The most prestigious trophy in club soccer is up for grabs this afternoon as Chelsea face Bayern Munich in the UEFA Champions League final (2PM/Fox). The game will be played at Bayern's home field, Allianz Arena, in Munich. Imagine the NFL awarded Super Bowl hosting rights to Philadelphia and the Eagles played for the Lombardi Trophy at the Linc. That's what Bayern playing this game at home is like.
Been following the tournament since the group stages? Just hopping on the Champions League bandwagon today? No worries either way. We've got you covered with a roundup of links to get you primed for the game.
Need to get caught up on how these two teams arrived at the final? Here's a quick video detailing the road each side took to Allianz Arena.
Brooks Peck over at Yahoo's Dirty Tackle has a fun look and viewing companion for the match.
Pro Soccer Talk takes a look at the storylines and key matchups for each team.
Grant Wahl shares five thoughts on this battle for European glory.
Here's your tactical analysis from the minds over at Zonal Marking.
Don't have a rooting interest in this one? ESPN.com's Roger Bennett struggles with the question of which team to support.
There are plenty of players to love and hate on each team. Jeffrey Marcus from The New York Times Soccer Blog examines the heroes and villains for each team.
Want some background on a couple of key offensive players from each team? Here's a look at the riddle of Bayern's Franck Ribery.
Simon Kuper, writing over at Mio Stadium, has a fantastic piece on Arjen Robben.
Chelsea's Didier Drogba could be playing his last game in Chelsea blue. The Ivorian will be out of contract following this match. The Mirror looks at Drogba's hope to close out his career with a European title.
Super Frank Lampard is the true heartbeat for Chelsea. The BBC says that Lampard relishes the chance to face Bayern.
Who am I rooting for? I can't believe I am rooting for anything German, but I need Bayern to win so my team, Tottenham Hotspur, gets into the Champions League next year.
Finally, because it's the greatest music in all of sports, here is the Champions League anthem.
COME ON, BAYERN!
Andre Blake continues to rack up the accolades.
A couple of weeks after being named MLS Goalkeeper of the Year, the rising Philadelphia Union star was named to the MLS Best XI team as one of the league’s top players in 2016.
The rest of the team included:
• Forwards Sebastian Giovinco (Toronto FC), David Villa (New York City FC) and Bradley Wright-Phillips (New York Red Bulls)
• Midfielders Ignacio Piatti (Montreal Impact), Sacha Kljestan (Red Bulls), Mauro Diaz (FC Dallas) and Giovani dos Santos (LA Galaxy)
• Defenders Matt Hedges (FC Dallas), Axel Sjoberg (Colorado Rapids) and Jelle Van Damme (Galaxy)
Blake’s inclusion on the Best XI is not a surprise considering he already took home top goalkeeper honors. Even though he didn’t have the best numbers in the league, he made the spectacular look ordinary in his first full season as an MLS starter.
But it is unique for the Union, who haven’t had a player make the Best XI since Sebastien Le Toux was included for his 14-goal, 11-assist effort in Philly's 2010 expansion season.
Union winger Chris Pontius, who recently won the 2016 MLS Breakout Player of the Year award, made Best XI while with D.C. United in 2012. Former Union players to be honored on the prestigious list were Bakary Soumare with Chicago in 2008 and Justin Mapp with Chicago in 2006.
Another big honor like this will likely only increase the chatter that Blake could be sold to a big team in Europe soon. But a couple of weeks ago, the Union goalkeeper insisted his only focus for 2017 is on Philadelphia.
“From a personal standpoint, I’m hoping to have an even better season than 2016,” he said at the time. “To be able to go in and be consistent and do everything I can for the Union — and maybe be the goalkeeper to get them their first [MLS] Cup.”
There’s a number of reasons why the Flyers have a five-game winning streak, why they’re playing better hockey, and why they own the No. 1 wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.
Perhaps the biggest reason of all is goaltender Steve Mason, who has won four of those games, compiling a 1.71 goals against average and .945 save percentage during that span.
Mason was named the NHL’s first “Star of the Week” on Monday. St. Louis Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko and San Jose Sharks goalie Martin Jones were second and third stars.
“The team is on a roll right now and I’m a benefactor of that,” said Mason, who needs a win Tuesday against Florida to tie his career-high streak of five set Dec. 17-30 in 2013, during his first, full season as a Flyer.
“There’s strong play in front of me. The team is playing a little tighter in our defensive zone of late and making the goaltender reads that much more simple.
“Right now, there’s a comfort level with the guys in front of me … Winning five in a row is nice and we’d like to keep making ground in the standings.”
His four victories last week were tops in the NHL. Among them, he had a season-high 45 saves in a 3-2 shootout win against Boston.
Like many goalies, Mason prefers action. Games such as the 3-2 overtime win at Ottawa last week when the Senators only fired 21 shots, bother him.
“Those games, when you are not getting a lot of shots, the ones you do get will be a high-grade scoring chance,” he said. “And when you’re sitting around a few minutes not seeing the puck and all of a sudden see a chance like that …
“It’s more difficult to play [those games] than the games where there is a constant workload and you’re not thinking, but just playing. For myself personally, those are the games I enjoy the most. When I see a lot of pucks.”
The Flyers have seen dramatic improvement over the past month in their overall defensive play, from both their defensemen in down-low coverage in the slow and with their forwards on the backcheck.
Mason said the team has gone through “growing pains” with trying to integrate some younger bodies to the lineup this season – Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny, and Nick Cousins come to mind.
“You have to familiar with everybody,” he said. “Have a constant lineup where guys go out shift after shift and night after night, you know what to expect from one another. When you have that kind of confidence in guys, it makes playing easier.”
Mason’s 4-2 victory at Nashville on Sunday saw him go over .500 for the first time this season with a 9-8-3 record.
His GAA is coming down at 2.76 while his save percentage has risen to .904.
“I was aware of it obviously, just because of the way the year started,” he said. “It’s taken a lot of work to get it above the .900 level.
“We’re obviously going to continue to work at getting it even better. The way the team’s playing right now and the way everybody’s clicking, we’re going at a good pace right now.”