Snap judgments: Quick reactions to Wednesday’s Champions League action

1 Comment

There may not have been many remarkable results in Wednesday’s Champions Legaue action (with the exception what happened in Glasgow), but fans can take recourse in one number: 35. That’s how many goals were scored over the day’s eight matches, and while the diehard soccer fan doesn’t need big scorelines to be drawn in, Champions League represents a rare opportunity to lure a casual consumer. Goals tend to do that.

Amid all those goals were a hat trick from a Turkish international, a Brazilian giving a London giant a glimpse of what they’re missing, and an awaken from an Italian titan rebounding from weekend disappointment.

Group E

Chelsea 3-2 Shakhtar Donetsk: The defending champions salvaged a victory they had little right to claim, but after Shakhtar gave them two first half goals from elementary mistakes, it’s hard to feel bad for the visiting side. Ukraine’s champions had a chance to lock down first on Group E (having a home game against Nordsjaelland still on their schedule), but thanks to a 94th minute goal by Victor Moses, Mircea Petrescu’s team will need a result in their upcoming match with Juventus.

MORE: Chelsea takes advantage of Shakhtar mistakes

Juventus 4-0 Nordsjaelland: The Old Lady finally gives the type Champions League performance pundits and fans have expected, scoring three times in the first 37 minutes, paving their way to their first win of the tournament. Nordsjaelland, who got a draw from Juve two weeks ago in Copenhagen, were held to one shot on goal.

Impact: With two home games remaining, Shakhtar is the slight favorite to win this group, particularly with Chelsea still facing a trip to Turin. That match at Juventus will likely decide who goes through with the Ukranians to the knockout round.

Standings: Chelsea 7 pts. (+4), Shakhtar 7 (+2), Juventus 6, Nordsjaelland 1.

Group F

Bayern Munich 6-1 Lille: Remember yesterday, when I called Zenit and Manchester City the most disappointing teams of the tournament. Obviously, Lille felt ignored, because they spend 90 minutes in Munich reminding the world they bare little relation to the team that finished first and third over the last two years in France.

Valencia 4-2 BATE Borisov: It’s not even midnight, and Cinderella’s already being shown out of the ball, though BATE did make it interesting. After falling down three shortly after half time, the Belarussians fought back to within one only to see Sofiane Feghouli put the game away in the 86th minute.

Impact: BATE, six points up on Lille for third, have a Europa League spot locked up. Bayern and Valencia will decide the group champion on Nov. 20 at the Mestalla.

Standings: Bayern 9 pts., Valencia 9, BATE 6, Lille 0

Group G

Celtic 2-1 Barcelona: Previewing the first matchday of this year’s tournament, I said Celtic might be the worst team in this tournament. Clearly, they’re not. An incredible night at Parkhead (and a gift second goal) gives Celtic a famous and deserved victory over Barcelona.

Benfica 2-0 Spartak Moscow: Jorge Jesus’s side gets their first win of the tournament thanks to a strong left flank of midfielder Ola John and left back Lorenzo Melgarejo. For the second time this tournament, Spartak finished a match on 10 after Nicolas Pareja saw red in the second half.

Impact: Barcelona is still going to win this group, but for a team with Celtic’s conservative style, being able to draw your way into the knockout stage is very reassuring.

Standings: Barcelona 9 pts., Celtic 7, Benfica 4, Spartak 3

Group H

Braga 1-3 Manchester United: The Red Devils never look good in group stage, do they? An uninspired performance gave Braga the opener after a Jonny Evans’ 49th minute foul allowed Alan to convert from the spot in the. United’s malaise persisted until the 80th minute when a Robin van Persie goal put the Red Devils on course to a 3-1 win. The final score looks impressive, but the performance was not.

CFR Cluj 1-3 Galatasaray – All the strides Cluj had made to get to second place through three rounds were cancelled out by a poor home performance against the Turkish Champions. Burak Yilmaz had his best day since joining the Istanbul club this summer, scoring three times as Gala vaulted to second in Group G.

Impact: Manchester United clinch first place and are likely to start second choice XIs in their final matches against Cluj and Galatasaray. Still, being done with United, Braga has to be favored to claim second place.

Standings: Manchester United 12 pts., Galatasaray 4, Cluj 4, Braga 3

 

Three things from the USMNT’s sixth Gold Cup

AP Photo/Ben Margot
1 Comment

The United States men’s national team is now one Gold Cup title behind Mexico after claiming its sixth trophy with a 2-1 win over Jamaica on Thursday in California.

[ MORE: Match recap | Altidore’s free kick ]

Here’s what we learned from a fun win over the Reggae Boyz.

A moment for U.S. Soccer history

It doesn’t matter whether the Americans were heavy favorites or underdogs (they were heavy favorites), a title-winning match is going to make memories for an entire program.

That it was Stanford product Jordan Morris who scored the match winner in the 90th minute only makes it better.

Morris is a symbol of the many paths Americans can take to the national team, and his industrious efforts and “100 mph at all-times” motor received a deserved exclamation point.

“It’s unbelievable. Every time I step on this field it’s an honor to represent this country. This game was amazing. Jamaica made it really tough and I was nervous cause it was my guy who scored on the goal so I was trying to make up for it any way I could.”

It wasn’t Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, or Jozy Altidore who etched their names in U.S. Soccer history, and that’s a good note for this side as it builds toward, hopefully, the 2018 World Cup in Russia. That picture above says a lot.

Bruce gets it right (mostly)

While being careful not to give the legendary U.S. boss too much credit for choosing 10 of his best 11 and trotting out the same lineup from a solid win over Costa Rica, Arena had five games to find a team that would win a final on home soil and he successfully pulled that off.

He was right to know he could navigate the group stage with an experimental bunch, even if those games showed that the American depth isn’t near what many of us hoped it might be at this point in the program’s development.

(AP Photo/Ben Margot)

What it means for a World Cup or even the rest of CONCACAF qualifying is another thing, but the quality of Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, and Tim Howard is too much for all of CONCACAF but Mexico (and Costa Rica on its best day).

Lauding Arena for plugging Dempsey into the match as his first sub is like lauding a pizzeria owner for ordering mozzarella for his pies, so let’s move to sub No. 2. It was a risk to plug ice-cold Gyasi Zardes into the match, and the LA Galaxy man did not look good for most of the match. But his cross on the winner got the job done, and you can’t take that away from the team.

The future feels bright

Michael Bradley was given the Golden Ball as the best player in the tournament, and the fact that the Yanks clearly arrived in the tournament with their captain’s return to the fold following the group stage is no coincidence.

Yet it is a pleasant and mild surprise. Bradley had not starred for the U.S. for some time, though he is clearly their best option in the middle of the park. For him to arrive and put in a calm, collected, and dominant batch of shifts is a good sign heading into some tough World Cup qualifiers.

Tim Howard proved again that there was never any need to consider anyone else as a No. 1 — even though Brad Guzan had some great moments in the group stage — while Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey both shined in spots.

Considering that Christian Pulisic, John Brooks, Geoff Cameron, Fabian Johnson, and Bobby Wood were (probably) just hanging out in Europe during the tournament shows that the Americans can feel good about life. That’s a marked change from life under Jurgen Klinsmann, and U.S. Soccer has been proven right time and again by that move. The jury’s still out on Arena, but that same jury has good vibes right now.

Morris’ 90th minute missile gives USMNT Gold Cup title

AP Photo/Ben Margot
Leave a comment

Jordan Morris missed a chance to put the U.S. ahead with three minutes to play, then belted the Americans to a title with moments to spare in regulation, giving the USMNT its sixth Gold Cup title with a 2-1 win over Jamaica at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara on Wednesday.

Altidore also scored his 39th career goal and is now 16 goals behind joint-USMNT all-time leaders Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan.

Je-Vaughn Watson equalized for Jamaica within five second half minutes.

[ MORE: Three things | Altidore’s free kick ]

The early stages were more about fouls than chances, as Jamaica took several chances to plow into the favored U.S.

Je-Vaughn Watson could’ve seen red for a cleating of Jordan Morris, and Jorge Villafana was felled by a vicious bit of work from Romario Williams.

The first threat on goal came from Jozy Altidore and friends, as the Toronto FC man tore into a 25-yard shot that Andre Blake saved before being injured denying Kellyn Acosta’s rebound chance.

Blake was taken from the game with an ugly-looking hand injury, and Dwayne Miller took his place between the sticks.

Though the U.S. controlled the game, there were dicey moments, to be sure, as Graham Zusi was cooked by Darren Mattocks and the U.S. conceded a corner kick it was able to send clear of danger.

Continued U.S. pressure led to a dangerous free kick, dead center, 30 yards from goal. Enter Altidore.

The lead didn’t last long, as Watson cooked Jordan Morris at the back post to lash a free kick past Tim Howard. It was poor marking from the youngster, and the final was tied at 1.

Miller made a stop on an Arriola in the 63rd minute, as the U.S. looked to rally after inserting Clint Dempsey for Kellyn Acosta.

Omar Gonzalez headed a Michael Bradley corner off the netting outside of the near post in the 71st minute, as the Yanks and Reggae Boyz edged toward extra time.

Miller then flipped a Morris rip over the bar for a U.S. corner that turned into a Jamaican counter when Gonzalez was sucked into the Reggae Boyz’ 18.

Dempsey then headed a cross that Miller pushed off the post in the 75th minute in a moment that would’ve been doubly historic.

The Seattle man then mishit a free kick that nearly gave Jordan Morris the match-winner, but the fellow Sounders attacker somehow opted against passing it on goal with his left-foot and flubbed the chance.

Given a chance with his right foot, though, it was all good. A Zardes cross was partially cleared to the penalty spot, and Morris made no doubt with a blast past Miller. 2-1, 90.

VIDEO: USMNT leads Jamaica on Altidore free kick

AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
Leave a comment

A Jozy Altidore free kick has the United States men’s national team 45 minutes from a Gold Cup title.

His 39th U.S. goal, Altidore is now 16 goals behind joint-USMNT all-time leaders Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan.

[ FOLLOW LIVE: Stats, scores from Gold Cup Final ]

The early stages were more about fouls than chances, as Jamaica took several chances to plow into the favored U.S.

Je-Vaughn Watson could’ve seen red for a cleating of Jordan Morris, and Jorge Villafana was felled by a vicious bit of work from Romario Williams.

The first threat on goal came from Jozy Altidore and friends, as the Toronto FC man tore into a 25-yard shot that Andre Blake saved before being injured denying Kellyn Acosta’s rebound chance.

Blake was taken from the game with an ugly-looking hand injury, and Ryan Miller took his place between the sticks.

Though the U.S. controlled the game, there were dicey moments, to be sure, as Graham Zusi was cooked by Darren Mattocks and the U.S. conceded a corner kick it was able to send clear of danger.

Continued U.S. pressure led to a dangerous free kick, dead center, 30 yards from goal. Enter Altidore.

MLS Snapshot: Philadelphia Union 3-0 Columbus Crew

AP Photo/Matt Slocum
Leave a comment

The game in 100 words (or less)Goals from Ilsinho, CJ Sapong, and Marcus Epps led the Philadelphia Union to a 3-0 win over the Crew, who had not one but two players sent off in the loss. Jonathan Mensah saw red in the 35th minute for denial of an obvious goal scoring opportunity, and Lalas Abubakar was sent off for violent conduct with about a quarter hour to play. Sapong had two assists and Ilsinho added a helper too. Philly pulls to within five points of sixth-place Columbus, and have played one less game.

Three moments that mattered

20′  — Overhead pass gets deserved finish — Ilsinho made Zack Steffen’s diving attempt look feeble with a blast after Sapong’s bike-like ball across the box.

38′ — Alberg PK denied — Did we mention it could’ve been worse for Philly? Roland Alberg was stopped by the left hand of the law, er, Steffen. The left hand of the Steffen.

81′ — Epps puts it to bed — The man was credited with eight shots on the night, as 22-year-old Marcus Epps has his first MLS goal (He has scored in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup).

Man of the Match: Sapong.