Darren Mattocks 3

Who will score Vancouver’s goals tonight vs. L.A.?

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Something special needs to happen tonight at the Home Depot Center in order for Vancouver to find a way past Los Angeles.

It might be in a herculean effort along the back line (Jay DeMerit, we are looking at you). Or it could be in some crazy-special goal. Or two of them. Which begs the question, who could score such a massive goal?

To explore that, we have to walk back a bit and start with another question: “Which underwhelming choice does Vancouver coach Martin Rennie deploy at striker?” And that’s a loaded question.

These two teams positioned themselves at fairly opposite ends of the quality soccer continuum over the late summer and fall. (L.A.’s Galaxy to the good, the ‘Caps to the not-so-much.)

About the time the Whitecaps were tearing down a pretty good second-year MLS side – Vancouver was an MLS expansion outfit just last year, and was en route to have a surprisingly storng sophomore campaign – the Galaxy was getting its reigning champion act together.

So while Bruce Arena’s side was re-discovering its hunger and competitive drive, the Whitecaps were trading away good MLS men and hitching their wagon to a couple of high-priced Scottish headlines.

One is Kenny Miller. Now, we’ve been warned about the Scottish strikers who come adorned with such splashy numbers. They pad the stats with Celtics or Rangers in one of the least equitable leagues in the world, so the product tends to be something quite different once it flies out of Scottish airspace. But Vancouver didn’t get the notes, apparently.

None of this means Miller is a poor player, it just means that he was never Designated Player material. Or, if he was, he needs to get moving in showing us so.

So there’s one choice. The other is rookie Darren Mattocks, who seems to have tremendous upside – in addition to tremendous “ups,” as we saw in the gravity-defying goal earlier this year against Toronto, an effort best defined by this word: “Whoa!”

But, rookies being rookies, he’s about as consistent as a cell service in an elevator.

Personally I’d go with Mattocks. As I said, it will take something special tonight to manufacture the upset that would turn the playoffs on its head. The young Jamaican is far more likely to deliver. He had a couple of matches this year (although perhaps only a couple) that could be fairly stamped “You have to see this freakin’ guy!”

But since this is serious stuff, not something to be decided by hunches or tarot cards or whatever, we have good solid analysis like the kind provided by here by Benjamin Massey at the Eighty Six Forever blog.

Of course, if you are a Whitecaps fan, or if you are interested in seeing the Galaxy de-coupled from these MLS playoffs, the news is fairly unlovely.

Massey concludes that neither one is “all that.” Through smart statistical analysis of shots on target per game, he assesses that Mattocks owns the better numbers, but not by any significant margin.

But then comes the real gut punch, where he demonstrates some compelling evidence that the best options may have been traded away in the reach for Miller and fellow Scotsman Barry Robson.

By comparison, Eric Hassli averaged 0.70 shots on target per 90 until he was traded for ineffectiveness, offensive disappointment Sebastien Le Toux managed 0.66, and Camilo leads the team with 1.23. Chris Wondolowski, one of MLS’s premier shooters, has 1.75 shots on target per 90 minutes this season, and Thierry Henry has 1.61. Even merely decent forwards, players like Edson Buddle (0.81), David Estrada (0.88), and Andrew Wenger (1.01), leave Mattocks and Miller in the shade.

LIVE: UCL last 16 – Leicester face Sevilla; Juve head to Porto

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 05:  Jamie Vardy of Leicester City applauds the crowd in defeat after the Premier League match between Leicester City and Manchester United at The King Power Stadium on February 5, 2017 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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Two more UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first legs take place on Wednesday.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores

Leicester City of the Premier League head to Spain to face Sevilla in the UCL last 16 despite Claudio Ranieri‘s men battling for survival in the Premier League. The Foxes, as always, are the big underdogs in Spain as Sevilla have won the UEFA Europa League in each of the past three seasons and Jorge Sampaoli’s side are battling for the title in La Liga.

As for Leicester, they’re just two points off the bottom of the PL as they haven’t scored in their last six outings and have lost five on the spin as well as being dumped out of the FA Cup by third-tier Millwall at the weekend. So yeah, Sevilla head into this game as the heavy favorites and will hope to take a healthy lead to the King Power Stadium with them in two weeks time.

In the other UCL clash on Wednesday FC Porto host Juventus as the Portuguese and Italian giants collide at the Estadio do Dragao. Porto finished behind Leicester in the group stage, while Juv battled it out with Sevilla and clinched top spot. Massimiliano Allegri’s men remain top of Serie A and will look to Gonzalo Higuain to deliver the goals away from home. It promises to be an intriguing tactical battle in northern Portugal.

Click on the link above to follow live commentary on both games, while we will have reaction and analysis on all of the UCL knockout games here at Pro Soccer Talk.


Wednesday’s UCL Round of 16, first legs

Sevilla vs. Leicester City – 2:45 p.m. ET
FC Porto vs. Juventus – 2:45 p.m. ET

Man United’s stroll at Saint-Etienne comes at a cost

SAINT-ETIENNE, FRANCE - FEBRUARY 22:  Jose Mourinho, manager of Manchester United looks on before the UEFA Europa League Round of 32 second leg match between AS Saint-Etienne and Manchester United at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard on February 22, 2017 in Saint-Etienne, France.  (Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images)
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Manchester United beat Saint-Etienne 1-0 in their UEFA Europa League Round of 32 second leg clash on Wednesday, but Jose Mourinho will be more concerned by injuries picked up ahead of the EFL Cup final on Sunday.

[ MORE: Mkhitaryan, Carrick injury updates ] 

The Red Devils advanced to the last 16 of Europe’s second-tier club competition after a resounding 4-0 win on aggregate against the Ligue 1 side but with goalscorer Henrikh Mkhitaryan hobbling off in the first half and Michael Carrick removed in the second half, Mourinho will have some injury problems to sort out ahead of this weekends final against Southampton at Wembley.

Eric Bailly was sent off for two quick yellow cards in the second half but that didn’t impact the outcome as United cruised into the Round of 16 which will be drawn on Friday.

United have now lost just one of their last 25 games in all competitions. They are well and truly on a roll.

[ MORE: Europa League scoreboard ] 

United controlled the early stages and went ahead after 15 minutes when Juan Mata picked the ball up on the left flank, drifted inside and picked out Mkhitaryan’s run as the Armenian playmaker flicked home. 1-0 to United on the night as the Red Devils led 4-0 on aggregate.

Mata again got free down the left in the first half and his cross hit two Saint-Etienne defenders and almost went in, while Mkhitaryan hobbled off soon after clutching his hamstring.

With Marcus Rashford coming on for Mkhitaryan, he almost made it 2-0 as Ashley Young‘s cross just evaded him. At the other end Saint-Etienne barely threatened as Loic Perrin sent a tame header in on goal which Sergio Romero saved easily.

In the second half United spurned good chances as Marouane Fellaini fired into the side-netting with teammates wide-open and then Paul Pogba went down in the box easily under a challenge. Zlatan Ibrahimovic then fired a shot just wide after another good break from Rashford as United dominated proceedings with link-up play between Pogba and Ibrahimovic imperious.

Carrick was then taken off with Bastian Schweinsteiger coming on in his place as it appeared that United’s veteran midfielder had a calf issue.

Bailly was then shown two quick yellow cards around the hour mark (he will miss their next European game) which saw United play out the game with 10-men and that buoyed the home side slightly.

However, United coasted through to the last 16 with Rashford and Ibrahimovic going close to doubling their lead late on in front of a raucous home crowd.

Vietnamese players banned for two years after penalty protest

INCHEON, SOUTH KOREA - SEPTEMBER 19:  Flag bearer, Hoang Quy Phuoc of Vietnam arrives during the Opening Ceremony ahead of the 2014 Asian Games at Incheon Asiad Main Stadium on September 19, 2014 in Incheon, South Korea.  (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)
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The Vietnamese Football Federation has imposed two-year bans on two players and suspended a coach for three years after their team was involved in a bizarre penalty protest during a league match on the weekend.

[ MORE: China or MLS for Rooney? ]

Long An players were furious at a late penalty awarded by referee Nguyen Tr?ng Thu to Ho Chi Minh City when the score was locked 2-2 late Sunday.

After initially walking off the pitch, the players returned to the field but goalkeeper Nguyen Minh Nhut turned his back as the penalty was taken, conceding a goal.

The whole team then stood motionless and allowed Ho Chi Minh City to score two more goals as the margin blew out to 5-2.

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In a statement, the VFF said that Mimh Nhut and captain Huynh Quang Thanh would banned for 24 months, “Due to disrupting the match, not respecting the decision of the referee and causing damage to the reputation and honor of the Vietnam Football Federation.”

Coach Ngo Quang Sang has been banned for three years, as has club chairman Vo Thanh Nhiem, who quit following the game.

Zaza scores stunning goal for Valencia vs. Real Madrid

TURIN, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 23:  Simone Zaza (C) of Juventus FC celebrates after scring the opening goal during the Serie A match between Juventus FC and Frosinone Calcio at Juventus Arena on September 23, 2015 in Turin, Italy.  (Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images)
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Simone Zaza scored a stunner for Valencia against Real Madrid in La Liga.

Yes, that Simone Zaza.

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The Italian international striker, 25, spent the best part of six months on loan at West Ham United this season and just didn’t look interested as he failed to score in 11 appearances in all competitions. That prompted Slaven Bilic and the Hammers to cancel his loan deal from Juventus and the forward then joined Valencia in La Liga in January.

Fans of West Ham will be scratching their heads when watching the video below as Zaza swiveled and smashed home a perfect volley to put Valencia 1-0 up against Real at the Mestalla on Wednesday.

Simply sublime.