Real Salt Lake v Seattle Sounders - Western Conference Semifinals

Drilling down on: at Seattle 0, Real Salt Lake 0

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A playoff series opener for Seattle is a shutout waiting to happen.

Four times now the Sounders have begun a two-leg series without finding goal. The bad news for Sounders’ fans, of course, is that Seattle has yet to rally in the second leg to advance.

So Real Salt Lake has a significant leg up following Friday’s scoreless draw in Seattle, the opener in the teams’ Western Conference semifinal series. They’ll decide a winner Thursday at Rio Tinto Stadium.

Man of the Match: The pictures of Nick Rimando at game’s end said it all: the visitor’s outstanding goalkeeper, puffy eyed from a big second-half collision, accepting earnest praise from players on both sides for providing a special performance when his team truly needed one. In addition to a series of stellar stops, the veteran demonstrated steely focus and toughness by remaining on top of things and keeping his wits after the crunching collision left him with a shiner on his right eye, a cut over the nose and who knows what else?

MORE: On Nick Rimando’s spectacular night in Seattle

Threesome of knowledge: What we learned

Quality stuff from the goalkeepers and beyond: Those elimination matches that launched the MLS playoffs were interesting in their own way, but we could ask some questions about the overall quality.

A slick field help reduce the level of play in Chicago on Wednesday, and then one team wasn’t really quite playoff caliber in California on Thursday, if we’re being honest. So while the games had champagne drama, they were more like table wine in terms of style and ability.

Well, these conference semifinals will be a different can of salmon. We suspected as much and weren’t let down. Even if the visitors were a little cautious in places, there was plenty of action, good chances on both sides and few discernible weak links on either side.

The best work, of course, was in either goal. Rimando’s outstanding work included a big sprint off the line to smother a Brad Evans shot as the Sounders’ midfielder broke free along the right. Rimando’s pair of saves on consecutive corner kicks in the 33rd minute were show-stoppers. The better of the pair was his stop on Sammy Ochoa’s sharp header, which needed a big, strong hand to push the ball high. And Rimando’s 51st-minute stop on Christian Tiffert’s snap header was also a highlight maker.

On the other end, Seattle’s steady Michael Gspurning was doing his part to produce a scoreless draw. His best work came as Ned Grabavoy was in behind the defense and later on a Will Johnson’s blast from in close.

Real Salt Lake was dead-set determined not to make the mistake that did in Seattle in last year’s series between these teams.

Opening the home-and-away tussle in Utah, the Sounders didn’t know when to say when. The Sounders fell behind and then pressed naively for the equalizer as if it weren’t a series to be decided over two legs. Result, they lost 3-0 and then could not make up the large deficit on the back end, at home.

So Jason Kreis’ RSL was not about to do the same. Tactical discipline was the order of the day and it worked to perfection. So the outside backs remained cautious. Will Johnson and Ned Grabavoy, the “width” in RSL’s fluid diamond midfield, remained inside and refused to get stretched too wide. Screening man Kyle Beckerman had his usual bounce and bite.

Meanwhile, Javier Morales, Alvaro Saborio and Fabian Espindola, supported by carefully managed numbers, still managed to create the occasional chance for RSL.

Seattle tried to press high and it worked – but only to a point. If the point was to prevent RSL from working all the little combinations in dangerous places, to keep Beckerman, Morales, Espindola, etc., working the fancy little stuff in midfield rather than in the central third, then mission accomplished. On the other hand, RSL had enough technical ability to keep the ball adequately and avoid the killer turnovers in bad places.

In a series that will probably be decided by one goal, the Sounders missed injured leading scorer Eddie Johnson.

Nowhere was that more evident (and painful for Seattle fans) than in the 50th minute. Young fill-in Sammy Ochoa punctuated a wonderful Seattle sequence with a blast from eight yards that flew well high. It really was a great chance with Ochoa running at full gallop right onto a perfectly placed ball from the left.

David Estrada replaced Ochoa in the second half and, in the 85th minute, whiffed from point blank range. Couldn’t we all see a quality finisher like Johnson, confident as he is at the moment, saving the Seattle day on one of those?

Otherwise, neither man has Johnson’s sense of timing near goal, nor his leaping ability on balls supplied by Mauro Rosales or others.

Packaged for take-away

  • Espindola left at halftime due to a hamstring issue, which is unfortunate news for RSL.
  • Yellow cards will be an issue for either team that goes through in this series. Jeff Parke, Brad Evans, Beckerman and Morales were all booked and now stand one more yellow card away from missing the following match.

Highlights: Nick Rimando steals the show

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Michael Gspurning talks after his shutout

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VIDEO: 70-yard run leads to incredible goal at Africa Cup of Nations

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Take a bow, Piqueti.

Guinea-Bissau took the lead against Cameroon in stunning fashion on Wednesday in group play at the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations.

Watch the incredible clip below as Piqueti — full name Piqueti Djassi Brito Silva — controlled the ball and ran 70-yards before hammering home to put the underdogs ahead.

The winger for SC Braga in Portugal has certainly made a name for himself.

What a goal!


LIVE: Liverpool, Saints both in FA Cup replay action

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - JANUARY 08: Emre Can of Liverpool takes a free kick during The Emirates FA Cup Third Round match between Liverpool and Plymouth Argyle at Anfield on January 8, 2017 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
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The final three games of the FA Cup third round will take place on Wednesday and it is time for some more replays.

[ LIVE: Follow FA Cup scores here

Premier League title contenders Liverpool head down to the far south west of England to play fourth-tier Plymouth Argyle after the Pilgrims grabbed a famous 0-0 draw at Anfield to set up this replay. Jurgen Klopp will once again rest plenty of first team stars. The winner of this game will host Wolverhampton Wanderers at home. Surely we couldn’t see a massive giant-killing down at Home Park…

The other Premier League side in action is Southampton as they host Championship outfit Norwich City. Both teams will be understrength as second-tier Norwich focus on getting back into the playoff hunt in the league, while Saints have an EFL Cup semifinal second leg at Liverpool next week on thier mind plus a big Premier League game against Leicester this Sunday as they aim to stop a run of four-straight defeats in the PL. Whoever wins this clash will host Arsenal in round four.

Two big teams clash in the Championship as Newcastle United host Birmingham City at St James’ Park with Rafael Benitez’s side top of the second-tier as they chase an instant return to the Premier League. Rafa’s massive squad means he can rotate his team, while Birmingham boss Gianfranco Zola is still looking for his first win in charge of the Blues since taking over in December. The winner of this tie will travel to Oxford United in the fourth round.

Hit the link above to follow the scores from all of the FA Cup games on Wednesday, while we will have reaction to the matches right here on Pro Soccer Talk.

Here is the schedule.


Wednesday’s FA Cup third round replays

Newcastle United vs. Birmingham City – 2:45 p.m. ET
Plymouth Argyle vs. Liverpool – 2:45 p.m. ET
Southampton vs. Norwich City – 2:45 p.m. ET

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Morata to Chelsea; Ulloa, Sakho in demand

UDINE, ITALY - MARCH 24:  Alvaro Morata of Spain looks on during the international friendly match between Italy and Spain at Stadio Friuli on March 24, 2016 in Udine, Italy.  (Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images)
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With Diego Costa and Antonio Conte making up for now, the focus is on who could be the long-term striker at Stamford Bridge.

[ MORE: United need Griezmann

The Daily Telegraph believes that Conte will turn to Real Madrid forward Alvaro Morata in the summer as he looks to the Spanish international to be his go-to man up top. With Costa causing problems behind the scenes at Chelsea, it is believed Conte is ready to cash in on the troublesome striker despite his 14 goals and five assists putting Chelsea top of the Premier League with five games to go go.

As for Morata, the 24-year-old is stuck behind the likes of Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo once again after returning to Real Madrid in the summer following two years at Juventus. Real exercised the buy-back clause in Morata’s deal in the summer and refused to sell him to Chelsea. Morata has started just six La Liga games this season but has scored five goals and Conte was the man who signed him for Juventus before he moved on to manage the Italian national team.

If Chelsea sell 28-year-old Costa to China for a big profit and then bring in Morata, that would seem like a decent deal. Conte gets rid of a wantaway player and adds a talented and hungry striker who is four years younger and ready to prove himself at the top level. What could go wrong?


The Liverpool Echo is reporting that Liverpool’s central defender Mamadou Sakho is interesting Crystal Palace.

Sakho, 25, hasn’t played for the Reds all season after a fall out with manager Jurgen Klopp in the summer. Sakho rejected a loan move to Stoke City in the summer but has only played for Liverpool’s U-23 side since. The former Paris Saint-Germain defender has also been linked with a move to Southampton in the January window but with Liverpool said to be intent on selling Sakho rather than loaning him, that considerably cuts down his options.

Palace are in need of defensive help with new manager Sam Allardyce gaining just one point from his first four games in charge. Palace also have the third worst defensive record in the PL but it would be interesting to see if the Eagles would splash out nearly $20 million on Sakho and if he would likely take a pay cut to join a team which is outside the relegation zone only on goal difference.

Allardyce is known for building his teams around a solid defense and Sakho could certainly land in worse place than south London if the Eagles manage to stay up.


Leicester City striker Leonardo Ulloa is a man in demand.

Ulloa, 30, has come off the bench time and time again this season for the Foxes but has struggled to hold down a regular spot in the team and the Uruguayan forward reportedly wants a move away from the King Power Stadium. Ulloa played the bit-part superbly last season in Leicester’s title-wining campaign, scoring valuable goals off the bench and often replacing Shinji Okazaki for the final 30 minutes of games to batter opposition defenses.

This season Ulloa has scored just once in 18 appearances in all competitions, starting just two games.

Sky Sports claim that Spanish side Alaves have placed a bid with Leicester but that has reportedly been rejected, while the Daily Express states that a quartet of Premier League clubs are sniffing around the powerful striker with West Brom plus strugglers Hull City, Swansea City and Sunderland all interested.

With Okazaki, Islam Slimani, Ahmed Musa and Jamie Vardy around, it is unlikely Ulloa will get any significant minutes for Leicester for the rest of the season. Will the Foxes really sell him to a potential rival in the battle against PL relegation though?

USMNT snub: No US players in CONCACAF Best XI of 2016

HARRISON, NJ - JUNE 01:  John Brooks #6 of United States and teammates Clint Dempsey #8,Michael Bradley #4,Geoff Cameron #20 and Julian Green #16 wait for the corner kick in the second half against Turkey during an international friendly match at Red Bull Arena on June 1, 2014 in Harrison, New Jersey.The United States defeated Turkey 2-1.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Well, this is a little surprising.

[ MORE: Griezmann needed at United ]

CONCACAF released its Best XI from 2016 on Wednesday and there were zero U.S. national team players in the list of 11.

Zero.

Players from Mexico and Costa Rica dominate, while Canadian midfielder Atiba Hutchinson, Jamaican defender Wes Morgan and French forward Andre-Pierre Gignac were also included. The top 11 players were selected after either playing for a national team or club team in the CONCACAF region.

Only one player from Major League Soccer made the list, Ronald Mataritta of New York City FC.

Still, the fact that USMNT defenders Geoff Cameron and John Brooks didn’t get in the Best XI of 2016 after their heroics at the Copa America Centenario is quite mind-boggling. No offense against Morgan or Mexico’s Rafael Marquez, but come on. Also, surely Christian Pulisic or Jozy Altidore would have been worthy additions to this team?

Then again, when you see the highlight video below, most of the winners are shown scoring or playing well against the USMNT. That could go a little way to explain why there are no U.S. players on this list…

Below is the team in full. Intrigued to hear your comments in the section below.