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Del Olaleye: Here is your weekend soccer primer with the World Cup looming

Cristiano Ronaldo and Real Madrid take center stage. Photo courtesy of Nike, Inc.

The World Cup comes as a nice little interlude between the end of the NBA Finals and Stanley Cup Playoffs and the start of the football season. The buildup to the World Cup is beginning in full as teams around the world name their rosters and start playing friendlies in preparation. We’re seeing the promos consistently on FS1 as well as Fox begins their run as the broadcast partner with the World Cup.

The one caveat is the absence of the United States. The lack of home country participation certainly lessens some of the excitement here. The short of it is, the USMNT had about a 90 percent chance to qualify for the World Cup going into the final day of qualifying and failed miserably. New U.S. star Christian Pulisic attributed the failure to a lack of focus. The United States will still be playing this summer and thankfully not in that proposed also-ran tournament that never got any traction. We’ll get to the U.S. squad later. Here are a couple of competitive matches this weekend to wake up that part of your brain that pretends to like soccer every four years.

Saturday, May 26th

Champions League Final: Real Madrid vs Liverpool

The two European giants face-off in the biggest prize in all of club football. Cristiano Ronaldo and Madrid are looking to do something historic. A win over Liverpool would mean the third Champions League title in a row for the Spanish power. Liverpool is a storied club in their own right but have not enjoyed the same type of recent success that their opponents on Saturday have. A victory over Madrid would give the 5-time European champions their first European title since 2005.

Championship Playoff Final: Fulham vs Aston Villa

The lesser known of the two finals being played on Saturday is the Sky Bet Championship Play-Off Final. Lesser known but valuable just the same. The victor in this winner take all will receive just over $228 million and promotion to the highest division in English football. Fulham and Aston Villa are both familiar with Premier League football. Aston Villa spent the previous 24 seasons in the top flight before being relegated before this season. Fulham was relegated in 2014 and are looking to win promotion after finishing the season recording points in 23 out of their final 24 games.

Side note: Fulham is owned by Shad Khan, the owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Monday, March 28th

Friendly: USA vs Bolivia

The game against Bolivia is one of several friendly matches the USMNT team will play as they try to transition from the disappointment of not making the World Cup. The U.S. have called in a youthful roster as they look to see who can be a part of the uncertain future of U.S. Soccer. A game against World Cup qualifier France follows a match against near-qualifier Ireland in the month of June as well. If you’re interested in getting to know the future of U.S. Soccer these upcoming matches are for you.



 

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Martin Truex Jr. won his 2nd race of the season last week. Photo via: Wiki Commons.

NASCAR returns to the Commonwealth of Virginia for the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway. This is the first of two races here at this track as they will race on Sunday afternoon. This will be different from the normal night race they usually have here as this will definitely affect the racing surface considering how much the sun could make the track slick. It should be a fun race come Sunday.

Last week, Martin Truex Jr. passed Denny Hamlin to capture his second win of the season after rain moved the race to Sunday. He became the first driver to win multiple races after a fierce battle with his teammate Denny Hamlin. The race was filled with tons of wrecks including a fifteen car pileup including Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch. It was one of the better races of the season as there was lots of beating and banging.

The race was not without controversy but not the kind you would expect. Early in the race Rick Ware Racing teammates Cody Ware and James Davison were involved in an altercation. The two were battling towards the back of the pack when Ware decided to drive through his teammate in turn four. The race got much worse for Cody Ware as he was involved in three more cautions all throughout the race. Many people around the sport were quite perturbed by his antics including broadcaster Mike Joy as he was audibly annoyed after Ware spun out later in the race. Many have questioned if the fifth-year driver should even be in the car and overall I can understand why some of those people think that. In his five years of driving, he has finished on the lead lap one time. I hope that he is able to figure it out and find success in the future, but this was not a good look.

The slump continues for two-time champion Kyle Busch

Throughout the race, Busch was running okay for the most part but towards the closing laps of the race he and Chris Buescher got together triggering a fifteen car pileup. Despite all this, he was able to rebound to a respectable tenth place finish. This has been more than likely the toughest stretch of his career since his championship in 2019. Many would say that the omission of Practice and Qualifying has really affected his performance. Whatever the issue is, this team really needs to find some speed, or he could be in danger of missing the playoffs. I look for this team to bounce back considering how talented he is.

Prediction

The driver that I have winning this week is Kyle Larson. This has been an incredible rebound season for Larson as he currently sits fourth in points. He is also second in laps led only to Denny Hamlin. Richmond has been a great track for him as it fits his driving style perfectly as he can run the outside line and find grip where others can't. This track is also rather sentimental to him considering he won his first pole award here during his rookie season in 2014. While he may not have the results he would want he has always been extremely fast here and even won back in 2017. I look for him to capture his second victory of 2021 come Sunday.

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