absurd 11 goals scored in his first seven games after (ostensibly) choosing Man City over Man United before leaving Borussia Dortmund this summer.

Six weeks ago, Manchester United had not a single point from their first two games, including a 4-0 thrashing at the hands of tiny Brentford, but Erik ten Hag has since switched tactical course en route to four straight wins, including a 3-1 victory over PL leaders Arsenal last time out, to set up this hugely intriguing showdown on Sunday.

Here’s everything you need to know ahead of Man City vs Man United

[ MORE: How to watch Premier League in USA ]


How to watch Manchester City vs Manchester United live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 9 am ET, Sunday
Online: Stream via Peacock Premium


Key storylines & star players

Despite a pair of disappointing draws (Newcastle and Aston Villa), it’s been an unbeaten start to the 2022-23 season for Man City, who still lead the PL in possession (66.4 percent per game) while also becoming an unstoppable offensive force from last season (14 goals in their first seven games) to this season (23). That’s not to say it’s been easy as Manchester City go through a tactical shift of their own to better appeal to the big Norwegian’s poaching abilities. Though they have been forced to grind out results a few times already this season, it’s highlighted a newfound spontaneity for a side that’s been as regimented as any in the world. Will that freedom be what ultimately lands Pep Guardiola his first Champions League trophy since 2011, and perhaps a third straight PL title (and a fifth in six years) to boot?

As for Manchester United, the Ten Hag era has been a wild roller-coaster ride already, short as it’s been. The back-to-back defeats were one thing, but the abject performances were the real cause for discontent. While picking up the four straight victories, the Dutchman has also settled on a midfield setup with Scott McTominay and Christian Eriksen operating in (effectively) a double pivot with Bruno Fernandes the most advanced of the three. It has brought defensive stability, of course, but more importantly the change has revealed a deadly counter-attacking side. Each of Jadon Sancho, Marcus Rashford and Fernandes have scored twice during the winning run, with new boy Antony also getting in on the fun on his debut. With space in behind (and the proper service from deep), Ten Hag might just have his first winning formula (albeit quite unlike him).


Manchester City team news, injuries, lineup options

OUT: Kalvin Phillips (shoulder), John Stones (hamstring), Benjamin Mendy (suspension – MORE) | QUESTIONABLE: Aymeric Laporte (knee)

Manchester United team news, injuries, lineup options

OUT: Harry Maguire (hamstring), Marcus Rashford (thigh), Brandon Williams (undisclosed), Mason Greenwood (suspension – MORE) | QUESTIONABLE, Donny van de Beek (knock), Martin Dubravka (knock)

Follow @AndyEdMLS

WATCH: Lionel Messi spins gorgeous free kick goal past Nice’s Schmeichel

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Lionel Messi got the better of Kasper Schmeichel with an outstanding free kick as Paris Saint-Germain outlasted Nice 2-1 on Saturday at the Parc des Princes.

The world’s greatest scorer was fouled to set up a free kick just inside the arc. Nice, of course, got into a wall and former Leicester City keeper Kasper Schmeichel arranged it to his liking.

As he does so many times, however, Messi spun a free kick just over the wall. The ball, which came so close to taking a slight turn off a leaping wall member (actually, did it?), tumbled down and right into the side netting to give PSG a 1-0 lead before the match was a half-hour old.

[ MORE: USMNT’s Ricardo Pepi scores relentless Groningen goal ]

Gaetan Laborde tied the match before halftime, and Nice’s revamped roster looked set to hold tight for a point (The club’s signed familiar Premier League names Schmeichel, Ross Barkley, Aaron Ramsey, and Mario Lemina).

Even that wouldn’t be enough, though, as Kylian Mbappe came off the bench to replace young Hugo Ekitike to finish a Nordi Mukiele assist for a 2-1 win.

PSG has eight wins and a draw this season, good for a two-point lead on second-place Marseille. Messi has five goals and a joint-league-best seven assists, tied with Neymar. Mbappe and Neymar are tied for the league goals lead with eight.

Lionel Messi free kick goal video

USMNT’s Ricardo Pepi defies xG with relentless goal (video)

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USMNT forward Ricardo Pepi’s goal while trying to will Groningen back into an eventual 4-1 loss to AZ Alkmaar on Saturday will not be one of the expected variety.

The 19-year-old striker, on loan from Augsburg, ran onto an audacious long pass from 20-year-old defender Neraysho Kasanwirjo but had plenty of work to do with AZ leading 2-0.

[ MORE: Josef Martinez scores audacious overhead goal ]

Pepi sees one defender fall in a race to the ball, then bodies up AZ’s Sam Beukema a little outside the six-yard box.

Hand-to-hand combat sees both players hit the turf, and Pepi probably could won a penalty.

But the World Cup hopeful spins while on the pitch and snaps a shot past charging AZ goalkeeper Hobie Verhulst to make it 2-1.

Video after the jump.

Ricardo Pepi
fotmob.com

Ricardo Pepi goal video: Fantastic start to Groningen loan

Pepi now has a goal or an assist in his first three Eredivisie outings, not unlike his fantastic start to life in a USMNT shirt.

His goal contributions have taken a dive since his first two USMNT matches — World Cup qualifiers against Honduras and Jamaica — and he only has one assist from the following 10 outings in a U.S. shirt.

Still, Pepi is clearly one of Gregg Berhalter’s favorite options for the upcoming World Cup, and his performances will be measured against Union Berlin’s Jordan Pefok, FC Dallas’ Jesus Ferreira, and others.

In a tournament where every moment matters, his work for this scrappy finish will be well-noted by the USMNT staff.

Josef Martinez scores vicious overhead kick in Atlanta United loss (video)

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If this is the last goal of Josef Martinez’s (likely) final season with Atlanta United, it will be very appropriate.

So for Martinez, even in a losing effort, to go airborne for an overhead kick that is a simply sensational feat of athleticism and power, well, it just feels right.

The 29-year-old Venezuelan forward joined the Five Stripes in 2017 in what seemed a massive capture for the club at the time and now seems downright gargantuan, but he’s fallen out with current manager Gonzalo Pineda and was even suspended for a match last month.

[ MORE: West Ham beats Wolves | Klopp reacts to latest setback ]

Martinez has nine goals and four assists in an injury-abbreviated 25-game season, giving him 111 goals in 156 appearances for ATL UTD. The former Torino and Young Boys striker is still being capped for Venezuela and would leave with an MLS Cup, Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, and Campeones Cup as well as a boatload of individual honors.

Atlanta lost 2-1 to New England on Saturday and returns home for their season finale next weekend versus New York City FC. The Five Stripes won’t make the playoffs unless at least two teams decide not to field teams, so if the NYCFC game doesn’t go well, let’s pretend this one was his final appearance for the club.