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)

Dele Alli, Pochettino after FA Cup ouster: “We can’t keep doing this”

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This felt like a different year for Spurs, one which would include something shiny.

[ MORE: Match recap | 3 things ]

Instead, Tottenham Hotspur will exit another season without hardware after blowing an early lead and fairly controlling first half with a 2-1 loss to Manchester United in the FA Cup semifinal on Saturday at Wembley Stadium.

This was at their home venue, even if they weren’t the home team. And it just fell apart.

Here’s Dele Alli, from the BBC:

“Everyone talks. We want to win trophies, we have the staff that want to win. We can’t keep doing this. We can’t throw it away. We have got to improve.”

His boss, Mauricio Pochettino, was more upbeat regarding his Spurs project but no less disappointed in the result. The North Londoners are only going to face more questions all offseason and into next.

“I think we need to understand where we have come from,” he said. “It’s easy to talk about winning trophies. To win a trophy when you face a side like Manchester United, Chelsea or Manchester City is not easy. But the most important thing is we are able to compete.”

Tottenham is on the up, and will continue to grow in resources but not renown until it puts something in its trophy case under Pochettino. It really did feel like this could be the year.

Man Utd races past Spurs to reach FA Cup Final

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  • Man Utd reaches 20th FA Cup Final
  • Alexis plays role in both Utd goals
  • Dele scores for Spurs

Alexis Sanchez and Ander Herrera scored as Manchester United came back to beat Tottenham Hotspur 2-1 at Wembley Stadium in Saturday’s FA Cup semifinal.

United will meet the winner of Sunday’s semifinal between Southampton and Chelsea at Wembley on May 19.

Dele Alli scored Spurs goal.

[ MORE: Full box score ]

Spurs went ahead through Dele, as Paul Pogba lost Christian Eriksen as the Dane raced onto a long ball. Eriksen crossed to the back post for Dele’s sliding finish.

Pogba made amends in his preferred third of the pitch, stealing the ball from a Mousa Dembele and lofting an inch-perfect cross for Alexis to nod home. The headed finish was anything but easy, hit across the goal while falling to the pitch.

Michel Vorm made a save on a deflected Pogba rip in the 44th minute, and Ander Herrera hit a chance high and wide off the ensuing corner.

And Eric Dier cranked a shot off the framework in stoppage time.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

The best chance of the early second half saw Harry Kane‘s deflected shot go out for a corner, set up by Dele.

Herrera put United ahead just after the hour mark, as Lingard dummied a mistouch from Romelu Lukaku.

Three things we learned: Man United v. Tottenham

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LONDON — Manchester United fought back from 1-0 down to beat Tottenham Hotspur 2-1 at Wembley Stadium on Saturday as Jose Mourinho reached yet another major cup final.

Mauricio Pochettino and Spurs will have to cope with yet another season of heartache in cup competitions as their long wait for a trophy goes on. Dele Alli got them off to a perfect start but Alexis Sanchez’s fine header and a cool finish from Ander Herrera means United will play the winner of Chelsea versus Southampton in the other semifinal on Sunday.

Here’s what we learned from an enthralling encounter at Wembley.


ERRATIC POGBA DELIVERS

For the first 25 minutes Paul Pogba was all over the place, was caught out for the long ball down the left on Tottenham’s opener and he had every right to be concerned about getting the hook at half time. Then he turned on the style to drag the Red Devils back into the game.

Pogba’s topsy-turvy season continued after his Man of the Match display at Bournemouth in midweek, which came after Mourinho hooked him off early in the home defeat to West Brom and 10 days after his two goals at Manchester City in the stunning comeback win. Mix in with all of that Pep Guardiola‘s comments that Pogba was offered to Man City in January and more reports earlier this week that he will leave United this summer and the $130 million signing from Juventus in 2016 has had a turbulent few weeks to say the least.

Yet moments like the way he won the ball back from Mousa Dembele (never an easy task) then delivered a pinpoint cross for Sanchez to head home must be exactly why Mourinho is left infuriated by Pogba so often.

Pogba had an effort from distance in each half saved well by Vorm and after the goal it was as if a penny had dropped and he realized he could be the hero, his contribution could lead United one step closer to a piece of silverware this season. That not only meant he flourished in attack but he tracked back and started to do the dirty work.

Consistency is the main thing lacking with Pogba’s game and at the age of 25 and for his price tag, wages and reputation, he should be able to deliver week in, week out. That lack of focus and ability to do the dirty things like track runners and keep his possession is what will end up costing Pogba his United future under Mourinho.

Pogba showed with his surging run and assist at Bournemouth on Wednesday and then his fine cross for Sanchez that he has the ability to decide games on his own.

Now, if he’s given the chance to stay at United beyond this season, he must do it more often. His flashes of brilliance in recent weeks at least mean he has put himself in the shop window. The Mourinho v. Pogba battle will continue but the French midfielder had a positive impact as United reached the FA Cup Final for the second time in the last two seasons.


MOURINHO’S FAITH IN SANCHEZ REWARDED

Most of the talk leading up to this game was about how Alexis Sanchez was likely to be benched by Mourinho.

He wasn’t and, once again at Wembley, he made the difference. Sanchez scored a fine header to equalize which was his sixth goal in five FA Cup games at Wembley. He is a man for the big occasion and he delivered once again in the FA Cup.

There’s no doubt that Sanchez has got off to a slow start at United. He has given the ball away more than any of his teammates since he arrived in January and he has scored just two goals in the Premier League and was rested at Bournemouth last time out.

Sanchez still gave the ball away and still did some things which made you raise your eyebrows but he is battling through a tough spell to start life at United.

That was summed up by his role in United’s winner. The Chilean chased down a lost cause from Lukaku’s flick on and put Kieran Trippier under pressure to win the ball, then roll it cross for Herrera to eventually hammer home.

Sanchez rewarded Mourinho for keeping faith in him and there’s no doubt that once he becomes more comfortable at United over the summer then he will be back to his best in 2018/19.


SAME OLD STORY AS SPURS RUN OUT OF STEAM

Tottenham could have easily been 3-0 up inside the first 20 minutes but they didn’t make the most of their fast start and they weren’t clinical enough with good chances wasted by Harry Kane, Heung-Min Son and Christian Eriksen.

Spurs have now lost their last eight FA Cup semifinals on the trot (the longest run of semifinal defeats in club history) as their wait for a first trophy now spans over a decade.

Playing basically at home after spending the entire season at Wembley as their temporary home, Spurs’ fast start showed how comfortable they are becoming with the big occasions. Yet that initial hope faltered, just like it did in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 second leg defeat against Juventus last month. You can’t say that Spurs “bottled” this but they lost all of their early momentum as soon as United were level.

Mauricio Pochettino said in the week that winning the FA Cup “wouldn’t change anything” for Spurs and their main focus is to win the Premier League or the UEFA Champions League. That, of course, would be fantastic, but surely Pochettino can’t be that naive not to realize that winning a piece of silverware and getting that particular curse off of Spurs’ back would help his players…

Yes, Spurs have had a fine season, once again, and barring a late collapse they will finish in the top four for the third-straight campaign. That is their main aim each season. But at some point they have to start delivering on the big stage and no matter what you think of the FA Cup it is still one of the three major trophies dished out at the start of each domestic season in England.

And it is one of the three trophies Spurs haven’t won out of their last 30 attempts, dating back to the League Cup in 2008.

 

WATCH: USMNT’s Pulisic cues up ex-Man City teen for 1st goal

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Jadon Sancho made history for English players in Germany thanks to a little help from an American teenager.

Christian Pulisic dribbled free from a pack of would-be tacklers to cue up the ex-Manchester City player for a finish against Bayer Leverkusen in the 13th minute of a match at the Westfalenstadion on Saturday.

[ MORE: Klopp rips West Brom ]

Sancho just turned 18 on March 25, and becomes the youngest English goal scorer in Bundesliga history having entered the match with one assist in 415 Bundesliga minutes.

As for 19-year-old Pulisic, the USMNT prodigy has five goals and seven assists in 39 matches across all competitions this season.