Major League Baseball

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Josef Martinez picks up Golden Boot from surprise presenter

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MARIETTA, Ga. (AP) Josef Martinez knew he was receiving one of Major League Soccer’s top awards.

The Atlanta United star was caught off guard by the presenter.

After the greatest goal-scoring season in MLS history, the Venezuelan striker got a surprise when countryman and Atlanta Braves outfielder Ender Inciarte showed up Thursday at United’s training facility to hand out the Golden Boot.

[ REPORT: Sterling agrees new deal ]

Inciarte said Martinez’s 31-goal season , which shattered the league’s previous scoring record, provided a much-needed bit of good news to their troubled homeland.

“I love the things he’s been able to accomplish not only for Atlanta, but also for Venezuela,” said Inciarte, who donned United’s red-and-black, five-striped jersey for the ceremony and also got a tour of the team’s training facility. “A lot of people in Venezuela are going through a lot. Having somebody doing great things, the way he’s been doing, it’s a sign of hope for them.”

Martinez broke the previous MLS record of 27 goals, which was shared by Roy Lassiter, Chris Wondolowski and Bradley Wright-Phillips, leading United to a second-place finish in the Eastern Conference and its second straight playoff appearance.

Atlanta will begin a two-legged conference semifinal series against New York City FC on Sunday at Yankee Stadium.

The 25-year-old Martinez was clearly pleased with his first Golden Boot, but he’s more focused on bringing another trophy to Atlanta.

The MLS Cup.

“There’s still a lot to accomplish this season,” Martinez said through an interpreter. “That’s why we’re here: to win things. If it’s as a team, that’s even better, because that’s what’s important.”

[ MORE: PL Club Power Rankings ]

Martinez formerly played with Torino in Italy’s Serie A, but he struggled as a winger and scored just seven goals in 58 league games.

Acquired by Atlanta for its inaugural 2017 season, he moved to a more natural position in front of the net and responded with 19 goals in 20 games. If not for missing more than two months with a quadriceps injury sustained in an international match with Venezuela, he might’ve broken the scoring record a year ago.

This season, Martinez improved his skills away from the ball and showed an ability to score with either foot and especially his head, even though he’s generously listed at just 5-foot-7.

He said his most memorable goal was No. 28, the record breaker against Orlando. Julian Gressel delivered a pass to Martinez, who quickly flicked the ball ahead and gave a shoulder-dipping deke that sent a defender flying past him and put keeper Joe Bendik on his backside. Martinez turned the ball back inside off his left foot and calmly flicked it over Bendik with his right to clinch a 2-1 victory.

Martinez, who is also a finalist for the league’s MVP award, endured a four-game scoring drought late in the season, finally breaking through with a penalty kick in the finale at Toronto. It was the only highlight in a 4-1 loss that cost United its first major trophy. New York Red Bulls won their final game and edged out Atlanta by two points for the Supporters’ Shield that goes to the team with top regular-season record.

Coach Tata Martino, who was instrumental in putting Martinez in an attacking system where he could flourish, has announced he will leave United at the end of the playoffs , reportedly to take over as Mexico’s national team coach.

“He’s the one who opened the door for me to come to Atlanta,” Martinez said. “We have a great relationship on and off the field. Usually, when I talk about our relationship, I’m not talking about soccer. I’m talking about other things in life. We just have to take advantage of him while he’s here.”

Martino’s impending departure has led to speculation that Martinez may be looking to get out as well, perhaps for another shot in Europe.

“He’s definitely someone who has left his footprint on Atlanta,” Martinez said. “But now we have two really important games that we’re focusing on. We’ll see what happens in the future.”

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Tampa Bay Rowdies, stadium contract sold to MLB’s Tampa Bay Rays

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Major League Baseball’s Tampa Bay Rays have added their town’s soccer club, purchasing the USL Championship’s Tampa Bay Rowdies from owner Bill Edwards for an undisclosed amount.

[ MORE: Champions League wrap ]

The Rays will also get the Rowdies’ stadium contract for Al Lang Stadium, and the story has stoked interest in Major League Soccer potentially coming to Tampa and the Rays building a new stadium.

The Rowdies began as an NASL club in 1975, playing in several leagues before folding in 1993. The club was reborn in 2008, and purchased by Edwards in 2013. This past season was its second in the USL. From RowdiesSoccer.com:

“We are committed to continuing the upward trajectory that the Rowdies have been experiencing under Bill’s visionary leadership,” said Tampa Bay Rays President Matt Silverman. “The Tampa Bay Rowdies are a legendary soccer team, and we look forward to extending their legacy and prominence. We are eager to get to know Ralph’s Mob and all the Rowdies fans, to growing soccer in St. Petersburg and throughout Tampa Bay, and of course, bringing home a championship, which could be imminent!”

First pitches: Schweinsteiger, Villa take mounds at Wrigley, Yankee Stadium (video)

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A pair of World Cup winners took the mound at two of baseball’s biggest venues to throw out first pitches on Tuesday and Wednesday.

First up was new Chicago Fire star — he’s still new, right? — Bastian Schweinsteiger, who went with very little leg kick and the “just get it over the plate” idea.

Schweinsteiger’s pitch was quite high.

[ MORE: Manchester United – Celta Vigo preview ]

A day later, it was David Villa’s turn. Fresh off inking a contract extension with NYCFC, Villa went with more of an actual pitching motion.

Have to say, he gets it there with an awkward arm motion but makes the glove pop.

Advantage: Villa (Although he should be comfortable on that field, shouldn’t he?).

Ex-MLB owner McCourt buys former Champions League winners Marseille

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Former Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt has completed the purchase French giants Olympique Marseille for $44 million, assuring fans he wants to restore OM to past glory.

McCourt says he’ll invest up to $220 million in the club in the next four years, according to the BBC.

[ MORE: Liverpool-Man Utd recap | JPW reacts ]

Marseille won five French titles in the late 20th century and added the 1992-93 UEFA Champions League crown. However they’ve claimed just one Ligue 1 title since 1995, causing consternation for its fan base as Paris Saint-Germain and Monaco have risen in prominence.

Off to a slow start this season, Marseille has good talent including Lassana Diarra, William Vainqueur, and Bafetimbi Gomis.

From OM.net:

“Today opens a new chapter in the great history of Olympique de Marseille. A chapter of which I am proud and honored to be a part.

“It is now my duty to raise ourselves to the highest ranks of European football. It is an obligation and we will. We have a clear vision of success and an ambitious plan to achieve it. We have the resources and courage to invest and take decisions and necessary measures. The strategy that we set ourselves require passion, commitment and tenacity. It will take strong leadership but also, at times, patience.

“I have complete confidence in Jacques-Henri Eyraud, the new CEO of OM, in its ability to implement our plan and to ensure the success of the club. This is a great time for all supporters of OM. I invite you to join us. Together we will put our club on the road to glory.”

Big words, we’ll see if he backs them up.

Report: New York City FC to call Yankee Stadium home for three (!!!) years

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One-off soccer and hockey games are one thing, but the New York Times is reporting that Yankee Stadium will serve as host for the first three seasons of New York City FC soccer matches.

There are so many complications to consider here, not the least of which is the near-concurrent schedules of Major League Soccer and Major League Baseball. And certainly there’s little question the Yankees will hold sway over the building.

The report details many of the problems of building a park in New York, and it isn’t the most shining of details for how NYCFC is operating early in its existence:

The question of where the team would play its home games has hovered since it was announced last May that the club would join the league, delaying plans for everything from marketing and advertising to season ticket sales. The team has frequently promised a decision — it told the league in January that it would have a plan in 30 days — but has consistently missed even those self-imposed deadlines, to the frustration of M.L.S. officials and prospective fans.

The report, from NYT’s Andrew Das, David Waldstein and Ken Belson, points out that exhibitions at Yankee Stadium have involved temporary grass being put over the dirt but that’s not a full-time solution.

Here are the only quotes in the report:

“Technology has gotten to the point where I think we can turn it around pretty quickly,” said Yankees’ executive director of nonbaseball events Mark Holtzman.

“Baseball is clearly the No. 1 priority. We wouldn’t do anything to put anyone at any risk; there’s a major investment here in the players. At the end of the day, we look at these opportunities very carefully, and we wouldn’t get into these opportunities unless we were confident in the end result.”

Well, having an executive director nonbaseball events is a good step.

If they’ve got a good solution to sharing the pitch without destroying it, I’m sure myriad minor league clubs would love to hear it (let alone the grounds crew headaches that would come with flipping the field over and over and over again).