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Drilling down on, U.S. Open Cup: at Seattle 4, Chivas USA 1

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TUKWILA, Wash. – The dream is still alive. Three-time defending champions, Seattle punched their ticket to Kansas City for a chance to claim a their record fourth-straight U.S. Open Cup title, downing Chivas USA 4-1 at Starfire Sports Complex on Wednesday.

Man of the Match: Osvaldo Alonso continues to make this tournament his own. His 31st minute through ball for Eddie Johnson set up the opening score, while his second half conversion of a penalty drawn by Fredy Montero punched Seattle’s ticket to Kansas City.

Two other Sounders have claims to this honor. Johnson’s run on the opening goal was more valuable than Alonso’s pass, and his finish portrayed a man who has put four confidence-draining years behind him. In addition to drawing the foul that set up the game-winning goal, Montero was the match’s hardest worker, constantly making himself available for passes from midfield. Whether it was a message or just a break in the routine, Sigi Schmid’s Saturday benching seems to have worked.

Packaged for takeaway:

  • Both teams started strong teams, and although Seattle looked better from the start (particularly going down their right, with right back Zach Scott playing directly to Fredy Montero), Chivas USA had a number of things to build on:
    • Raushawn McKenzie made up for a Jorge Villafana’s ineffectiveness at left back while also putting in some nice work to prevent the connections to Montero from generating chances.
    • Ben Zemanski was giving one of his best performances of the season on the left midfield, proving Chivas’s best man on the ball.
    • And on the small Starfire pitch, Oswaldo Minda proved particularly problematic in the middle. The Ecuadorian destroyer never had to range far from his spot at the base of midfield to disrupt play.
  • That’s why it was surprising when the opening goal was generated through the middle. Alonso pounced on a turnover just inside Chivas’s half, at which point Eddie Johnson burst into a great run from the right flank, tearing open Chivas’s defense. EJ sprinted past Villafana, behind McKenzie (who came out to challenge Alonso), and was kept on by Danny Califf, caught four-to-five yards behind his central defense partner. A nice ball from Alonso, one touch from Johnson, and Dan Kennedy was set up. An easy finish gave Seattle the lead.
  • Given Chivas USA had yet to show anything in attack, it was a particularly painful opening goal. There was nothing in Robin Fraser’s team that said they had a comeback in them. Finishing the first half without a shot (let alone a shot on goal), Chivas never seemed to adjust to the small field. Various attempts to switch the ball and change their angle of attack left them looking pensive and ill-prepared when the Sounders were able to quickly close them down.
  • Two minutes into the second half, Montero drew the penalty that would provide Seattle’s game-winner. If Fraser had instilled a winning plan at half time, Chivas were never able to see it. Before the teams had even warmed up, Seattle had doubled their lead.
  • Of course, it wouldn’t be that easy. Seattle couldn’t just take control and close out the match, though they tried. For the next 25 minutes, it was all Chivas USA could do to keep Montero off the scoresheet, Seattle’s star attacker continuing to exploit the left side of the Chivas USA defense, turning Villafana’s night into a nightmare.
  • The effort was enough to create a huge Man of the Match debate, one that goes to the heart of how to pick the honor. I sided with Alonso because, in addition to being his usual pesky self and doing a good job distributing from the middle, he was involved in each of the first two goals. For all the torment Montero caused the Chivas defense, wasn’t producing an end result.
  • The missed chances looked like they might matter when Chivas USA substitute Cesar Romero bundled his way through Seattle’s defense in the 74th minute, eventually poking a ball past Bryan Meredith from seven yards out. Shockingly, Chivas USA was within one.
  • Seattle restored their two-goal lead 10 minutes later, with Montero finally getting onto the scoresheet. A ball played from the left flank saw him 30 yards from goal with a chance to run at McKenzie and Califf. As the defenders backed off, it looked like Montero was lining up a shot from distance. The threat froze the defenders, allowing Brad Evans to get forward, into the right of the box, and onto a Montero ball for Seattle’s third goal.
  • Four minutes later, Villafana’s inability to clear a ball allowed Sammy Ochoa, just off the bench, to come from behind, take the ball, turn and finish into the left of net. Kennedy didn’t even bother diving, disgusted at what had just transpired.
  • Perhaps Seattle didn’t look three goals better, but it’s hard to argue with the result. Even when Chivas USA pulled to within one, the game never seemed in doubt. Chivas had no way to get at Seattle, and with the weakness down their left, there was no way they were going to contain the Sounders.
  • Now, for the second time in their U.S. Open Cup run, Seattle has to go on the road to secure their title. Their fist of three titles was won at RFK Stadium against D.C. United. If they’re to take a record fourth-in-a-row, they’ll need to knock off Sporting at Livestrong.

FIFA candidate Prince Ali claims voting pledge from Liberia

Jordan's Prince Ali bin al-Hussein, flanked by school-age soccer players in uniforms, speaks before about 300 guests during an event at a Roman amphitheater in Amman, Jordan, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2015. The prince is running for FIFA president, saying Wednesday he will fight "deep-seated corruption and political deal-making" and make soccer's scandal-scarred governing body more transparent. (AP Photo/Raad Adayleh)
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AMMAN, Jordan (AP) FIFA presidential candidate Prince Ali of Jordan says the Liberia soccer federation has pledged its vote to him.

Liberia follows Egypt as the second African voter claimed by Prince Ali since the Confederation of African Football’s leadership endorsed Asian confederation president Sheikh Salman of Bahrain on Friday.

The CAF executive committee urged the 54 African voters among FIFA’s 209-strong membership to back the sheikh in the Feb. 26 election.

Prince Ali’s campaign team on Saturday published a three-page letter of endorsement signed by Liberia federation president Musa Bility.

Bility writes that Prince Ali “represents real change” while other candidates are “not even prepared to criticize” the FIFA system.

Bility was himself an applicant in the presidential contest, then failed an integrity test judged by FIFA’s election monitoring committee.

LVG says Mourinho speculation is false, calls the whole thing “nonsense”

Chelsea's manager Jose Mourinho, center left, makes his way from the opposition dugout after greeting Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal, centre right, during their English Premier League soccer match between Manchester United and Chelsea at Old Trafford Stadium, Manchester, England, Sunday Oct. 26, 2014. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
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Louis Van Gaal is sick and tired of the media speculating about his employment (or potential lack thereof), as well as reports linking the presently unemployed Jose Mourinho to his job, so what we’re going to do now is speculate on those reports a bit more.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

But first, we’ll give Van Gaal the chance to tell his side of the story. Who better to explain what’s going on at Manchester United than the manager of Man United, right? OK, Louis, take it away, mate — quotes from the Guardian:

“The last two months have been very difficult for my wife, my kids, my grandchildren and my friends to cope with. For me too, but I can cope. In the Netherlands they know I am too arrogant to doubt myself, but I also know that such a nonsense is being created about me. I do not believe that there is already a relationship between José Mourinho and Manchester United.”

“It is logical when you have lost four matches in a row, people are bound to be doubting. … I criticize the media for inventing stories. I never hired security. Never ever. And I am walking on the streets without security and all the people I meet are very positive.”

OK, now that that’s out of the way, Jose Mourinho is definitely talking to Manchester United, or someone is doing so on his behalf. There’s arguably never been a more sitting-duck manager in world football than Van Gaal is right now — not only have the results been extremely “meh” for nearly two seasons now, but he’s also got less than 18 months left on his contract, which means it would cost the club considerably less to make him go away than, say, David Moyes, who still had more than five years(!!!) left on his deal when he was fired in April of his first season.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL preview — Leicester hammer Man City, Spurs go 2nd ]

Also, they were totally in for Pep Guardiola, too, and since they didn’t get him, they’ll have to respond thusly, and since Carlo Ancelotti has already been named Guardiola’s successor at Bayern Munich, Mourinho is the last “big name” out there right now. Unless, of course, they wanted to tap up Manuel Pellegrini, who’s on his way out to make room for Guardiola. Could be fun. But not as fun as Jose back in the Premier League, at Man United, in the same city with Pep. Remember the last time those two were employed on opposite sides of a heated rivalry?

As spectacular as this year’s PL season has been — and it’s bordering on the best of all time, still with 13 weeks to go — think about what that means for next season. It’s going to have be even more bonkers, so as not to seem boring by comparison. Louis van Gaal seems like a nice enough guy, but his team’s football isn’t that exciting on the field, and he offers little more off it. Mourinho isn’t the hero we deserve, but he’s certainly the one we need.

Another one: Lavezzi the latest star set for the riches of China

Paris Saint Germain's Ezequiel Lavezzi form Argentina, celebrates the opening goal during a French league one soccer match between Paris-Saint-Germain and Rennes at Parc des Princes stadium in Paris, Wednesday, May 7, 2014. Paris Saint Germain clinhed its second straight French league title on Wednesday after rival Monaco drew 1-1 against French Cup holder Guingamp. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)
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The list just keeps growing; Ezequiel Lavezzi, he of Paris Saint-Germain and Argentine national team fame, is the latest star leaving Europe behind with the Chinese Super League his next stop, according to multiple reports Saturday night.

[ MORE: The latest transfer news and gossip ]

Linked with a move to Premier League side Chelsea during the recently completed January transfer window, a move away from PSG never materialized for the 30-year-old. Not on the European continent, at least.

Now, the former Napoli, San Lorenzo and Estudiantes (Argentina) attacker is set for Shanghai Shenhua, where he’ll reportedly take home something in the $11-to-15-million-per-year ballpark. When you can somehow get a raise from your current deal with a Qatar Sports Investments-owned club… well, I guess you’d be dumb not to do it.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup — Leicester hammer Man City, Spurs go 2nd ]

It was already pretty well known Lavezzi would be leaving the French capital in 2016, but when his tenure survived through much of Europe’s winter window, it seemed he would hang around until the expiration of his current contract before moving elsewhere on a free transfer.

Then came the monstrous windfall of cash into and subsequent spending by CSL clubs over the last two weeks; Lavezzi joins the likes of Ramires, Gervinho, Jackson Martinez, Alex Teixeira, Demba Ba and Fredy Guarin, among others, to move to China for massive annual salaries. At Shenhua, Lavezzi will play alongside Ba and Guarin, as well as former Everton and New York Red Bulls man Tim Cahill, who made the move to China last year.

The CSL’s transfer window doesn’t close until Feb. 26, so the spending spree may well go on a little while long.

La Liga & Serie A roundup: Atleti bounce back to keep pressure on Barca

Atletico's Jose Maria Gimenez, right, celebrates after scoring a goal during a Spanish La Liga soccer match between Atletico de Madrid and Eibar at the Vicente Calderon stadium in Madrid, Spain, Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza)
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A roundup of Saturday’s action in Spain and Italy’s top flights:

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s La Liga coverage ]

Atletico Madrid 3-1 Eibar

The race for the La Liga title isn’t over quite yet — though Barcelona are overwhelmingly favorites at the moment — and Atletico Madrid will have to keep winning, with just about no room for error, to keep it that way. On Saturday, they did just that by defending their home turf, to the tune of a 3-1 victory over Eibar.

Keko put the visitors ahead in the 46th minute, but Jose Gimenez quickly opened the scoring for Atleti and equalized on 56 minutes. Saul Niguez made it 2-1 to Atleti seven minutes later, and Fernando Torres’ 100th career goal (below video) gave Los Rojiblancos a bit of insurance in the first minute of second-half stoppage time. With the victory, Atleti are level on 51 points with Barca, but the Catalan giants have two games in hand on Madrid’s “other” team, the first of which they’ll play on Sunday.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Rayo Vallecano 2-0 Las Palmas
Athletic Bilbao 0-0 Villarreal
Sporting Gijon 1-1 Deportivo La Coruña

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Levante vs. Barcelona (6 a.m. ET)
Real Betis vs. Valencia (10 a.m. ET)
Celta Vigo vs. Sevilla (12:15 p.m. ET)
Granada vs. Real Madrid (2:30 p.m. ET)


Bologna 1-1 Fiorentina

Fiorentina have left the door wide open for Inter Milan to re-enter the top three — and UEFA Champions League-qualifying — places with a 1-1 draw away to Bologna. The Viola finished the game with 10 men after Matias Fernandez was sent off for two yellow cards 10 minutes apart either side of halftime.

Their opening goal, which gave them the lead in the 59th minute, was beautifully worked and wonderfully taken by Federico Bernardeschi (below video). It was quickly canceled out, though, as Emanuele Giaccherini equalized four minutes later to earn a point and strengthen Bologna’s hold on 10th place in the league table.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Genoa 0-0 Lazio

Sunday’s Serie A schedule

Hellas Verona vs. Inter Milan (6:30 a.m. ET)
Napoli vs. Carpi (9 a.m. ET)
Torino vs. Chievo (9 a.m. ET)
Frosinone vs. Juventus (9 a.m. ET)
Sassuolo vs. Palermo (9 a.m. ET)
AC Milan vs. Udinese (9 a.m. ET)
Atalanta vs. Empoli (12 p.m. ET)
Roma vs. Sampdoria (2:45 p.m. ET)