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.

Mexico captain Guardado suffers hamstring injury

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With the World Cup still half a year away, there’s plenty of time to heal from injuries and get the body right after tweaking things during the club season.

And yet, there will still be some concern among Mexico fans.

Team captain Andres Guardado suffered a hamstring tear, his club Real Betis confirmed on Monday, and is expected to miss 3-4 weeks. That’s nothing to write home about when it comes to preparing for the big tournament, but with Guardado 31 years old and struggling with injuries in recent years, Mexico fans will be keenly aware that hamstring injuries can return with a vengeance if not given the right time to heal.

Guardado has shown his age in recent times, not necessarily with his play on the field, which has been critical to his country, but with his fitness. Guardado has just four full 90 minute performances for Mexico dating back to October of 2016, missing time with ankle, leg, and now hamstring injuries in that span.

The 31-year-old has had a fine season so far for Real Betis, scoring one goal and assisting six while appearing in all 15 La Liga matches for the club thus far. The club sits 12th in the La Liga table with 18 points.

Guardado will be fine with plenty of time to spare, but if not fully healed properly, there’s always the risk that muscle injuries can flare back up, and Mexico fans will hope that their captain’s club gives him plenty of rest to recover.

Mark Hughes wants Stoke City to “suck it up”

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Mark Hughes is under fire at Stoke City with the Potters firmly entrenched in the relegation battle, and with that he’s charging his players, staff, and himself to gut the rest of the season out.

With Stoke heading to Turf Moor to take on Burnley, they sit just three points above the drop. The players were faced with jeers from angry fans at the train station following this past weekend’s 5-1 disaster against Tottenham. The fiery Hughes is hoping to use this jarring moment to jolt his squad.

[ PREVIEW: Tuesday’s Premier League action ]

“That is still resonating. It’s good we have a game because it is still fresh in their ears probably, and they can use it as a motivating factor,” said Hughes during his pre-match press conference.

“You either suck it up and do ­something about it or you go under, and we can’t accept players like that. I don’t feel we have players like that.”

With managers nowadays often reaching into the excuses barrel as they hope to save their own skins, Hughes refuses to do just that, instead placing the decision firmly on the players shoulders, telling them they are the only ones who can save the club.

“Maybe some hadn’t ­confronted that before – but sometimes you need a reality check, and understand how our results and ­performances affect people,” Hughes said. “When people criticize you, you have to grow a thick skin in this industry. If you don’t, you’re in the wrong place.”

Louis van Gaal calls Mourinho’s United “far more boring”

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Louis Van Gaal has picked just the right time to pipe up.

The former Manchester United manager, who took flak while in charge for his side being hideous to watch, has now taken shots of his own at his successor Jose Mourinho, kicking Manchester United while they’re down after a 2-1 derby defeat at home.

The Dutchman told Fox Sports Netherlands, “If you ask me how did I do at United, I will say it was my best year ever, given the circumstances I was working under. We played football that was quite alright. But it’s not football that is appreciated in England. And yet, right now, looking at United, I have to conclude Mourinho is not being criticized while it’s far more boring football.”

[ PREVIEW: Premier League Tuesday matches, including Chelsea vs. Huddersfield ]

Van Gaal was blasted consistently for playing a boring style, especially in front of the home crowd, and now Mourinho is being criticized for the same concept. Mourinho was denounced for similar reasons while in charge of Chelsea, but with the club winning multiple titles under his leadership, the noise was always less while the team was winning. With Manchester United still unable to crack the top 4, Mourinho is feeling the heat.

“What United produce now is defensive football,” van Gaal said. “I always played attacking football. The proof is that the opposition were always parking the bus. They don’t do that now because Jose Mourinho plays so defensive.”

To van Gaal’s point, Manchester United is seventh in the Premier League in possession, holding 51% possession this season. They were out-possessed by Manchester City 65-35 at Old Trafford over the weekend. Meanwhile, van Gaal’s last full season with Manchester United, the 2015/16 season, saw the Red Devils hold 54%, which ranked third in the Premier League, just a percentage point behind leaders Arsenal. However, van Gaal’s United ranked 15th in the Premier League in total shots, while Mourinho’s United this season ranks sixth at this point.

Van Gaal made sure to point out he prefers their cross-town rivals.

“I would rather watch City play than United. You need quality in a squad and it’s clear City have a better squad.”

Conte blames fatigue for dip in Chelsea form

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Antonio Conte has figured out what is plaguing his Chelsea side as they sit 14 points back of Premier League leaders Manchester City.

“I think when you play every three days, it is impossible to have a training session and to work on the physical aspects,” Conte said in his pre-match press conference as the Blues get set to play Huddersfield Town on Tuesday. “It’s impossible. It’s impossible because you have to prepare with the players for a game every three days.”

Chelsea has yet to find itself eliminated from a single competition, drawn against Barcelona in the Champions League while navigating fixtures across all four competitions.

And yet, this is nothing new for Conte. The Blues boss is more than familiar with fixture congestion, having taken charge of Juventus and regularly competing at a high level on multiple fronts. In 2012/13, he won the Serie A title, won the Supercoppa Italia, and reached the quarterfinals of the Champions League.

However, this is new for Conte at Chelsea. Last season, the Blues did not take part in a European competition thanks to their disastrous season the previous year. While they reached the FA Cup final, they were knocked out of the EFL Cup in the 4th round.

“We have to try to do our best,” Conte said. “For sure, some players can be tired, that’s normal because some players are playing from this summer and our tours in China and Singapore. It’s normal. But I repeat we have to find the best solution. We have to find more rotations. I’m doing this, we will try and do our best with hunger and desire. We will fight.”

As an example, Conte said Alvaro Morata will miss the match on Tuesday against Huddersfield Town due to fatigue, with the Spaniard battling a slight back injury. “Morata is out. He is a bit tired and he has a problem in his back.