Soccer

Leicester City to play for EPL crown against Manchester United

People in Leicester line up to view the coffin of King Richard III in March 2015. Some suggest the good fortune of the Leicester City soccer team began with the discovery of the king’s remains under a parking lot in the city in 2012.
People in Leicester line up to view the coffin of King Richard III in March 2015. Some suggest the good fortune of the Leicester City soccer team began with the discovery of the king’s remains under a parking lot in the city in 2012. AP

The day has finally arrived.

The day Leicester City fans thought would never come, the day their beloved Foxes could clinch their first English Premier League title in the club’s 132-year history. If the Foxes beat Manchester United at Old Trafford on Sunday morning (9 a.m., NBCSN), they would complete, arguably, the most improbable championship run in the history of any sport.

This is a team that faced 5,000-to-1 odds at the start of the season. There has never been that big of an underdog in American sports. Consider that the 1969 New York Mets faced 100-to-1 odds and the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals 999-to-1 odds. But 5,000-to-1? Unheard of.

This is a team that was on the brink of relegation at this time last year.

This is a team whose total payroll ($70 million) ranks 17th of the 20 teams in the league and doesn’t begin to compare with that of Chelsea ($315 million), Manchester United ($297 million), Manchester City ($283 million) and Arsenal ($280 million).

And this is a team whose leading scorer (the third-leading scorer in the league), is tough guy Jamie Vardy, a player who six years ago was working in a medical splint factory to supplement the semipro wages he was making with seventh-division Stockbridge Park Steels FC.

Vardy is serving a two-game suspension and will not play against Manchester United, but the Foxes proved with a 4-0 drubbing of Swansea City that it can score without Vardy. His replacement, Argentine Leonardo Ulloa, scored two goals.

With a win Sunday, Leicester moves 10 points ahead of second-place Tottenham, which has three games remaining and would be unable to catch up. That is nothing short of remarkable. The EPL champion has never finished worse than third the previous season. The Foxes finished 14th last year.

It is hard to explain the team’s turnaround. Surely, the hiring last summer of lovable Italian coach Claudio Ranieri had a lot to do with it, although, it was not such a popular decision at the time. He had just been fired as Greece’s national coach after losing a match to the tiny Faeroe Islands.

Some suggest there is a greater magic at work here, and that the good fortune began almost immediately after England’s King Richard III was re-buried at Leicester’s Anglican Cathedral on March 25, 2015.

Researchers and archaeologists from the University of Leicester discovered his remains under a parking lot in August 2012. The Foxes weren’t even in the Premier League then. In September 2013, it was confirmed the bones belonged to the king. Leicester was promoted to the Premier League in 2013-14.

Then, after the re-burial ceremony last March, the Foxes won seven of their final nine games to avoid relegation. And what happened this season is the very definition of a Cinderella season.

But Ranieri isn’t ready to celebrate just yet.

“We are fighting to try to make this dream a reality. But it's not a reality yet,” he told reporters Friday. “On Sunday there is a very tough match. I have a lot of respect for [coach] Louis van Gaal, the players and fans of Manchester United.”

Needless to say, the town of Leicester is going crazy with its “Backing the Blues” campaign. The buildings are decorated in blue, fans are decked head to toe in blue, and someone even came up with a blue “Vardy Cardy” — a blue V-neck cardigan in honor of Vardy.

A win against Manchester United. That’s all the Foxes need to make their fairy tale season complete. Other than ManU and Tottenham fans, it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the world who isn’t rooting for Leicester this weekend.

▪ Adriano makes Miami debut: Closer to home, one-time Brazilian and Inter Milan striker Adriano will try to revive his career on Sunday with Miami United, which plays in the fourth division NPSL. Adriano, 34, scored 27 goals in 48 games for the Brazilian national team between 2000 and ’10. He scored 47 goals in 115 games for Inter.

But personal problems derailed his career, and he hasn’t played since a four-game stint with Brazilian club Paranaense in 2014.

Miami United plays crosstown rival Miami Fusion (no connection to the former MLS team) at 7 p.m. at Milander Park in Hialeah.

▪ Coming soon: Venezuela plays Guatemala on June 1 at Lockhart Stadium to prepare for the Copa America Centenario this summer. The “Vinotinto” are under new coach Rafael Dudamel, the former national-team goalkeeper. The match is at 8 p.m. Tickets are available May 1 at compreboletos.com or at 877-737-3376.

A few weeks later, on May 29, Colombia plays Haiti at Marlins Park. Colombia is also warming up for the Copa America and expected to bring many of its top players, including James Rodriguez. Tickets are on sale at marlins.com/soccer.

Who’s leading

MLS: East — Montreal (13), Philadelphia (12), Toronto (11), Orlando City, D.C., New England and N.Y. Red Bulls (9). West — Dallas (17), Colorado (16), Real Salt Lake, Los Angeles and San Jose (14).

NASL: Carolina (12), Minnesota (9), N.Y. (6), Indy and Tampa Bay (5).

EPL: Leicester City (76), Tottenham (69), Arsenal (67), Manchester City (64), West Ham and Manchester United (59).

La Liga: Barcelona and Atletico Madrid (85), Real Madrid (84), Villarreal (61), Celta Vigo (57).

Serie A: Juventus (85), Napoli (73), Roma (71), Inter (64), Fiorentina (60).

Bundesliga: Bayern Munich (82), Dortmund (77), Bayer (57), Hertha and Monchengladbach (49).

Ligue 1: PSG (89), Monaco and Lyon (62), Saint-Etienne (58), Nice (57).

On the tube

Sunday: Swansea City vs. Liverpool (6:55 a.m., NBCSN), Manchester United vs. Leicester City (9 a.m., NBCSN), Southampton vs. Manchester City (11:25 a.m., NBCSN), Portland vs. Toronto (3:30 p.m., ESPN), K.C. vs. L.A. (8 p.m., Fox Sports 1).

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