Looking at the MLS conference semifinal matchups – and they are dandies

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Now that the one-game elimination round is done – the 4th – vs. 5th-place finishers clashing in those 90-minute knockout contests – the eight survivors are paired neatly for conference semifinals. And there isn’t a dog of a series among them.

Storylines look strong in each matchup. Remember, these are home-and-away, total goals series. The lower seeds generally host first, which means the 30-minute extra time in the event of a tie after 180 minutes plays out at the higher seed’s venue.

Each matchup is stocking stuffed with viewing appeal and ample “wow” factor. A quick glance at each. (The complete playoff schedule is here.)

Sporting Kansas City vs. Houston Dynamo

Chief storylines:

  • Sporting Kansas City is the league’s top team in terms of applying high pressure, immediate and ferocious – and the extra rest afforded to SKC can only help as the Eastern Conference winners bomb and bounce around.
  • The Dynamo is unbeaten at BBVA Compass Stadium, although the “weakness,” if you will, has been in a few too many draw at their amply orange downtown ground. Houston is 11-0-6 there.
  • Sporting Kansas City will be favored overall, but might be a little nervous after what happened last year; Houston prevailed as these teams (with many of the same players) met in last year’s Eastern Conference final at Livestrong Sporting Park outside Kansas City.
  • Two of the league’s top assist men are in this one, Sporting KC’s Graham Zusi (pictured) and Houston’s Brad Davis.

(MORE: Analysis of Houston’s Wednesday win over Chicago)

(MORE: Houston manager Dominic Kinnear is good at this playoff thing)

D.C. United vs. New York Red Bulls

Chief storylines:

  • D.C. United did the right thing in agreeing to swap spots here. Some things are bigger than soccer, clearly. Set to begin in Harrison, N.J., the series will now launch at RFK Stadium, a switch driven by logistical concerns surrounding the hard-hit areas of New Jersey. It creates a slight competitive disadvantage for D.C. United.
  • The consensus says New York has more talent, but D.C. United finished stronger and more confidently, 5-0-2 down the stretch.
  • United is 12-1-4 at home; New York was 5-7-5 on the road, so Ben Olsen’s side has a chance to grab a good result and add pressure on a New York side that surely already feels some, with all that ballyhooed talent and a manager whose place seems anything but certain.

(MORE: Looking the venue swap)

San Jose Earthquakes vs. Los Angeles Galaxy

Chief storylines:

  • The teams, as they say, do not like each other. The latest, greatest is example is here. Simply delicious.
  • The Galaxy regulars have injury concerns and cannot feel as well-rested as they would ideally like to be. L.A. played a close one last night (a 2-1 win over Vancouver) while San Jose benefits from the additional R&R.
  • One of the injury concerns is to David Beckham, who is slowed by an ongoing ankle injury.
  • You’ll hear a lot about Earthquakes striker Chris Wondolowski, and for darn good reason. “Wonder Wondo” just matched a 17-year-old league record for most goals in a season with 27.
  • Earthquakes teammate Steven Lenhart may be the most polarizing figure in MLS. He’s either an effective striker who rightly exploits the league’s lenient refereeing ways, or he’s more battering ram than soccer player and fouls or flops on almost every sequence in which he is involved. All dependd on your point of view.
  • The league’s top pair of center backs will stand and be counted in this one: San Jose’s Victor Bernardez and the Galaxy’s Omar Gonzalez.

(MORE: Analysis of L.A.’s win over Vancouver)

(MORE: Landon Donovan and some very impressive numbers)

Real Salt Lake vs. Seattle Sounders

Chief storylines:

  • Real Salt Lake put together a wonderful, core group four years ago. It helped the Utah side win an MLS Cup and establish itself as one of the more consistent, reliable sides in league and regional competitions. But it seems this particular group’s time is up. Changes are ahead … so this looks like a last hurrah kind of thing.
  • Seattle has been on the cusp of “more” for approximately the same amount of time. Are all the elements finally in place, all the holes plugged?
  • Eddie Johnson and Fredy Montero were the West’s top strike duo down the stretch, but Johnson’s hamstring strain in Seattle’s regular season finale may have left him in doubt.

(MORE: ProSoccerTalk’s preview of tonight’s Seattle-RSL meeting)

Man City sign Benjamin Mendy from Monaco for $68 million

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Manchester City continues to splash cash like it’s going out of fashion.

[ VIDEO: Man United beat Real Madrid

Left back Benjamin Mendy, 23, has arrived from AS Monaco for $68 million and he has linked up with his new team in Los Angeles as they continue their preseason tour of the U.S. with a game against Real Madrid.

If the reported fee for Mendy is correct, he is the most-expensive defender in history.

Pep Guardiola has now brought in five new players this summer with goalkeeper Ederson, right backs Kyle Walker and Danilo, playmaker Bernardo Silva and now Mendy costing over $267 million combined.

Here’s what the French international defender had to say after agreeing a five-year deal at City.

“I am absolutely delighted to be joining Manchester City,” Mendy said. “They are one of Europe’s leading clubs and in Pep Guardiola they have a manager committed to playing attacking football. I am sure that over the next few years we will be successful.”

City’s Director of Football, Txiki Begiristain, said Mendy was “undoubtedly one of the world’s best full-backs” and their “number one target in this position.”

Mendy has burst onto the scene at Monaco over the past 12 months, helping them to win the French title last season and also reach the semifinals of the UEFA Champions League.

The powerful left back makes surging runs forward and is as adept in attack as he is in defense. That’s obviously important in a Guardiola side as he expects his full backs to come inside, possess the ball and offer an attacking threat. Mendy ticks all the boxes.

City were knocked out of the UCL at the Round of 16 stage by Monaco with Mendy and fellow new signing Silva obviously impressing Guardiola, while Tiemoue Bakayoko has joined Chelsea for $55 million as a fine Monaco team has been broken up once again.

Monaco’s loss is the Premier League’s gain.

With Walker and Danilo at right back, plus Mendy at left back and Ederson in goal, City have strengthened their defense considerably this offseason. Ederson’s debut against Manchester United left plenty to be desired last week, but there’s no doubting City’s full back areas have been upgraded considerably.

Man United beat Real Madrid on PKs; injury update

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Manchester United beat Real Madrid 2-1 on penalty kicks after drawing with the reigning European champions 1-1 in normal time in Santa Clara, California.

[ VIDEO: Chelsea beat Arsenal in Beijing

Jose Mourinho’s men took the lead right on half time as Anthony Martial‘s fine run down the left flank ended with a perfect ball to Jesse Lingard who finished easily.

Real equalized through Casemiro’s penalty kick in the 69th minute which set up one of the worst penalty kick shootouts in memory with just three penalties scored from the 10 attempts in the International Champions Cup clash.

Take a look at the video highlights below as United continued their 100 percent record on their U.S. tour after wins over LA Galaxy, Real Salt Lake, Manchester City and now Real.

Mourinho’s men will now play Barcelona in Washington D.C. on Wednesday on their way back to Manchester.


Mourinho also gave an update on Ander Herrera who came off injured just six minutes after coming on at Levi’s Stadium.

Herrera seemed to suffer a rib injury and Mourinho is hoping the latest knock (Juan Mata picked up an injury last week, with Matteo Darmian recovering from a slight injury, plus Ashley Young, Luke Shaw and Marcos Rojo still recovering) for one of his players isn’t serious.

“It must at least be very painful because for Ander to come off, it has to be very painful,” Mourinho said. “I want to wait and see what it is. I always say to the players that you don’t risk anything in friendly matches. If you feel something is coming, even if it is a little injury, get off because the result is not important. It was very painful, it was in front of the bench, it was a bad contact. Maybe it is his ribs but I don’t know.”

The Spanish midfielder was influential in United’s midfield last season, winning their Player of the Year award after several dominant displays in the engine room.

With Mourinho said to be on the hunt for a new holding midfielder, it’s easy to see why with only Michael Carrick and the versatile Daley Blind able to slot in if Herrera is out for a while.

Jamaica upsets Mexico to reach Gold Cup final, face USMNT

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For the second straight tournament, Jamaica are headed to the final of the Gold Cup after knocking off Mexico, the side which beat them in the 2015 final, in the 2017 semifinal on Sunday.

New York Red Bulls defender Kemar Lawrence scored the game’s only goal in the 88th minute, making the most of Andre Blake’s man-of-the-match goalkeeping performance which spanned the entirety of 90 minutes.

[ RECAP: Super-sub Dempsey propels USMNT past Costa Rica ]

Blake put forth a stellar display of goalkeeping in the game’s opening 45 minutes, facing three shots on target and denying El Tri’s attackers on each and every occasion.

The pick(s) of the litter came in the 12th minute, when the Philadelphia Union ‘keeper pulled off a stunning double-save to deny Jesus Dueñas and Erick Torres. Dueñas fired first, aided by a wicked deflection, but Blake pulled off the reflexive kick-save, followed by Torres’ powerful strike through traffic seconds later.

15 minutes later, Torres earned himself a yellow card for what was undoubtedly, unquestionably a red-card, lunging “challenge” against Damion Lowe.

[ USA 2-0 CRC: Player ratings | Three things we learned ]

The second half consisted of much the same things as the first, as Blake continued his clinic in the 65th minute. Jesus Gallardo fired a free kick through the Raggae Boyz’ wall, a knuckling shot which Blake didn’t see until very late but managed the put two fists behind the ball and punch it anyway anyway.

Blake’s counterpart, Jesus Corona, joined the fun in the 78th minute. Lowe rose highest to get to Owayne Gordon’s free kick, heading it inside Corona’s right-hand post, but the Cruz Azul ‘keeper was quick to scramble across his goal and palm the ball away at full-stretch.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s Gold Cup coverage ]

Two minutes before full-time, Lawrence produced the game’s only piece of purge magic, a curling peach of a free kick from 24 yards out. Corona went one way, Lawrence went the other and Jamaica are headed to their second straight Gold Cup final.

Jamaica will take on the U.S. national team in Wednesday’s final, at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.

MLS: Rookie Ebobisse stars as Timbers win in Vancouver

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The game in 100 words (or less): The Portland Timbers, thanks to a standout performance in rookie striker Jeremy Ebobisse’s first MLS start, put to bed a six-game winless skid with a 2-1 win away to the Vancouver Whitecaps on Sunday. The run of poor form stretched back to early June, and saw Caleb Porter’s side slip from contention for the Western Conference’s top spot, into the jumbled mess surrounding the playoff cut line (four teams separated by one point, either side of sixth place, coming into Sunday). Ebobisse scored the opening goal less than a quarter-hour into the game, and delivered the beautiful backheel assist to Sebastian Blanco to restore the Timbers’ lead four minutes into the second half, after watching it disappear just before halftime. The victory sees Portland leapfrog Vancouver to move into fourth place in the West, just four points off the top spot once again.

[ RECAP: Super-sub Dempsey propels USMNT past Costa Rica ]

Three moments that mattered

14′ — Ebobisse touches home his first MLS goal — Sometimes you don’t really have to do much beyond simply existing in the right place. Ebobisse existed in the right place.

45′ — Jacobson heads home before halftime — Update: Portland still have issues defending set pieces.

49′ — Blanco slots past Ousted for 2-1 — No one really stepped up to deny Blanco’s marathon dribble, and Ebobisse did so much more than simply existing on this one.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Jeremy Ebobisse

Goalscorers: Ebobisse (14′), Jacobson (45′), Blanco (49′)