New York Red Bulls defender Kemar Lawrence (92) battles for the ball against Atlanta United forward Hector Villalba (15) in their MLS match March 5, 2017, in Atlanta. The Red Bulls won the game, 2-1. Photo: Todd Kirkland/Associated Press
Major League Soccer recently kicked off its 22nd season with new clubs based in Atlanta, Georgia, and Minneapolis, Minnesota.
The addition of expansion franchises Atlanta United FC and Minnesota United gives MLS a total of 22 teams, evenly divided with 11 in the Eastern Conference and 11 in the Western Conference.
Both Atlanta and Minnesota lost their MLS debut matches. In Atlanta, a sellout crowd of more than 55,000 packed Bobby Dodd Stadium, named after the late American college football coach at Georgia Tech.
The New York Red Bulls spoiled Atlanta’s opener, getting two second-half goals in a span of about six minutes to rally for a 2-1 victory. And in Portland, Oregon, the Portland Timbers scored a 5-1 home victory over Minnesota United.
Nigerian striker Fanendo Adi of the Portland Timbers was one of the top scorers in Major League Soccer in 2016. Photo: Ringo H.W. Chiu/Associated Press
Let’s give a Sonny Side of Sports salute to a couple of the African goalscorers for Portland.
The Kenyan Lawrence Olum opened the scoring in the 14th minute, and Nigerian striker Fanendo Adi scored two late goals in injury time.
The 26-year-old Adi was one of the top scorers in MLS last season, finishing fifth overall with 16 goals.
For his part, the 32-year-old Olum was traded to the Timbers last month by Sporting Kansas City, which opened the season here in Washington with a 0-0 draw against D.C. United.
It was the last home opener for D.C. United at RFK Stadium. The club will play at the new 20,000-seat Audi Field next season.
Meanwhile, in Orlando, Florida, Orlando City beat New York City FC, 1-0. A sellout crowd of more than 25,000 saw Cyle Larin score the first goal at the new Orlando City Stadium.
Riyad Mahrez applauds fans after Leicester City match. Photo: Darren Staples / Reuters
Riyad Mahrez enters his second Africa Cup of Nations tournament after a nice run of recognition and success.
The 25-year-old Algerian was named the Confederation of African Football’s Player of the Year for 2016 on January 5th in Abuja, Nigeria.
Last month, Mahrez was also selected as the BBC African Footballer of the Year, and he also won two prizes from the Professional Footballers’ Association: Player of the Year and Fans’ Player of the Year.
During the awards ceremony in Abuja, Nigeria, Mahrez gave credit to his teammates.
We heard Riyad Mahrez say how he is dedicating his African Footballer of the Year trophy to his family. When Riyad was 15, his father, Ahmed, died of a heart attack.
Reflecting on his father’s passing, Mahrez said in 2015: “My dad was always behind me, he wanted me to be a footballer … his death maybe was the kickstart. I don’t know if I started to be more serious but after the death of my dad things started to go for me. Maybe in my head I wanted it more.”
Last season, Mahrez helped Leicester City win a surprising English Premier League title, the first for the club in its 133-year history. He scored 17 goals and finished fifth in the EPL scoring charts.
Riyad Mahrez in action for Leicester City. Photo: Anthony Devlin / Reuters
This season, the Foxes of Leicester have dropped to 15th place in the 20-team EPL (as of January 9th), and Mahrez’s production has slumped, too. He has three goals in 20 matches.
Riyad Mahrez will now assume a leadership role for another group of foxes – the Desert Foxes of Algeria – as they aim for their second Nations Cup title, and first since 1990.
The Algerians advanced to the quarterfinals at the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations tournament, before losing, 3-1, to eventual champion Ivory Coast in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea.
Mahrez and the Desert Foxes of Algeria will kick off their 2017 Nations Cup campaign January 15th when they play Zimbabwe in Franceville, Gabon.
Three other venues – Oyem, Port Gentil and the capital, Libreville – will also stage matches during the 16-team African football showpiece. The final is scheduled for February 5th in Libreville.
Olympic boxing champion Claressa Shields at the medal ceremony in Rio de Janeiro. Photo: Peter Cziborra / Reuters
Three months after making Olympic boxing history in Brazil, Claressa Shields is getting ready to make her professional debut in Las Vegas, Nevada.
The 21-year-old Shields will fight former USA Boxing teammate Franchon Crews November 19th on the undercard of the Andre Ward – Sergey Kovalev world light heavyweight title main event at the new T-Mobile Arena in Vegas.
The Shields – Crews encounter will be a four-round bout at 168 pounds, three pounds heavier than Shields’s fighting weight in Rio de Janeiro in August. In Rio, Shields became the first American boxer, male or female, to win an Olympic title twice in a row.
During a recent workout in New York City, she said she hopes to raise the profile of women’s professional boxing.
Claressa Shields was dominant in the amateur ranks, winning 77 of her 78 fights. Her only loss was to England’s Savannah Marshall at the 2012 Women’s World Championships in China. Shields, though, felt like she won that bout, saying Marshall ran from her the whole fight.
Shields was born and raised in Flint, Michigan, and she was introduced to boxing by her father, Bo, who was in prison for seven years of his daughter’s childhood.
After his release, Bo talked with Claressa about Laila Ali, the daughter of the late heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali, and the last big-name star in women’s pro boxing.
Claressa Shields (L) lands a punch against Dutch opponent Nouchka Fontijn in the Olympic women’s middleweight final in Rio. Photo: Peter Cziborra / Reuters
Laila Ali competed from 1999 to 2007 and she retired undefeated with 24 consecutive wins.
While Laila earned attention simply by being Muhammad Ali’s daughter, she did not have the Olympic experience of Claressa Shields, who says she has always worked and trained hard since first putting on the gloves at age 11.
Shields is confident she can surpass Laila Ali’s accomplishments in the ring. In her words, “I think that maybe within a year or two I’ll be known as the best female boxer who ever lived.”
Joel Embiid dunks in a game against the defending NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers. Photo: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
“I want to play more,” says Joel Embiid, “but it’s on them.”
“Them,” in this case, is the coaching staff of the Philadelphia 76ers, which is taking a cautionary approach with their young and talented Cameroonian center, who missed the past two NBA seasons because of a broken right foot.
Joel Embiid goes up for a rebound. Photo: Chris Szagola / Associated Press
The 76ers had the NBA’s worst record (10-72) last season, but with the 22-year-old Embiid teaming up with two other young big men, Jahlil Okafor and Ben Simmons, who are both 20-years-old, there is a sense that Philadelphia’s fortunes are about to change for the better.
Simmons was the top pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, but like Embiid, he broke a bone in his right foot and is not expected to play until January. Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James describes Simmons as “a great, young talent … and Philly should be excited to have him.”
Joel Embiid is a key piece in the rebuilding plans of the Philadelphia 76ers. Photo: Chris Szagola / Associated Press
Philly fans are also excited to finally see Joel Embiid on the court.
The 76ers picked Embiid third overall in the 2014 NBA Draft, after he played one season at the University of Kansas.
The top pick in that draft was Andrew Wiggins, who was Embiid’s teammate at Kansas.
Wiggins won the 2015 NBA Rookie of the Year award and has averaged almost 19 points a game in two seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
If he can stay healthy, Joel Embiid should emerge as a strong candidate for the 2017 NBA Rookie of the Year award, and a franchise player for a struggling club that won its last championship in 1983 when Hall of Famers Moses Malone and Julius “Dr. J” Erving were the big stars.
Olympic tennis player Sloane Stevens of the USA in action at the Citi Open in Washington. Photo: Bill Workinger / Voice of America
While some of the world’s top golfers have withdrawn from next week’s Rio Games because of concerns about the Zika virus, members of the USA’s Olympic tennis team are looking forward to playing in Brazil.
Sloane Stephens and Steve Johnson will both be making their Olympic debuts in Rio de Janeiro. The 23-year-old Stephens is currently ranked 23rd in the women’s world tennis rankings, while the 26-year-old Johnson is at number-21 in the men’s rankings.
Both players competed at the recent Citi Open hard court tournament here in Washington. The tennis action in Rio will also be on a hard court surface, providing the players with a good warm-up for the U.S. Open in New York in late August, the year’s final Grand Slam event.
In an interview with my Voice of America colleague Bill Workinger, Sloane Stephens talked about the thrill of going to her first Olympics.
Sloane Stephens describes the USA’s Olympic women’s tennis team as “pretty strong and pretty deep.” The squad is led by world number-one and four-time Olympic champion Serena Williams, who won her seventh Wimbledon singles title earlier this month.
In addition, Serena teamed with her older sister, Venus, to win her sixth Wimbledon doubles crown. The Williams sisters have won gold medals in women’s doubles at the past two Olympics, while Serena is also the defending Olympic champion in women’s singles. However, there are injury concerns about Serena ahead of Rio 2016 – she pulled out of this week’s Rogers Cup tournament in Canada because of shoulder inflammation.
The USA’s Olympic men’s tennis team also has a formidable duo in doubles, the twin brothers and defending Olympic champions Bob and Mike Bryan. Brian Baker, Dennis Kudla, Steve Johnson and Jack Sock will play singles, while Sock and Johnson will also play doubles. Like Sloane Stephens, Johnson is very excited about competing at his first Olympics.
A total of 172 players are expected to challenge for medals at the Olympic Tennis Center in Rio de Janeiro. Action begins August 6th, with the women’s singles final August 13th and the men’s singles final August 14th.
Editor’s Note: On July 29th, Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan, the defending Olympic doubles champions, announced they were pulling out of the Rio Games, citing health concerns that have prompted other athletes to skip the Olympics as well.
Ernie Els begins play at the first tee during the final round of the Quicken Loans National at the Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland. (Photo by Bill Workinger / Voice of America)
“I love the game, you know,” says 46-year-old South African golf star Ernie Els, “and I want to still play at a high level.”
Els showed he can still play at a high level at the recent Quicken Loans National tournament at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland, just outside Washington, D.C.
Els was seeking his first PGA win since 2012. He was a strong contender for the title until the final round, when he shot a one-over-par 72, and finished five strokes behind the winner, American Billy Hurley III.
Hurley is a graduate of the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, a short drive
Ernie Els signs autographs after the third round of the Quicken Loans National at the Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland. (Photo by Bill Workinger / Voice of America)
from Bethesda, and he earned cheers from the crowd for his first ever PGA tournament victory.
Ernie Els, meanwhile, also earned cheers from the fans throughout the tournament.
He’s a member at Congressional, where he won the U.S. Open in 1997, and Ernie could be seen signing autographs and giving fans fist bumps as he walked the course.
In an interview with my VOA colleague Bill Workinger, Els said returning to Congressional is a special experience, and he vividly remembers winning his second U.S. Open championship on the course almost 20 years ago.
Ernie Els tees off on the seventh hole during the third round of the Quicken Loans National at the Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland. (Photo by Bill Workinger / Voice of America)
At the end of the interview, Ernie said he played “some good golf” at Congressional.
During his 27-year professional career, Els has played some great golf, winning four major championships – two U.S. Open titles (1994 and 1997) and two British Open trophies (in 2002 and 2012).
The man nicknamed “The Big Easy” says he feels fine physically and believes he still has something to offer the game.
He also loves the game, and passion for anything in life is an intangible quality that can result in some wonderful victories.
So don’t rule out Ernie Els winning another major before his playing days come to an end.
James Nyang Chiengjiek is training for the Rio Olympics in Brazil.
The International Olympic Committee recently announced its first Refugee Olympic Team, which will compete at the Rio Games in August.
The 10 refugee athletes – five from South Sudan, two from Syria, two from the Democratic Republic of Congo and one from Ethiopia – are being described as some of the most inspiring athletes going to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
James Nyang Chiengjiek is from South Sudan and he will compete in the men’s 800-meters race in Rio. He says he fled from war in his country.
“My Dad was killed in the war,” says Chiengjiek. “So I was living with my Mum. So the soldiers were looking for people who can join the army and even if you are 10-years-old they can recruit you to join them. So I saw that I am not ready to join them, so it is better that I look for somewhere else to go to, so I ran away.”
Chiengjiek ended up at Kakuma Refugee Camp in northwestern Kenya, where he says he discovered his love of running.
James Nyang Chiengjiek and the nine other refugee athletes will march at the opening ceremony for the Olympics on August 5th at the Maracana Stadium in Rio.
The Olympic flag will lead the Refugee Olympic Team and the Olympic anthem will be played in their honor.
James Nyang Chiengjiek rests during a training session.
In a symbolic sense, they will be marching for all refugees.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, says their participation in the Olympics is a tribute to the courage and perseverance of all refugees in overcoming adversity and building a better future for themselves and their families.
Who is Kei Kamara? That seems easy enough. He is a Major League Soccer (MLS) player from Sierra Leone. That’s not wrong, but there’s more. Though soccer is a big part of his life, there’s more to Kamara than just what you see on the field. He is a fierce competitor, a loving father, a world-class humanitarian, and an entertainer.
Last season, Kei Kamara tied for most goals in MLS with 22 in the regular season and was top goalscorer in the playoffs with four. He was named Columbus Crew SC’s most valuable player and to the MLS best 11 team.
You can never accuse him of not giving his all. Once he steps on that field, he is in attack mode. Columbus made it all the way to the MLS Cup final last season, but lost 2-1 to the Portland Timbers. Kamara scored the Crew’s only goal. “I enjoy the game, I want to play, I want to score goals, but right now my focus is just winning a cup,” said Kei, talking about his goals for this season. The Cup is the main goal for Kamara.
Kei Kamara in action in a MLS match. Photo: Bill Kostroun/AP
2015 was an eventful year for him off the field as well. Kei had his first child last year with wife Kristin Kamara. “They say when you have a girl you treat her like a princess and that’s what I’m doing. She gets the best side of me, the soft side of me,” Kamara said.
Kei believes his daughter is helping him get more rest this season, since he goes home more often to lay low with his family. In Africa, there is a strong emphasis on family, and Kamara considers the start of his own family as his greatest achievement thus far.
Kei Kamara battles for the ball during the 2015 MLS Cup final. Photo: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
The 2015 MLS Works Humanitarian of the Year award was given to Kei. You don’t win this award by doing the bare minimum. You win it by servicing the community and showing excellence on the field. This is exactly what Kamara did last season.
“It’s an honor to be recognized as a humanitarian. To me it’s not a job, I’m just being myself. Helping out here in America and helping out in Sierra Leone,” Kei said talking about the award’s meaning to him. He has been working with the Schools for Salone initiative since 2005. This program has been working to rebuild schools in war-torn areas of Sierra Leone. To date, 16 schools have been built and two libraries.
Let’s shift the subject back to the field. One could argue that Kamara has some of the best goal celebrations in MLS. He uses props, dances, and gets his teammates involved. With the amount of scoring he did last season there was plenty to celebrate.
“It’s just part of my personality. I love to dance, I love to have fun, and I love to connect with my teammates,” Kamara said when discussing his celebrations.
Kei Kamara has one of the most vibrant personalities in the league. He is a star and he is not afraid to shine. Although Columbus Crew SC is off to a slow start, with two losses and a draw, there is more than enough time to recover.
It’s far too early to tell if the Sierra Leonean veteran will eclipse his accomplishments from last season, but he is at a good pace with one goal after three games played. The focus is there for him and he is more than up to the challenge. Columbus will be in action again April 2nd, looking to get their first win against FC Dallas.
This blog post was written by VOA Intern Rick Narcisse. Listen to Rick’s interview with Kei Kamara:
The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has once again tipped off its 68-team Men’s Division I Basketball Tournament to determine the 2016 national champion.
Most of the competition is played in March and due to its unpredictable nature, it’s nicknamed “March Madness.”
The single-elimination tournament, staged at venues across the country, is one of the most popular sporting events in the United States. It will culminate April fourth when the national title game is played in Houston, Texas.
Playing in what many would argue is the toughest league in the country, the Kansas University “Jayhawks” managed to win the regular season and conference titles in the Big 12. With a record of 30 wins and four losses, they earned a No. 1 seed for the NCAA tournament.
Kansas will bid for a fourth national title with an experienced and proven team. The Jayhawks feature NBA draft candidates like Wayne Selden Jr., and Perry Ellis, and a few players who will need more time to develop, like Cheick Diallo.
Cheick Diallo goes up for a dunk against Loyola (Md.). Photo: Charlie Riedel/AP
From Mali, to New York, to Kansas, former five-star recruit Diallo is preparing for his first NCAA tournament. The 19-year-old freshman did not have the season KU fans were expecting, but with time and development, they look forward to more production from the African forward.
Diallo did not start playing basketball until 2010 due to his love for soccer. He viewed basketball as a girls sport. Now standing 6-feet-9 (2.06 m), Cheick simply outgrew the sport of soccer.
In high school, Diallo played at Our Savior New American School in Long Island, New York. He attracted attention from top colleges and universities for his rebounding, shot-blocking and versatility, and earned MVP honors at some prestigious high school all-star games. His first season at Kansas, though, was delayed due to an NCAA investigation of his education and background.
When he was finally declared eligible, he would go on to have his best offensive game against Loyola University (Md.). He scored 13 points, grabbed six rebounds, and blocked three shots.
Since the Loyola game, Cheick Diallo has reached double digit points only once. He did have a near double-double against Texas Christian University, scoring nine points and grabbing nine rebounds.
The sky certainly is the limit for Cheick Diallo. He has the physical tools and plays under Bill Self, who is considered one of college basketball’s best coaches. The Jayhawks will play their opening game in the championship tournament Thursday (March 17th) against Austin Peay State University.
Print your brackets, pick your teams, and let’s get ready for the madness that is March.
This blog post was written by VOA Intern Rick Narcisse.
Sonny Side of Sports is an energetic and action-packed look at both world and African sports, broadcast on radio, TV and the Internet. Since the show’s creation in 1999, host Sonny Young has delighted listeners and viewers with a lively presentation that combines humor, props, sound effects and correspondent reports from Africa and all over the globe.
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