Real Salt Lake v Seattle Sounders - Western Conference Semifinals

Stuff of legends: Rimando performance deserves place among MLS’s best

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SEATTLE – It’s been 12 years since the Major League Soccer playoffs saw a performance like Nick Rimando’s. True, the Real Salt Lake goalkeeper was stellar during RSL’s 2009 MLS Cup run, but he outdid himself on Friday in Seattle. Holding the Sounders scoreless in one of the most lopsided 0-0s you’ll ever see, Rimando not only preserved his team’s chance to make it back to the Western Conference final, he put his name along side Tony Meola’s on the list of memorable playoff goalkeeping performances.

“These are the playoffs,” Rimando explained after saving RSL. “Big players step up in big games, and I think everybody stepped up tonight.”

Meola’s magic day came at RFK Stadium in 2000, his Kansas City Wizards in the MLS Cup final against a Chicago Fire team who, two years off a title and boasting the league’s best attack, were heavy favorites. The one thing the wizards had in their favor was the league’s Comeback Player of the Year, Goalkeeper of the Year and MVP: Meola.

Kansas City jumped on the Fire early with an 11th minute Miklos Molnar goal. From there, it was all Meola, the former U.S. international making 10 saves – many at point blank range – in guiding the Wizards to their only title:

Rimando didn’t come close to matching Meola’s 10 saves. In fact, the conventional numbers paint a pedestrian picture of his night, his five saves only one more than Michael Gspurning’s. Use nothing more than that – the most commonly referenced goalkeeper statistic – and you’d have no clue how remarkable Rimando was; however, if you look at Seattle’s crosses (30) and see the Sounders’s shots on target (five), you start to get an idea of Rimando’s dominance.

Where did those other 25 balls go?

Some crosses came to nothing. Others never found their way to goal, but more often than not, it was Rimando, either waiting on his line for Seattle to test him or, more frequently as the match went on, coming out to the edge of his six-yard box to punch Seattle’s service from clear of goal. His efforts earned the shutout, but they also earned him three stitches, a broken nose, and seven minutes of boos from the Seattle faithful as he laid on the ground bleeding, cut open after a 67th minute collision with Christian Tiffert.

“I commit for a ball and the next thing I know I’m on the ground,” Rimando said, asked to recalled the incident. “I was told that Christian Tiffert kind of followed trough, not intentionally, but he followed through with his forearm and got me.”

“We thought he was going to have to come out,” head coach Jason Kreis confessed after the match. “[The trainers] did a good job getting the blood stopped and Nick continued on with a real brave effort.”

MORE: Drilling down on Friday’s stalemate in Seattle

That reckless abandon – the command of his area – is what separated Rimando’s performance from the series of stellar efforts he’s given in the past. Always a man whose shot stopping could steal any game, the weakness in the 5’10” `keepers’ game has been his presence in the box. Tonight, however, he got stronger as the match went on. Whereas he looked tentative on the litany of corners Seattle won in the first half, in the second half he charged off his line, realizing he had to be more aggressive in the face of a relentless Sounder attack.

“[S]occer is like this a keeper has a night like tonight,” Mauro Rosales, launcher of so many of Seattle’s crosses, said after the match, trying to explain how Seattle’s best performance of the season ended in a scoreless draw. “[S]ometimes it’s just impossible to score. You can shoot from everywhere and not score.”

Teammates were more effusive with their praise.

“Nick’s a battler and there is no question that he is the best goalkeeper in the league in my eyes,” midfielder Ned Grabavoy offered. “I can’t say enough about Nicky. He’s the man of the match tonight.”

In the second half, Seattle attempted 20 crosses from open play. They only forced on save out of Rimando, and while that could be explained by poor execution, that would be a lie. Seattle was excellent on Friday, forcing the opposing keeper into remarkable saves on Brad Evans (25′), Sammy Ochoa (32′), Jhon Kennedy Hurtado (33′), and Tiffert (51′). Rimando saved RSL.

“I think it will have to go down as one of the single best individual performances by any player that’s ever worn an RSL jersey,” Kreis said, an understatement.

Nobody will ever forget this performance, the type of effort that forces you to wonder who you else you could possibly want in a must-win game. In MLS, there’s no doubt. It’d be Nick Rimando, whose Friday’s performance makes you ask: Could Brad Guzan had done that? Could Sean Johnson or Bill Hamid kept that clean sheet? Would even Tim Howard have saved the night for RSL?

It’d be no disgrace to them if the answer was ‘no’.

Here are the highlights:

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AFCON wrap: Tunisia joins Senegal in knockout rounds (video)

Tunisia's Wahbi Khazri smiles during a press conference in Libreville, Gabon, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017, ahead of their African Cup of Nations Group B soccer match against Zimbabwe. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
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Half of the field is set for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations knockout rounds, as Group B completed his final day of group play on Monday in Gabon.

[ FIFA: World Cup draw date at Kremlin ]

Senegal will move onto play Cameroon on Saturday, while Tunisia will take on Burkina Faso.

Senegal 2-2 Algeria

Leicester City’s Islam Slimani scored twice, but it wasn’t enough to get Algeria into the knockout rounds of AFCON.

Papakouly Diop and Moussa Sow answered Slimani’s goals, and Senegal enforced its hold on the group it had already clinched after two matches.

Algeria needed a win and help, and looked to get it when Riyad Mahrez and Islam Slimani carried over their chemistry from the Foxes of England to the Fennecs of Algeria.

Zimbabwe 2-4 Tunisia

Sunderland’s Wahbi Khazri scored of the fourth of Tunisia’s first half goals as the Eagles of Carthage emphatically clinched their knockout round spot. Tunisia lost in the quarterfinals in 2015.

Lille’s Naïm Sliti was also among the goal scorers for Tunisia, with Youssef Msakni (Lekhwiya) and Taha Yassine Khenissi (Esperance de Tunis) also netting markers.

Tendai Ndoro (Orlando Pirates) and Knowledge Musona (Oostende) scored for Zimbabwe.

Three USMNT players leave camp, two with injuries

Kekuta Manneh chases the ball during practice of the U.S. men's national soccer team Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017, in Carson, Calif. Manneh has become a U.S. citizen, moving the Vancouver Whitecaps forward closer to eligibility for the men's national team. U.S. Soccer announced Manneh received his citizenship Wednesday, after the opening practice of January training camp under new coach Bruce Arena. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
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Less than a week from Bruce Arena’s second debut as USMNT boss, we know three players who won’t be in the Starting XI.

Injuries have felled FC Dallas duo Kellyn Acosta and Matt Hedges, while Vancouver attacker Kekuta Manneh is leaving the squad to join his ‘Caps teammates for preseason in Wales.

[ MORE: JPW’s Premier League Playback ]

Acosta has a mild left ankle sprain and Hedges has a mild right knee sprain.

While Manneh may have been a long shot to see significant playing time on Sunday against Serbia or Feb. 4 versus Jamaica, Hedges had a chance to start at center back and Acosta has been capped before as well.

FIFA going to Kremlin for World Cup draw in December

SAINT PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - JULY 25:  Vladimir Putin, President of Russia speaks as FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter looks on during the Preliminary Draw of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia at The Konstantin Palace on July 25, 2015 in Saint Petersburg, Russia.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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ZURICH (AP) FIFA says it will stage the 2018 World Cup draw on Dec. 1 at a Kremlin concert hall in Moscow.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has been allowing FIFA to use high-profile venues for World Cup ceremonies.

In July 2015, the qualifying program draw was made on the grounds of one of Putin’s official residences, Konstantin Palace near St. Petersburg. The summer was home built at the direction of Peter the Great.

The World Cup in Russia kicks off on June 14 at Luzhniki Stadium in the Russian capital, and returns there for the final on July 15.

Jurgen Klopp discusses Liverpool’s title chances

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - JANUARY 21: Jurgen Klopp, Manager of Liverpool reacts during the Premier League match between Liverpool and Swansea City at Anfield on January 21, 2017 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
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It was a disappointing weekend for Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp.

[ MORE: New odds for title contenders ]

The German coach watched on as his side lost 3-2 to Swansea City on Saturday in the Premier League and the Reds fell 10 points behind leaders Chelsea with 16 games to go.

Klopp’s men have only won once in six outings in all competitions in January, and ahead of their EFL Cup semifinal second leg against Southampton at Anfield (they trail 1-0 from the first leg) he was asked if they still have hope of overhauling Chelsea and winning the Premier League.

Speaking to the media, Klopp revealed that his team are good enough to at least be in the top four battle.

“We fight in each game, that’s maybe the most important thing. Then we have to see what happens around,” Klopp said. “Of course, in cup competitions the target is to win the competition. In the Premier League, it’s probably the same but it’s not that easy to plan or whatever. In this case, if Chelsea win all their games – which they pretty much do – there is no chance for any other team. For us, it’s still absolutely important to finish the season as well as possible – whatever that means. We’ll see after the season.

“You can imagine we have the quality to fight for the Champions League, that’s what we should do. If we do this and we are then close enough in the decisive moment of the season, you can still fight for a little bit more. But in this moment, it’s nothing we have to think about or we should think about. We now have two games and then we play Chelsea, so that’s when I’ll think about Chelsea but not how we can get them or whatever. We fight for everything we are able to, that’s all.”

He’s right. Liverpool finishing in the top four this season would be a great achievement at this stage of his project.

Perhaps more worrying for Klopp is that his side may now capitulate and finish outside of the top four for a second-straight season.

There’s no doubting that Liverpool have exceeded the expectations of most people so far in 2016-17 but Klopp’s men faded badly last season to finish in eighth place and with no wins in their last three games in the Premier League the pressure is on.

Without leading scorer Sadio Mane, who is away at the Africa Cup of Nations with Senegal, they’ve struggled to break opponents down and their defensive issues came to the fore against Swansea with sloppy mistakes costing them dear.

No team in the top seven has conceded more than Liverpool and with the Reds in fourth place and just four points ahead of sixth-place Manchester United and two points ahead of Manchester City who sit in fifth, all of a sudden they are looking over their shoulders instead of up at Chelsea.

Liverpool has lost momentum.

Boy do they need a big win in the EFL Cup against Southampton on Wednesday to regain some confidence and take that into their next PL clash, which just so happens to be against Chelsea at Anfield on Jan. 31.

Whatever he says publicly, Klopp must know that Liverpool cannot afford to lose to Chelsea. If they do and fall 13 points behind the Blues, the Kop can kiss goodbye to their title hopes for another season.