Union Berlin Must Get 1st Ever Champions League Win against Madrid for Chance to Stay in Europe

 Union Berlin's Head coach Nenad Bjelica oversees a training session in Berlin on December 11, 2023, on the eve of their UEFA Champions League Group C match against Real Madrid CF. (AFP)
Union Berlin's Head coach Nenad Bjelica oversees a training session in Berlin on December 11, 2023, on the eve of their UEFA Champions League Group C match against Real Madrid CF. (AFP)
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Union Berlin Must Get 1st Ever Champions League Win against Madrid for Chance to Stay in Europe

 Union Berlin's Head coach Nenad Bjelica oversees a training session in Berlin on December 11, 2023, on the eve of their UEFA Champions League Group C match against Real Madrid CF. (AFP)
Union Berlin's Head coach Nenad Bjelica oversees a training session in Berlin on December 11, 2023, on the eve of their UEFA Champions League Group C match against Real Madrid CF. (AFP)

Union Berlin has never won a Champions League game. Now it needs to beat 14-time European champion Real Madrid on Tuesday to have any hope of extending its participation in European competition this season.

A win over Madrid — which is already assured of topping Group C — coupled with a loss for Braga at Napoli in the other group game would lift Union above the Portuguese side into third place in the group and secure and the consolation prize of a place in the Europa League.

There’s no consolation for finishing bottom of the group, where Union finds itself with just two points after failing to beat 10-man Braga in their previous game.

That 1-1 draw in new Union coach Nenad Bjelica’s debut stretched the German team’s winless streak to 16 games across all competitions, but Union finally ended that confidence-shattering run on Saturday in the Bundesliga with a 3-1 victory over Borussia Mönchengladbach.

Madrid, meanwhile, has won every game in the competition so far and is looking to complete a perfect group stage for the third time after 2011-12 and 2014-15.

“We shouldn’t praise Real Madrid too much. Everyone knows what they mean in world soccer,” Bjelica said.

The contrast between the clubs could hardly be greater. Madrid, the tradition-steeped Spanish behemoth, has won the European Cup a record 14 times, while Union was only promoted to the Bundesliga for the first time in 2019 and is playing for the first time in the Champions League after an improbable fourth-place finish in Germany last season.

Many Union fans expected the team’s success to continue this season, but the arrival of well-known names like Leonardo Bonucci, Robin Gosens and Kevin Volland in the offseason did not have the desired effect as Union’s defensive stability crumbled and the team lost its efficiency in attack.

Coach Urs Fischer, who led the team to promotion in 2019, paid the price and was replaced by Bjelica.

Volland opened the scoring against Gladbach with a penalty — arguably the only way the home team was going to score — before little-known players Benedict Hollerbach and Mikkel Kaufmann grabbed their first Bundesliga goals to end Union’s winless run. Neither Hollerbach nor Kaufmann was registered for the Champions League, however.

“It is how it is, we have to accept it. We have to concentrate on the players that are there,” Bjelica said.

Madrid had won its previous five games across all competitions until Real Betis fought back to draw 1-1 on Saturday.

Union will take some encouragement from knowing the visitors have little but pride to play for with top spot already assured — and from its own performance in the 1-0 loss to Madrid at the Santiago Bernabéu in September.

Jude Bellingham only scored Madrid’s winner in the 94th minute. Unfortunately for Union, he’ll likely be playing again.

The game will be played in Berlin's Olympiastadion, traditionally the home of Union's city rival Hertha Berlin. Union's Stadion An der Alten Försterei only holds 22,000 supporters and the club wanted to give as many as possible the chance to see its debut Champions League campaign. Tickets for Madrid's visit were sold out long in advance.



Verstappen Wins Season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix

Red Bull Racing's Dutch driver Max Verstappen crosses the finish line to win the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix at the Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir on March 2, 2024. (Photo by ALI HAIDER / POOL / AFP)
Red Bull Racing's Dutch driver Max Verstappen crosses the finish line to win the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix at the Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir on March 2, 2024. (Photo by ALI HAIDER / POOL / AFP)
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Verstappen Wins Season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix

Red Bull Racing's Dutch driver Max Verstappen crosses the finish line to win the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix at the Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir on March 2, 2024. (Photo by ALI HAIDER / POOL / AFP)
Red Bull Racing's Dutch driver Max Verstappen crosses the finish line to win the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix at the Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir on March 2, 2024. (Photo by ALI HAIDER / POOL / AFP)

Formula 1 champion Max Verstappen eased to victory in the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix on Saturday.
Verstappen started on pole position and was never seriously challenged on his way to a commanding one-two win for Red Bull ahead of his teammate Sergio Perez.
Carlos Sainz Jr. was third for Ferrari after fighting hard with teammate Charles Leclerc.
At the start of the longest-ever F1 season at 24 races, Verstappen already shows signs of repeating his near-perfect record from 2023, when the Dutch driver won 19 of 22 races on his way to a third straight title.
Saturday was the eighth win in a row for Verstappen going back to September last year. He set an F1 record of 10 consecutive wins last season.


Salah May Return Next Week, Klopp Says

Liverpool's forward Mohamed Salah. (AFP)
Liverpool's forward Mohamed Salah. (AFP)
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Salah May Return Next Week, Klopp Says

Liverpool's forward Mohamed Salah. (AFP)
Liverpool's forward Mohamed Salah. (AFP)

Liverpool winger Luis Diaz is fit while Darwin Nunez and Dominik Szoboszlai could also be back for their trip to Nottingham Forest on Saturday but forward Mohamed Salah will not return until at least next week, manager Juergen Klopp said.

Klopp has been wrestling with an injury crisis in recent weeks that has sidelined several key players and forced him to turn to the club's academy to plug the holes.

Diogo Jota, Trent Alexander-Arnold, goalkeeper Alisson, Curtis Jones, Salah, Nunez and Szoboszlai all missed last Sunday's League Cup final win over Chelsea along with a number of longer term absentees.

Diaz then sat out Wednesday's FA Cup win over Southampton, but is fine to face Forest - along with midfielder Alexis Mac Allister, who has been ill.

"(Diaz) is fine and Macca (Alexis Mac Allister) is fine," Klopp told reporters on Friday.

"Darwin and Dom trained yesterday with the team so we will see how they react," the Liverpool manager added, according to AFP.

Salah has not featured for the Premier League leaders since their visit to Brentford on Feb. 17 when he made a brief return after suffering an injury at the Africa Cup of Nations, but he could be in contention for next Sunday's game against title rivals Manchester City.

"I don't think Mo (Salah) is too far off. He will not feature tomorrow... I think next week, any point, it's possible."

Midfielder Wataru Endo and left back Andy Robertson also both missed the midweek win over Southampton but are set to train with the team on Friday. Mac Allister and Robertson were both briefly sick with the same illness, Klopp said.

Liverpool's youngsters have stepped up to the plate in the absence of the established starters with 18-year-olds Jayden Danns and Lewis Koumas scoring their first goals for the senior team in Wednesday's 3-0 FA Cup win over Championship side Southampton.

Klopp said it was his job to protect the youngsters from the spotlight.

"I know that they are not ready to it... it was wonderful, they deserve it, of course, the spotlight that night... but now it's about dealing with the challenges coming up," he said.

The manager said Liverpool were under pressure to win every match to stay ahead in the title race, a situation similar to 17th-placed Forest who are fighting to stay clear of the relegation zone.

"We are only one point above Man City and two above Arsenal but that means nothing," he said.

"Nottingham is a great place to play but a difficult one. The situation they are in is a similar one to us, they need to win games to reach their target as much as we can," he added.

Forest, with 24 points, are four points above the relegation zone.


Al-Faisal: 32 Million People in the Kingdom Support Hosting World Cup

 Prince Abdulaziz Al-Faisal said that millions inside the Kingdom support the bid to host the World Cup. (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Prince Abdulaziz Al-Faisal said that millions inside the Kingdom support the bid to host the World Cup. (Asharq Al-Awsat)
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Al-Faisal: 32 Million People in the Kingdom Support Hosting World Cup

 Prince Abdulaziz Al-Faisal said that millions inside the Kingdom support the bid to host the World Cup. (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Prince Abdulaziz Al-Faisal said that millions inside the Kingdom support the bid to host the World Cup. (Asharq Al-Awsat)

Saudi Minister of Sports Prince Abdulaziz Al-Faisal said that Saudi Arabia’s bid to host the 2034 World Cup represents an open invitation to the world to join the Kingdom in the journey of football development.

 

In a post on X, Al-Faisal said that the Saudi bid “is supported by the hopes and dreams of 32 million people in the Kingdom.”

 

The Saudi Football Association announced on Friday the launch of the formal bid campaign to host the 2034 World Cup, which bears the slogan “Growing. Together.”

 

The logo “is designed to capture the essence of Saudi Arabia’s young nation, vibrant society and rich heritage,” the federation said.

 

The logo embodies the process of great transformation and growth that Saudi Arabia is experiencing, making it one of the fastest and most advanced growth stories in the world of football, in addition to the comprehensive positive impact expected from hosting the largest sports tournament in the world.

 

Yasser Al-Meshal, President of the Saudi Football Federation, said that Saudi Arabia’s bid to host the 2034 World Cup is an exceptional journey to build a better future for the most popular sport in the world.

 

“Submitting the candidacy file to host the 2034 World Cup comes as an important step in the Kingdom’s sporting and football journey in particular. We have made great progress at all levels in the sport of football, and the Kingdom’s candidacy to host the tournament represents an open invitation to the world to join us on this journey,” he stated.

 

For his part, Ibrahim Al-Qassim, the Secretary-General of the Saudi Football Federation, said that the Kingdom will write a new history with the beginning of an ambitious journey to organize the most expensive tournament in the world of football.

 

The Kingdom has recently succeeded in hosting a large number of international sporting events, such as freestyle wrestling shows, Formula 1 championships, and the finals of the Spanish and Italian Super Cups, in addition to the Dakar Rally, and a number of other car and speed racing championships.


We Are Making Messi Work Too Hard, Martino Tells Miami

Lionel Messi needs better service to reduce his workload, Inter Miami head coach Gerardo Martino said on Friday. - AFP
Lionel Messi needs better service to reduce his workload, Inter Miami head coach Gerardo Martino said on Friday. - AFP
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We Are Making Messi Work Too Hard, Martino Tells Miami

Lionel Messi needs better service to reduce his workload, Inter Miami head coach Gerardo Martino said on Friday. - AFP
Lionel Messi needs better service to reduce his workload, Inter Miami head coach Gerardo Martino said on Friday. - AFP

Inter Miami are expecting too much work from their Argentine star Lionel Messi, coach Gerardo Martino said on Friday, ahead of the team's Florida derby clash with Orlando City.

Miami are unbeaten in their opening two games, with a home win over Real Salt Lake followed by a draw at the Los Angeles Galaxy on Sunday.

But with a busy run of fixtures for club and country coming up for Messi this month, Martino says the team need to find a way to reduce the eight-times Ballon d'Or winner's workload.

"I feel that in these last two matches, he has expended too much energy, and that is also my responsibility to make sure the team operates in a way that we can use him in the best way," Martino told reporters.

Messi has been playing in a relatively free role, behind former Barcelona team-mate Luis Suarez, often floating deep to find the ball and then seeking to drive his team up the field, AFP reported.

It was Messi's stoppage time goal that earned Miami a point at the Galaxy but Martino says the performance took a lot out of the 36-year-old.

"I’ve been discussing some things with him and what concerns me the most is the day-to-day and how he is recovering game by game. I feel that in these first two matches, we have relied on him too much, which has caused him significant fatigue in both games," he said.

The former Argentina and Mexico national team coach said the team have to re-find a way to provide Messi service closer to goal.

"In the Leagues Cup game against Orlando (last season), he often found the ball in the final quarter of the field and was able to finish the play, he scored from inside the area. That’s what we need to get back to, the team finding him to make plays and sometimes finding him for the finishes," he said.

Miami are hoping their latest Argentine signing, midfielder Federico Redondo will have his paperwork resolved in order to make his debut on Saturday.


Verstappen's Bahrain Pole Delivers Relief to Red Bull, Horner

Max Verstappen delivers some much-needed relief for his Red Bull team on Friday  - AFP
Max Verstappen delivers some much-needed relief for his Red Bull team on Friday - AFP
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Verstappen's Bahrain Pole Delivers Relief to Red Bull, Horner

Max Verstappen delivers some much-needed relief for his Red Bull team on Friday  - AFP
Max Verstappen delivers some much-needed relief for his Red Bull team on Friday - AFP

Max Verstappen delivered some much-needed relief for his Red Bull team on Friday when he resisted Ferrari's Charles Leclerc to claim pole position for Saturday's season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix.

The defending three-time world champion picked up where he left off last year by topping the times in a closely-contested qualifying session at the Bahrain International Circuit at Sakhir.

His success, which he admitted was "a little bit unexpected" arrived after another day of speculation and pressure for team boss Christian Horner, following the anonymous leaking of a cache of alleged private messages and photographs between him and a female member of the team.

This came 24 hours after an internal investigation led by an independent London lawyer had resulted in Horner being cleared of all claims of inappropriate behaviour.

Verstappen clocked a fastest lap of one minute and 29.179 seconds to beat Leclerc by 0.228 seconds in the final seconds of the session, securing his third Bahrain pole and the 33rd of his career.

"It was a lot of fun," said Verstappen.

"The track had a lot of grip, but with the wind over the last few days, it's been quite tricky to get a whole lap together and it was the same in qualifying.

"In Q1 and Q2 you go a bit faster, with the track ramping up, but to really get everything out of it in Q3 was a little bit difficult. So I'm very happy to be on pole."

He added: "To be honest, it was a little bit unexpected, but I think the car came to us and I felt happier with the whole car."

He forecast a close race on Saturday.

"We look good for the race and that's the most important, but we will see tomorrow. I'm confident we can have a strong race."

Ferrari's Leclerc missed pole by only two-tenths of a second as he finished second ahead of Mercedes' George Russell, Carlos Sainz of Ferrari and Sergio Perez in the second Red Bull.

"I'm a bit disappointed," admitted Leclerc.

"But we had a good qualifying and this offers us a good start to the year."

Exceptionally the Bahrain race and next weekend's Saudi Arabian Grand Prix are being staged on Saturdays to accommodate the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.


Rublev Defaulted in Dubai for Shouting in Line Judge’s Face during Semi

 Tennis - ATP 500 - Dubai Tennis Championships - Dubai Duty Free Tennis Center, Dubai, United Arab Emirates - March 1, 2024 Russia's Andrey Rublev talks to the line judge during his semi final match against Kazakhstan's Alexander Bublik. (Reuters)
Tennis - ATP 500 - Dubai Tennis Championships - Dubai Duty Free Tennis Center, Dubai, United Arab Emirates - March 1, 2024 Russia's Andrey Rublev talks to the line judge during his semi final match against Kazakhstan's Alexander Bublik. (Reuters)
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Rublev Defaulted in Dubai for Shouting in Line Judge’s Face during Semi

 Tennis - ATP 500 - Dubai Tennis Championships - Dubai Duty Free Tennis Center, Dubai, United Arab Emirates - March 1, 2024 Russia's Andrey Rublev talks to the line judge during his semi final match against Kazakhstan's Alexander Bublik. (Reuters)
Tennis - ATP 500 - Dubai Tennis Championships - Dubai Duty Free Tennis Center, Dubai, United Arab Emirates - March 1, 2024 Russia's Andrey Rublev talks to the line judge during his semi final match against Kazakhstan's Alexander Bublik. (Reuters)

Andrey Rublev was defaulted from his semifinal at the Dubai Championships for yelling in the face of a line judge, allowing Alexander Bublik to advance to the final on Friday.

The second-seeded Rublev erupted after Bublik won a point to take a 6-5 lead in the deciding set.

The Russian, who is ranked No. 5, immediately pointed to the baseline, walked to the line judge, leaned over and shouted in his face.

ATP supervisor Roland Herfel came to the court accompanied by a Russian speaker, who said Rublev swore in his native language.

Rublev responded: “I was talking to him in English.” He insisted he did not use the profanity.

But umpire Miriam Bley defaulted Rublev for unsportsmanlike conduct, after which the seventh-seeded Bublik said “I'm OK to continue” with the match.

Bublik won 6-7 (4), 7-6 (5), 6-5.

Later, defending champion Daniil Medvedev faced Ugo Humbert in the other semifinal.

Rublev won the hard-court tournament in 2022 but lost to Medvedev in last year's final.

The big-serving Bublik is looking for the fifth singles title of his career. The Kazakh player won the Open Sud de France in Montpellier last month.


Grealish Set for Spell on Sidelines with Groin Injury, Could Miss England Friendlies

Football - FA Cup - Fifth Round - Luton Town v Manchester City - Kenilworth Road, Luton, Britain - February 27, 2024 Manchester City's Jack Grealish at the end of the first half after being substituted. (Reuters)
Football - FA Cup - Fifth Round - Luton Town v Manchester City - Kenilworth Road, Luton, Britain - February 27, 2024 Manchester City's Jack Grealish at the end of the first half after being substituted. (Reuters)
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Grealish Set for Spell on Sidelines with Groin Injury, Could Miss England Friendlies

Football - FA Cup - Fifth Round - Luton Town v Manchester City - Kenilworth Road, Luton, Britain - February 27, 2024 Manchester City's Jack Grealish at the end of the first half after being substituted. (Reuters)
Football - FA Cup - Fifth Round - Luton Town v Manchester City - Kenilworth Road, Luton, Britain - February 27, 2024 Manchester City's Jack Grealish at the end of the first half after being substituted. (Reuters)

Manchester City midfielder Jack Grealish likely will be sidelined for multiple weeks because of a groin injury that also threatens to keep him out of England’s upcoming friendlies against Brazil and Belgium.

Grealish was substituted before halftime of City's 6-2 rout of Luton on Tuesday in the FA Cup with a recurrence of the injury that forced him to miss the previous three games.

"When he will come back I don't know," City manager Pep Guardiola said Friday.

The 28-year-old Grealish is set to miss some key games. City hosts Manchester United on Sunday, then Copenhagen in the Champions League on Wednesday before a heavyweight Premier League showdown against Liverpool at Anfield on March 10. That's followed by City's FA Cup quarterfinal against Newcastle.

Grealish won't be back before the international break, Guardiola said.

England hosts Brazil on March 23 and Belgium three days later, both at Wembley Stadium, to help England coach Gareth Southgate evaluate his squad ahead of this summer's European Championship.

"I need to speak with Gareth but I think he will not be fit," Guardiola said. "He has to recover well. He had a setback, he has to recover well to use him as much as possible."


Saudi Football Federation Reveals Official Identity for Saudi Arabia’s Candidacy File to Host FIFA 2034

Saudi Football Federation Reveals Official Identity for Saudi Arabia’s Candidacy File to Host FIFA 2034
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Saudi Football Federation Reveals Official Identity for Saudi Arabia’s Candidacy File to Host FIFA 2034

Saudi Football Federation Reveals Official Identity for Saudi Arabia’s Candidacy File to Host FIFA 2034

The Saudi Arabian Football Federation (SAFF) announced on Friday the official identity for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's bid to host the FIFA 2034 World Cup.

The bid bears the slogan "Growing Together" and includes a visual identity, a verbal slogan, and an official website, Saudi2034bid.com.

The Kingdom announced in October its intention to host the tournament and later sent the official nomination letter to the International Federation of Football Association (FIFA).

The nomination file logo represents the Kingdom's remarkable transformation and growth process in football. It is one of the fastest and most advanced growth stories in football.

The candidacy file has three main pillars: "Together to develop human capabilities,Together to develop football," and "Together to develop bridges of communication."

The visual identity of the nomination file reflects the essence of the Kingdom's rich cultural heritage and its young and vibrant society.

The file's logo consists of several colored stripes designed in the shape of "34,” referring to the year the Kingdom aims to host the 25th edition of this global tournament. The visual identity also mimics the shape of the geographical map of the Kingdom.

The video of the nomination file showcases the cultural heritage, civilizational legacy, and charming natural scenes of the Kingdom. It was shot in different regions of the Kingdom and features the participation of current and former football stars.

"The Kingdom has a history and legacy full of football achievements, and we must narrate our development journey to the whole world to see and interact with,” said SAFF President Yasser Al-Misehal. “The slogan ‘Growing Together’ perfectly reflects the approach we are adopting to achieve the dream of hosting the tournament in ten years.”


Medvedev Cruises Into Dubai Semi-finals

Daniil Medvedev is the defending champion in Dubai - AFP
Daniil Medvedev is the defending champion in Dubai - AFP
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Medvedev Cruises Into Dubai Semi-finals

Daniil Medvedev is the defending champion in Dubai - AFP
Daniil Medvedev is the defending champion in Dubai - AFP

Daniil Medvedev raced to victory over Alejandro Davidovich Fokina on Thursday to reach the Dubai semi-finals and continue his excellent start to the year.

The world number four wasted little time in wrapping up a 6-2, 6-3 win and will face Ugo Humbert in the last four.

"Alejandro can play very well," Medvedev said. "Sometimes during matches he can have a little down moment and then he goes up.

"I knew that no matter the score, I needed to go until the last point."

The Russian is playing in just his second tournament of the season after reaching the Australian Open final, where he suffered an agonising defeat by Jannik Sinner after leading by two sets.

Reigning champion Medvedev is bidding to defend an ATP title for the first time, having won 20 trophies at Tour-level events in his career but all at different tournaments.

Medvedev eased through the opening set with breaks in the sixth and eighth games, AFP reported.

He powered into a 4-0 lead in the second and sealed victory on his first match point, despite a brief rally from Davidovich Fokina, who has now lost all four of his meetings with Medvedev.

Medvedev had to come from a set down against Lorenzo Sonego in the previous round, but said he may have been struggling with an illness.

"I don't know what happened yesterday. A few people around me got a small virus, so maybe it is this," he said.

"Some days that happens but I am happy today happened. I am not at my best shape yet but we have some more matches."

Fifth-seeded Humbert of France saved three match points in the second-set tie-break on his way to a 3-6, 7-6 (10/8), 6-3 victory against third seed Hubert Hurkacz of Poland.

Humbert, who hit 24 winners, had also defeated Hurkacz en route to the title in Marseille earlier this month.

Alexander Bublik and Andrey Rublev will meet in the other semi-final after both were beneficiaries of retirements in their last-eight matches.

Kazakhstan's Bublik led 6-4, 4-1 when his opponent Jiri Lehecka quit their tie with injury.

Second seed Rublev was 6-4, 4-3 ahead when American Sebastian Korda left the court in the second quarter-final.

The win ended a run of three successive quarter-final exits for world number five Rublev.


Messi and Miami Face Florida MLS Derby Test

Inter Miami's Argentine forward Lionel Messi controls the ball during the club's MLS season-opening victory over Real Salt Lake - AFP
Inter Miami's Argentine forward Lionel Messi controls the ball during the club's MLS season-opening victory over Real Salt Lake - AFP
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Messi and Miami Face Florida MLS Derby Test

Inter Miami's Argentine forward Lionel Messi controls the ball during the club's MLS season-opening victory over Real Salt Lake - AFP
Inter Miami's Argentine forward Lionel Messi controls the ball during the club's MLS season-opening victory over Real Salt Lake - AFP

Lionel Messi and Inter Miami face an early season derby test when they host Florida rivals Orlando City in Major League Soccer on Saturday.

Messi's stoppage time equalizer in Sunday's 1-1 draw at the Los Angeles Galaxy ensured that Miami remain unbeaten after opening their campaign with a 2-0 win at home to Real Salt Lake.

Despite the results, Miami failed to impress with their veteran-laden squad struggling for large stretches of the game in LA.

Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez looks well short of match fitness while Spanish midfielder Sergio Busquets, who has been dealing with an ankle injury, has also been less than his best.

"We started well, with the result we wanted. On Sunday we wanted to win, but the tie was just. It was not our best game," Busquets said.

"At the start of a season, it's always difficult. We still have to get adjusted, await injured players to recuperate, hopefully we can play well this Saturday at home in the Clasico."

Busquets said that Suarez, the 37-year-old Uruguayan and former Barcelona and Liverpool striker, needs to be given some time to get up to speed after joining the club from Brazilian team Gremio, for whom he scored 17 goals last season, according to AFP.

"It's a new league. We all need a period of adaptation," the Spaniard said. "Not just him, but all of us as a team. We are changing, fixing things, some things left to improve."

Orlando represent the toughest opponent of the campaign so far for Gerardo 'Tata' Martino's men and not just because they will be fired up for a local derby.

Orlando finished second in the Eastern Conference last season and while they went out to eventual MLS Cup winners Columbus in the conference semi-finals, they are among the favorites for the title this season.

Colombian coach Oscar Pareja has added some experience and quality to his team in the off-season, an indication that he is going for a 'win now' approach to the campaign.

Luis Muriel, a 32-year-old Colombian winger, has joined the Lions from Serie A club Atalanta, ending his 14-year spell in European football.

Uruguayan midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro, a standout with Seattle Sounders, has also joined Orlando along with Slovenian defender David Brekalo.

Miami beat Orlando when the two teams met in the Leagues Cup in August, shortly after Messi joined the club along with Busquets and Spanish fullback Jordi Alba.

Pareja attacked the referees in that game for not handing a second yellow card to Messi, describing the game, amid peak 'Messi mania' as a "circus".

Another in-state derby on Saturday sees the improved Galaxy head to northern California to take on the San Jose Earthquakes.

The Galaxy, bolstered by the offseason addition of Ghanaian winger Joseph Paintsil and Brazilian wide-man Gabriel Pec, and with Spanish midfielder Riqui Puig and Serbian striker Dejan Joveljic, look a much more threatening opponent than in their disappointing 2023 campaign, where they failed to make the playoffs.

Defending champions Columbus Crew visit Minnesota United, who announced on Monday that they had appointed Eric Ramsay as their new coach.

The 32-year-old Welshman was part of Erik ten Hag's staff at Manchester United and will look to improve on Minnesota's 11th place finish in the West under Adrian Heath last term.