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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.

Blatter says he will accept verdict as CAS appeal begins

SAINT PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - JULY 25:  FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter speaks during the Preliminary Draw of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia at The Konstantin Palace on July 25, 2015 in Saint Petersburg, Russia.  (Photo by Dennis Grombkowski/Getty Images)
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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter arrived for his appeal hearing against a six-year ban from football on Thursday, pledging to accept the verdict of the Court of Arbitration for Sport

“I do hope it will be positive for me,” Blatter, sporting a light gray beard, told reporters at around 8 a.m. (0600 GMT) ahead of a hearing expected to last several hours.

The court’s verdict is expected within several weeks, and could be challenged in a further appeal to Switzerland’s supreme court.

The 80-year-old Blatter denies wrongdoing in authorizing a $2 million payment to former FIFA vice president Michel Platini in 2011. They claimed it was for backdated and uncontracted salary for work Platini did in advising Blatter from 1999 to 2002.

[ MORE: Ranking Champions League groups ]

The so-called “disloyal payment” led Blatter to be put under investigation for criminal mismanagement by Swiss federal prosecutors last September. That investigation is ongoing.

FIFA’s ethics committee judged the $2 million deal was a conflict of interest and initially banned Blatter and Platini for eight years last December. FIFA’s appeal committee cut both bans to six years.

Platini’s appeal to CAS was already judged in May, when Blatter appeared in person as a witness. Platini promised a further appeal to the Swiss Federal Tribunal after his ban was only cut from six to four years.

Platini arrived at the hearing around midday local time to be a witness. Both men have denied any wrongdoing.

Blatter’s comments Thursday suggest he would not pursue a federal case. Federal judges can intervene only if legal process is abused.

“We are football players, we learned to win but also we learned to lose and it will not be the end of the world,” Blatter said outside CAS.

The three-member panel for Blatter’s case is expected to respect the verdict of a separate panel which judged Platini.

A failure to overturn the ban for Blatter would likely end his hope to one day be named FIFA honorary president by its 211 member federations.

[ MORE: Ranking Champions League groups ]

The case already ended Platini’s chance to replace Blatter as FIFA president, and also forced him out of European governing body UEFA.

On Sept. 14, UEFA members will elect a successor to replace Platini who had a mandate through March 2019. By imposing a four-year ban, the CAS panel ensured UEFA had to replace Platini, rather than wait for him to return.

The “disloyal payment” emerged last year when Platini was strongly favored to win the election to replace Blatter, who had announced his departure plans after 17 years as president amid pressure from American and Swiss federal investigations of corruption implicating senior FIFA officials.

[ MORE: Bundesliga season primer ]

Both men were questioned at FIFA headquarters last September by Swiss investigators who were waiting for them outside an executive committee meeting.

During the turmoil in world football, Platini’s right-hand man at UEFA, Gianni Infantino, submitted an election candidacy on the entry deadline day and won the vote in February.

Arriving at the hearing with his Zurich-based lawyer Lorenz Erni, Blatter said he hoped the CAS panel “will understand that the payment made to Platini was really a debt that we had against him.”

“This is a principle, if you have debts you pay them,” Blatter said.

NASL weekend preview: Miami, Minnesota meet playoff fortunes head on

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There are still two full months of soccer to go in the NASL’s Fall Season, but this weekend could be a major day for the title fortunes of one squad in particular.

Miami FC and Minnesota United are level on points with 15 heading into Saturday’s match at FIU Stadium.

[ MORE: MLS Weekend Preview ]

If you’re unfamiliar, the NASL Playoffs involve four teams: the Spring champion (Indy Eleven), the Fall champion, and two other teams with the best combined record between seasons.

Miami’s played one fewer game, and both it and Minnesota — fresh off the news it’s headed to MLS in 2017 — are seven points shy of first-place FC Edmonton.

But Minnesota is on pace to make the playoffs through combined schedule, while Miami had a poor first half and would be better served to win the Fall Season if it wants a shot at the NASL Soccer Bowl Trophy.

Saturday
Carolina Railhawks at New York Cosmos
Rayo OKC at Tampa Bay Rowdies
Minnesota United at Miami FC

Sunday
Indy Eleven at Ottawa Fury
Puerto Rico at FC Edmonton

Arsenal reportedly set for $69 million double Friday buy

MADRID, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 14:  Lucas Perez of RC Deportivo la Coruna reacts during the La Liga match between Rayo Vallecano and RC Deportivo La Coruna at Estadio Teresa Rivero on September 14, 2015 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
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Arsene Wenger‘s much-maligned transfer business is about to take the “much” off the verb.

Lucas Perez of Deportiva de la Coruna is reportedly going to be joining Arsenal on Friday, and the Gunners are also close to finally landing Valencia center back Shkodran Mustafi.

[ MORE: Bundesliga season primer ]

Perez, 27, broke out for a career-best 17 goals last season, and scored on debut last weekend. He’s set to cost $22.5 million, while Mustafi makes up the other $46.5 million.

The 12-times capped German center back stands 6-foot, and would bring stability to a Gunners unit which has (again) been beset by injuries.

From the BBC:

Spaniard Lucas, 27, scored 17 goals in 37 games last season and Arsenal will meet a 20m euro (£17.1m) buyout clause.

Germany international Mustafi, 24, is set to join for a fee in excess of £35m.

Is this, coupled with the Granit Xhaka buy, enough to help Wenger right the ship? Mustafi, especially, would be a key piece. Perez is a bit of a lesser-known quality.

MLS Weekend Preview: Desperation mounts as rivals meet in Oregon

Portland Timbers defender Vytas Andriuskevicius, second from right, trips up Seattle Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan, right, in the second half of a MLS soccer match, Sunday, Aug. 21, 2016, in Seattle. Andriuskevicius was called for a foul on the play, and the Sounders' Clint Dempsey scored a goal on the resulting penalty kick. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
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Desperation is up-and-down the schedule this weekend in Major League Soccer, as the playoff race really heats up.

The calendar turns to September next week, and teams will end this weekend with a clear view of their runs into the season’s final Sunday: Oct. 23.

[ MORE: Bundesliga season primer ]

The tumult that is an MLS season means only one team is more than two wins out of a playoff spot right now, and that’s Houston (7 points back of Western No. 6 Portland).

Here’s who is feeling the heat of their matches this weekend:

Portland and Seattle: The Cascadia Cup rivals tangle Sunday in Oregon, with the Timbers holding a one-point edge on the Sounders for the West’s final playoff spot. Seattle has played one fewer games than Portland, and a win on Sunday would be a double-whammy for PDX; The Timbers would be level on points with Seattle and Vancouver in the Cascadia Cup standings with just one match to go (compared to their opponents’ two).

Vancouver: The ‘Caps don’t have a Cup game this weekend, but will face an L.A. team which hasn’t lost at home. Vancouver is in real danger of moving more than one win behind in the fight for a playoff spot. If they lose to L.A. and both San Jose and Portland win, the Whitecaps will be five points back of a playoff spot. Of course, this being MLS, a win and help could see Vancouver in sixth when the smoke clears.

Columbus and New England: No one likes to comment on job status, but Revs’ boss Jay Heaps and his Columbus counterpart (Gregg Berhalter) have to be a bit concerned at this point. New England is a total mess, opening up a goalkeeping controversy, and is pinning its hopes on some Open Cup final karma. The Crew was supposed to contend for a title after last year’s final run, but is currently in the East’s cellar with just three home wins from 13 matches.

Schedule

Friday
Colorado at Real Salt Lake — 8 p.m. EDT

Saturday
Chicago at DC United — 7 p.m. EDT
Sporting KC at Philadelphia — 7 p.m. EDT
San Jose at Columbus — 7:30 p.m. EDT
Montreal at Toronto FC — 7:30 p.m. EDT
FC Dallas at Houston — 9 p.m. EDT
Vancouver at LA Galaxy — 10:30 p.m. EDT

Sunday
New England at New York Red Bulls — 2:30 p.m. EDT
Seattle at Portland — 5 p.m. EDT
New York City at Orlando City — 7 p.m. EDT