6. Houston Dynamo – A win and two draws over eight days is commendable for a club with so much going on. The stadium is open, the hard road slog is behind them and Dominic Kinnear’s team even has a little breathing room for a few days. Now, the season can really start.
5. New York Red Bulls – It’s just hard to make sense of these crazy kids. Few teams are as beat up, and yet this is Major League Soccer’s hottest team (statistically speaking) with five wins in a row. We know what they are saying around Red Bull Arena: “Why ask why? Just keep the party going!” Heath Pearce debuted at center back in the latest victory, Saturday over Montreal (while playing a man down for half an hour, no less.)
4. D.C. United – Two home games brought two fairly comfortable wins (over Colorado and Toronto). Dwayne De Rosario is on one of his signature tears with three goals in Round 11. And don’t look now, rest of league, but Andy Najar and previously muted DP striker Hamdi Salihi are starting to feel it.
3. San Jose Earthquakes – Alan Gordon (pictured) to the rescue. Again! For the second consecutive week, the ‘Quakes fell behind at home to a side they probably shouldn’t have (this time to Columbus). And for the second consecutive week, Gordon came off the bench to strike late, helping his side split the points. It’s exciting, but clearly the Buck Shaw bunch would like better on home grass.
2. Seattle Sounders – Everyone gets excited about bicycle kick goals, and I get it. They’re cool and all. But what gets my little soccer shorts going are goals like Fredy Montero’s late equalizer in a 2-2 draw at Vancouver. The ability to make space and then to perfectly, skillfully draw a curling arc with the ball around a stranded, helpless goalkeeper? Yeah, that does it for me. (And it’s the kind of goal that Montero manufactures from time to time, hardly his first artistic maneuver.)
1. Real Salt Lake – Unbeaten in five and well-rested (idle in Round 11) ahead of a home match this weekend? Yeah, the Western Conference leaders will certainly take that. They probably will have to deal with the absence of midfielder Kyle Beckerman and goalkeeper Nick Rimando (although it’s possible Rimando could be released back to the club.)
Bayern Munich midfielder Arturo Vidal has declared “ugly” Atletico Madrid unworthy finalists in the UEFA Champions League.
Bayern was eliminated in the Champions League semifinal by Atleti on Tuesday, with Diego Simeone’s Spanish side advancing on away goals.
[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s UCL coverage ]
However, Vidal believed Bayern were the better team in the second leg, saying Atletico played “ugly football” to get through.
Today ugly football – Atletico – played against the best football in the world. The only time they saw the ball was for the goal.
They are going to be dreaming about us right up to the final. They did not have the ball, they took on the best team in the world, they took their chances and got to the final.
The best does not always win in football, like today. They are not deserved finalists.
Bayern Munich controlled more than 70-percent of possession and had 33 shots compared to Atletico’s nine, but those stats mean little as Antoine Griezmann’s away goal was enough to send Atleti to the final.
[ MORE: Former England striker Joe Cole headed to NASL’s Tampa Bay Rowdies ]
Atletico may not play the most attractive football, but after eliminating Barcelona and Bayern Munich in consecutive legs, it’s hard to argue anyone deserves this more than Simeone’s men.
The second leg of the Europa League semifinals kick off tomorrow, with two La Liga sides looking to make it an all-Spanish final.
[ MORE: Premier League Playback ]
Villarreal holds a 1-0 lead over Liverpool, while Sevilla scored two away goals in their 2-2 draw at Shakhtar Donetsk.
Liverpool vs. Villarreal – 3:05 p.m. ET
Villarreal won first leg 1-0
Adrian Lopez’s late winner in the first leg has given Villarreal a slight lead, while the Spanish side did well not to concede an away goal. However, Liverpool have overcome deficits at Anfield before, including their memorable 4-3 victory over Borussia Dortmund in the quarterfinals. Emre Can is back fit for the Reds, as manager Jurgen Klopp will hope his fellow German can help the team to a cup final in his first year in charge.
[ RELATED: Liverpool preparing for another big Thursday night at Anfield ]
Sevilla vs. Shakhtar Donetsk – 3:05 p.m. ET
First leg ended 2-2 draw
Sevilla are looking to become the first team to win three consecutive Europa League titles as the two-time defending champions face off against Shakhtar Donetsk. Sevilla are in the driver’s seat after scoring two away goals in Ukraine, and will feel confident of advancing to the final with a great home record at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium.
In the latest Men in Blazers podcast, Rog and Davo celebrate Leicester City’s improbable Premier League title with Leicester’s own Arlo White.
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LISBON, Portugal (AP) Portuguese and European police say they have broken up a cell of an important Russian mafia group that allegedly laundered money through European football clubs.
Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement agency, said in a statement Wednesday the group identified EU football clubs in financial distress and infiltrated them with benefactors who brought much-needed cash.
[ MORE: Man City bounced from UCL ]
Once they were in control, the mobsters allegedly laundered millions of euros (dollars) through player transfers, TV rights deals and betting.
Portuguese and European police on Tuesday raided third-division Portuguese club Uniao de Leiria and arrested three key members of the Russian gang. Three other Portuguese clubs’ premises were searched.
Europol said the operation helped identify serious crimes in Austria, Germany, and the United Kingdom, though it gave no details.