San Jose Earthquakes v Portland Timbers

Drilling down on: at Portland 1, San Jose 1

1 Comment

PORTLAND, Ore. — Roy Lassiter has company in the Major League Soccer record book, but it’s not without controversy. A disputed, first half penalty led to Chris Wondolowski’s record-tying 27th goal of the season as San Jose drew in Portland, 1-1

Man of the Match: He drew the goal, and he’ll come under criticism for the exaggerated way he did it, but Steven Lenhart created his team’s only score of the match. He was also the most active Earthquakes player, constantly going to battle with David Horst when he wasn’t providing the hold up play San Jose needed to mount their attack. After he went off in the second (as San Jose tried to protect their 1-0 lead), the Earthquakes never threatened, a Timber defense that had held Lenhart at bay having no trouble keeping his teammates in check.

Packaged for takeaway:

  • In time, people will forget the details of Wondolowski’s record-tying goal – as it should be. Today’s record is the culmination of  a season-long effort. Wondolowski’s earned his place as the joint-record holder.
  • It’s just unfortunate the record had to come this way. In the 23rd minute, a long ball out of San Jose’s end exploited some poor Timbers defending, sending Lenhart in alone on Donovan Ricketts. Ricketts read the play and came out to meet Lenhart, but didn’t get to the ball in time, the San Jose forward touching the bouncing ball beyond the Timbers keeper with his right thigh.
  • Lenhart beat Ricketts to the resulting ball 16 yards from goal in the left of Portland’s area. Ricketts went to ground attempting a tackle, cueing Lenhart to go airborne. Referee Mark Geiger immediately pointed to the spot. For his share of the record, Wondolowski converted low and into the left of Ricketts’ goal, putting San Jose up one in the 24th minute.
  • Until that point, the Timbers had played San Jose even, not surprising given the venue. At Jeld-Wen, Portland’s a league-average team, posting a +3 goal difference. On the road, the Timbers become Toronto FC’s second string (-25 difference).
  • Part of that even-footing was due to the formations and weather. The teams played near-identical 4-4-2 formations (Wondolowski’s falling into a withdrawn role more often than Danny Mwanga). Combined with a windy, wet, grey day in Portland, there wan’t much separating the two teams.
  • Toward the end of the first half, San Jose started obviously playing to Wondolowski, looking for the record-setting 28th goal. Three low-percentage crosses were delivered right to Timbers players, hinting what San Jose’s approach would be in the second half.
  • That plan never materialized. The Timbers played one of their best halves of the season over the last 45. Moving Darlington Nagbe in from the left, Portland used a three-man midfield to help lock down the middle of the park.
  • Portland also zealously went down their left, deploying Mwanga on the flank to use as a target, moving Nagbe and midfielder Eric Alexander to that side when establishing possession.
  • The tactic helped Portland control the half, but it failed to yield a goal. Instead, it was hard work by Alexander, taking the ball off Steven Beitashour’s foot just outside the Earthquakes’ penalty area, that led to tying goal. Bright Dike’s resulting shot was saved by Jon Busch, but the resulting rebound was pushed to the center of the area for an easy Dike put-back.
  • Wondolowski’s best chance of a record-breaker came in the 65th minute when a shot from the left of the area drew a save from Ricketts.
  • Portland had the best chance to claim full points, a header from David Horst off a set piece going wide of goal after he’d out-jumped Busch.
  • As time wound down, San Jose’s reputation for late goals loomed larger, but Wondo’s 28th goal never came. The Earthquakes close their season with a draw in Portland, their Saturday captain having earned his piece of history.
  • Portland concludes a tumultuous season with one of their best efforts, taking their fifth point of the season from the Supporters’ Shield winners.
  • At the end of the match, Portland players walked around Jeld-Wen displaying a sign that read “TO THE LEAGUE’S BEST FANS: WE WILL REPAY YOU”.

Arsenal ready to “play for our lives” vs. Olympiakos to remain in UCL

Alexis Sanchez
Leave a comment

Following their 3-0 win over Dinamo Zagreb on Tuesday, Arsenal know what they must do in two weeks time at Olympiakos.

Win by two goals or more and they’re in the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League for the 16th straight.

[ MORE: How can Arsenal make last 16? ]

Anything less means Arsene Wenger‘s side will crash out of the UCL and will be competing in the last 32 of the Europa League when European play restarts in 2016.

It’s a simple equation but don’t underestimate how hard the Gunners have battled to put themselves in this situation. After losing both of their opening Group F games at Zagreb and then at home against Olympiakos, they looked dead and buried.

Now, they have a chance to advance.

“The team knew it was a very important day today – everyone had to turn up and they did. Now we’re going to play for our lives [against Olympiakos],” Arsenal right back Hector Bellerin said. “This was an important test for us, to be alive in the Champions League. The team responded very well. The team is showing we have got a lot of quality, a lot of creativity. When we have all our players back, we’re going to be up there.”

Wenger’s men have been in these kind of situations in the UCL before, but usually in the knockout rounds.

[ MORE: Chelsea hammer Tel Aviv, face tricky final day ]

In each of the past five seasons they’ve fallen at the last 16 hurdle but often that exit has come after after putting themselves in perilous situations from dreadful displays in the first legs and then nearly clawing things back in the second legs. Last season they lost to AS Monaco 3-1 at home in the first leg and won 2-0 away, going out on away goals. The season before that they lost 2-0 at home to Bayern Munich in the first leg but drew 1-1 away from home in the second leg and battled hard in Bavaria.

Simply put, Wenger’s men have been in this kind of “do or die” situation many times in the UCL over the past few seasons. It’s all about one game in Greece in two weeks. Wenger knows it as he spoke following their win over Zagreb which set up the tantalizing encounter in Athens on Dec. 9.

“It promises to be a very interesting game [against Olympiakos], but at least we have a chance,” Wenger said. “I think Mesut Ozil had an outstanding first half, he has got the taste for scoring now. I have never seen Ozil in the box so many times as in the last five or six games. The Europa League is not the target – let us give everything to remain in the Champions League.”

How can Arsenal qualify for last 16 of Champions League?

Arsene Wenger, Arsenal FC
Leave a comment

Heading into the their final UEFA Champions League Group F game, the Gunners are still alive. Just.

Arsenal beat Dinamo Zagreb 3-0 at the Emirates Stadium in London on Tuesday to keep their hopes of qualifying for the knockout stages of the Champions League alive for the 16th straight season.

[ MORE: Champions League standings

So, here’s what Arsene Wenger‘s men must do in their final Group F game in two weeks time in Greece to qualify and what other results will mean for the Premier League side.

  • An Arsenal win by a two-goal margin will see Arsenal finish level on points but finish above Olympiakos by virtue of having better goal different in their head-to-head encounters. Hence sealing a spot in the last 16
  • An Arsenal win by a one-goal margin, a draw or a defeat will see Arsenal eliminated and Olympiakos qualify for last 16
  • The Gunners have already sealed at least a Europa League spot regardless of what happens in Athens

There are your scenarios for Arsenal as it’s pretty simple to break it down: Win by two goals and they’re Champions League dream lives on in the last 16.

[ MORE: Champions League schedule

Anything else and it’s a spot of Thursday night soccer in the last 32 of the Europa League for Wenger’s men.

Maccabi Tel-Aviv 0-4 Chelsea: Blues go atop Group G

during the UEFA Champions League Group G match between Maccabi Tel-Aviv FC and Chelsea FC at Sammy Ofer Stadium on November 24, 2015 in Haifa, Israel.
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Chelsea scored thee second-half goals against a ten-man Maccabi side, easing to a 4-0 win in Tel-Aviv tonight.

With the win and Porto’s loss, the Blues now sit atop Group G in the UEFA Champions League, in need of one point from their final match to advance.

[ MORE: Champions League standings ]

The match got off to a bit of a shaky start for Chelsea, as Tel-Aviv created some early offense on the counter-attack. However, the Blues stuck in after the opening minutes and gained control of the play.

After dominating possession, Chelsea broke through in the 20th minute through Gary Cahill. Willian whipped in a corner kick which Cahill headed on goal, but Predrag Rajkovic made a brilliant save for Tel-Aviv. However, the save hit the post and rolled right back to Cahill, who had an easy tap-in for the goal.

The pitch continued to be tilted in favor of Chelsea, and Tel-Aviv’s chances of a comeback took a huge hit when Tal Ben Haim was sent off in the 40th minute. The former Chelsea man took a wild hack at the legs of Diego Costa, giving the referee an easy decision to show a straight red. It was another case of Costa getting under the skin of his opposition, as Ben Haim lost his cool and made a reckless challenge.

Despite being down to ten men, the hosts didn’t fold in the second half and tried to steal a goal on the counter. After a string of fine saves from Rajkovic to keep Tel-Aviv alive, Asmir Begovic had to come up with a save of his own to keep Chelsea ahead. Eran Zahavi found himself free on the break and fired a shot to the far post, but Begovic just got his fingertips on the ball to hold the lead.

[ RELATED: Zlatan hoping to impress in UCL return to Malmo ]

A bit of bad news came for Chelsea in the 72nd minute, as John Terry went down after getting tangled up in a challenge. The captain looked to be in a lot of pain, as he was stretchered off and replaced by Kurt Zouma.

On the first touch of the ball after Terry’s substitution, Chelsea took a 2-0 lead from a Willian free kick. From his favorite spot at the corner of the box, the Brazilian curled home a set piece to the near post. It was his sixth goal of the season, all of which have come from free kicks in almost the exact same location.

Less than five minutes later, Oscar made it 3-0 for Chelsea. Baba Rahman played in a cross from the left wing as Oscar headed home from close range, officially sealing the points for Jose Mourinho’s men.

Substitute Kurt Zouma would add a fourth for Chelsea in stoppage time, grabbing another headed goal for the Blues in a comfortable yet vital win.

Arsenal 3-0 Dinamo Zagreb: Gunners keep last 16 dreams alive

Alexis Sanchez
Leave a comment

Arsenal eased past Dinamo Zagreb in their penultimate game of UEFA Champions Group F play on Tuesday as two goals from Alexis Sanchez and another from Mesut Ozil did the damage.

[ MORE: Arsenal to “play for our lives” ]

Arsene Wenger‘s side now sit in third place on six points in Group F and travel to Olympiakos — who currently sit in second spot on nine points — on the final matchday on Dec. 9 where they will need a win by two goals or more to make the last 16 of the UCL for the 16th straight season.

[ MORE: How can Arsenal qualify? ]

The Gunners came flying out of the traps and were 2-0 up inside the first 32 minutes. First up Sanchez got free on the left and curled in a beautiful cross which found the onrushing Ozil who stooped and headed home. 1-0 to the Arsenal.

Moments later it was 2-0 as Nacho Monreal intercepted a pass on the edge of Zagreb’s box and slotted the ball to Sanchez who finished easily to send Wenger’s men into halftime with a healthy lead.

[ MORE: Champions League schedule ]

In the second half Arsenal were hungry for more goals as Eduardo made a good stop from Santi Cazorla‘s shot and then palmed away Olivier Giroud‘s header from the rebound.

To their credit the Croatian outfit stuck to the task and Alexandru Matel went close with an effort but Arsenal always looked dangerous on the break as Costa Rican forward Joel Campbell volleyed an effort just wide.

[ MORE: Champions League standings

Arsenal saw out the game with minimum fuss as Sanchez added another in the 69th minute when Campbell set him up neatly and the Chilean grabbed his second and Arsenal’s third of the game to make it 3-0.

That’s how the game finished as the Gunners now face a showdown in Athens in two weeks as their place in the UCL’s last 16 hangs in the balance.