Looking back at five minutes that defined Vancouver’s season

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It took only five minutes to sum up the Vancouver Whitecaps’ 2012 season, a second half span that turned a potential Vancouver upset into the expected result. Los Angeles put an end to the Whitecaps season, 2-1, helped by all mixed blessings that defined an uneven Whitecaps campaign.

It started in the 68th minute, Vancouver carrying the one-goal lead stolen in the third minute when Darren Mattocks placed a ball inside Josh Saunders’ left post. The lead persisted for over an hour before the five-seed had a chance to put one foot in the semifinals, a counter attack creating a three-on-three in front of LA’s goal. Matt Watson played a ball to Kenny Miller, whose flick back to the midfielder produced a hard shot from 16 yards on Saunders. The block went to Miller who couldn’t get a shot on goal, a deflection sent to Barry Robson in the right of the box. When he too couldn’t get a shot on frame, Los Angeles survived a chance that should have ended their title defense.

MORE: Drilling down on Thursday night’s result

The attack was emblematic of all the shortcomings Vancouver’s seen in their two Scottish imports. Kenny Miller, who started the game on the bench, did well to make a run that opened up space behind him. When Watson played him the first pass, he made a nice flick back into the space. Up until he had to shoot, Miller was great, but for a designated player brought in to score goals, the end product matters. When Saunders’ save on Watson’s shot fell to him, the former Rangers star was slow releasing a shot that was eventually blocked.

Why Miller was even in the game was a mystery. At this point, there’s little doubt Darren Mattocks is the superior player, yet much to his chagrin, the Vancouver rookie was replaced in the 59th minute. Was he too tired to continue? It didn’t seem like it. The teams were only 14 minutes into the second half. Up 1-0, Rennie just wanted Miller on the pitch. In the face of a half-season’s worth of evidence, he was the man trusted to help close out the upset.

Then there’s Robson, whose surly attitude and underwhelming production have made him Vancouver’s biggest disappointment. The midfielder’s had the misfortune of being ill-cast as the savior of Vancouver’s attack, Rennie often setting up with the assumption the Scottish import can be an effective playmaker. But that’s never happened. Vancouver was more potent at the beginning of the season than at its end, when a switch to a 4-3-1-2 formation doubled Rennie’s bet on his underperforming dynamo.

One minute after Robson’s hesitation allowed LA to close him down, the Galaxy had won a corner. In the process, Jay DeMerit was hurt, David Beckham having run through his right leg. As DeMerit lay injured, LA played short. Juninho eventually crossed for Mike Magee, who took advantage of poor marking by Robson to equalize. Of course Vancouver wouldn’t yield until DeMerit was broken, and of course, Robson would be involved in the goal.

DeMerit would never return, left to rock back-and-forth on the bench, writhing in pain as Martin Bonjour took his place in the 70th minute. As if anybody needed proof of DeMerit’s value to Vancouver, his absence decided their season. Landon Donovan’s run behind Bonjour found the Argentine’s outstretched left arm. Down he went, drawing Silviu Petrescu’s whistle before the Galaxy captain eventually launched a 73rd-minute match-winner into the left side netting.

So there stood Vancouver, emasculated over the course of five minutes. Their promising start had slipped through their fingers, leaving them to fight their way back with Miller and Robson leading the attack while Jay DeMerit sat on the bench. Yes, they’d made the playoffs, and yes, they’d proved more formidable that anybody expected. But if there was one way Vancouver had to end their season, that was it – reminded of everything that defined 2012.

Barkley ineligible to make Chelsea debut in FA Cup replay

Photo credit: Chelsea FC / Twitter: @chelseafc
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Ross Barkley was expected — and himself expected — to make his Chelsea debut on Wednesday, when the Blues host Championship side Norwich City in a third-round FA Cup replay at Stamford Bridge.

Alas, the 24-year-old English midfielder has been ruled ineligible due to a lesser-known and -applied rules surrounding transfers and player registration.

[ MORE: Tuesday’s 3rd-round replay roundup | Wednesday preview ]

Barkley completed his move from Everton to Chelsea, for $20 million, on Jan. 5, the day before Chelsea and Norwich drew 0-0 at Carrow Road. In order to be eligible for Wednesday’s replay, Barkley is required to have completed his transfer prior to the noon cut-off the day prior to the original tie. While the time of official approval is unknown, Barkley’s move wasn’t announced by the club until after 5 p.m. in the UK.

As such, Chelsea will attempt to set up a behind-closed-doors friendly this week, in order to provide Barkley a bit of game action as he builds fitness and sharpness ahead of a potential debut against Brighton & Hove Albion on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com). Barkley hasn’t seen a single minute of first-team action this season after suffering a serious hamstring injury in the summer.

FA Cup preview: Three more PL sides face 3rd-round replays

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Three more Premier League sides, including a top-four fighter, attempt to join a dozen of their top-flight contemporaries in the fourth round of the FA Cup on Wednesday…

[ MORE: Tuesday’s 3rd-round replay roundup ]

Chelsea and Swansea City host Championship opposition in the form of Norwich City and Wolverhampton Wanderers, respectively, while Bournemouth will make the 500-mile roundtrip to take on League One side Wigan Athletic.

The Blues, who now sit fourth in the PL after their disappointing 0-0 draw with Leicester City, could manage only a scoreless draw with the Canaries at Carrow Road earlier this month. They are winless in their last four games across all competitions — all draws — including their League Cup semifinal first-leg draw with Arsenal last week; the last three of those all finished without a single goal scored. Chelsea, who are tied with Liverpool with the fourth-most FA Cups in their history (7), lost out to Arsenal in last season’s final at Wembley Stadium.

Swansea are undoubtedly the side on highest Cupset alert, as Wolves are the runaway leaders and champions-elect in the Championship (10 points clear after 27 of 46 rounds played), thus able to devote more attention to the FA Cup than the typical second-division side. With the two sides separated by just a single place in the English footballing pyramid (Swansea, 20th in the PL; Wolves, 1st in the Championship), they appear destined to swap places by the end of May.

Meanwhile, Bournemouth’s punishment for conceding a pair of early goals to a side currently 32 places below them in the pyramid, is the long, midweek trip from the south coast to the DW Stadium in the northwest of England. It was the Premier Leaguers who needed a two second-half goals, including Steve Cook‘s 90th-minute equalizer, to draw level at home in the first meeting.

Tuesday’s FA Cup replay actionFULL ROUNDUP

Leicester City 2-0 Fleetwood Town
West Ham United 1-0 (AET) Shrewsbury Town
Mansfield Town 1-4 Cardiff City
Sheffield Wednesday 2-0 Carlisle United
Reading 3-0 Stevenage

Agent: 37-year-old Ronaldinho has retired

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SAO PAULO (AP) The brother and agent of 2005 Ballon d’Or winner Ronaldinho announced Tuesday that the former Brazil and Barcelona playmaker has retired from football.

Roberto Assis made the announcement to Brazilian media on behalf of the 37-year-old midfielder, who played his last professional match in 2015 for Brazil’s Fluminense.

“Ronnie’s professional career is over. He wants to be a football ambassador, do charity, and work with his friends in music from now on,” Assis told The Associated Press.

Assis hopes to schedule some farewell matches for Ronaldinho after the World Cup in Russia, which ends July 15. The initial plan is to play games in Brazil, Europe and Asia and to also get Brazil’s national team involved, Assis said.

Last July, Ronaldinho said on the sidelines of a friendly in Chechnya that was he was “too old” to return to action.

The Brazilian’s decorated career also includes one World Cup title (2002), one Champions League victory (2006) and two Spanish league titles with Barcelona, and two FIFA world player of the year awards (2004 and 2005).

Ronaldinho started his professional career at Gremio in southern Brazil in 1998. He left for Paris Saint-Germain in 2001 and was signed by Barcelona two seasons later.

At the Camp Nou, he was the engine of a team that took Barca back to the limelight. However, after a series of club trophies, Ronaldinho’s career took a downturn. He was often accused by Brazilian and Spanish media of lacking professionalism, despite his mentoring of a then youthful Lionel Messi.

In 2008, with Messi then leading Barcelona, Ronaldinho left for AC Milan. Despite being part of a team that won Serie A in 2011, he failed to reach his previous heights as a player.

When returning home became a real option, Ronaldinho frustrated Gremio’s efforts to re-sign him and joined Flamengo instead.

Disappointing performances in Rio de Janeiro took him to Atletico Mineiro, a club that then was more often fighting against relegation than for titles.

Yet a more mature Ronaldinho took Atletico to a different level.

In his last great run, Ronaldinho carried Atletico with his superb passes and dazzling dribbles to second place in the 2012 Brazilian Championship.

A year later, he was the key to his club lifting its first Copa Libertadores, South America’s most prestigious club trophy, but his hopes of playing at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil were dashed.

Ronaldinho left to play for Mexico’s Queretaro in 2014-15, but was mostly on the bench.

He played his last seven matches as a professional for Fluminense, though his performances were a far cry from his best days in Spain.

Now living in Rio, he has appeared in advertisements all over the world since leaving Fluminense.

USL granted 2018 2nd-division sanctioning by U.S. Soccer

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U.S. Soccer has officially granted the United Soccer League second-division sanctioning, behind first-division Major League Soccer, for the upcoming 2018 season, as well as first-division status for the National Women’s Soccer League.

[ MORE: Landon Donovan unveiled by Liga MX side Club Leon ]

USL, which will feature 33 teams in 2018, had been granted temporary second-division sanctioning, alongside the North American Soccer League, in 2017. As NASL’s demise continued and accelerated — the league will not begin play this spring, opting instead for a late-summer kickoff, after a number of its teams either folded or jumped ship to USL — USL, with the help of MLS, quickly pounced to capitalize — from U.S. Soccer’s statement:

Sanctioning allows NWSL and USL to operate a Division I and II league, respectively, during the 2018 season and includes a two-year pathway to full compliance with the Professional League Standards. USL has demonstrated substantial progress toward reaching full compliance since being granted provisional Division II sanctioning in 2017.

Conspiracy theorist’s take: USL supplanted NASL as the U.S.’s second-most viable professional men’s league — and more importantly, being granted official second-division status — paves the way for MLS to, at some point well down the line — say, 2030 or so — implement its own multi-tiered system of promotion and relegation, featuring anywhere between 60 and 80 teams, while still remaining a single-entity structure closed to the lower reaches of the sport in America, as the lines separating MLS and USL have only become more and more blurred in recent years.

[ MORE: Donovan ready to “win championships” after ending retirement ]

MLS realizes that public demand for promotion and relegation in the U.S. has grown significantly louder in recent years — particularly given the climate of the sport after the men’s national team failed to qualify for the World Cup, and subsequent ongoing presidential-election campaign — thus an open-but-not-really-open system which satisfies neither side will eventually be the end result.