Mario Martinez, Fredy Montero, David Estrada

Drilling down on: Seattle Sounders 1, at Real Salt Lake 0

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The fourth time was a charm for Seattle, who saw Honduran international Mario Martínez – making his first Major League Soccer start – blast the Sounders into the Western Conference final. His left-footed, 15-yard half-volley in the 81st minute beat Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando far post for the series’ only goal, the Sounders winning their first playoff series in franchise history.

After dominating Friday’s first leg, Seattle met an energetic RSL to start Thursday’s match at Rio Tinto Stadium. After setting into the game mid-way through the first, the Sounders saw Real ascend through the second half, slowly gaining control of the match. The home side’s climb halted when Martínez, in the starting lineup for the injured Mauro Rosales, ended their season.

With the win, Seattle moves on to their first Western Conference final, a two-legged series starting Sunday in Los Angeles against the defending champion LA Galaxy.

Seattle advances, 1-0 (aggregate)

Man of the Match: After a poor first half, it looked like Seattle would be better off with Steve Zakuani taking over as a left wing in place of Mario Martínez. But head coach Sigi Schmid persisted with the man who’d played only 40 regular season minute, his loyalty paying off nine minutes from time when Fredy Montero’s chip over RSL’s right side fell perfectly in stride for Martínez. The midfielder strode onto and through a shot that curled toward Nick Rimando’s far post, settling into the side netting to send Seattle through.

The goal, then the analysis (below):

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Threesome of knowledge: What we learned

Sigi Schmid made the right call in midfield.

Brad Evans has played for Sigi Schmid since 2007, so it wasn’t surprising the 27-year-old midfielder drew Thursday’s most important assignment. Moved from left midfield into the center, Evans was tasked with disrupting holding midfielder Kyle Beckerman’s control of RSL’s game. Situated above destroyer Osvaldo Alonso in what played as a 4-1-3-2 formation, Evans’ persistence forced RSL to drop right-sided midfielder Will Johnson back to help their build up.

Slowly, Real adjusted to the tactic, but without Johnson to balance their midfield, RSL became predictably left-leaning, making life easier for Osvaldo Alonso. Late in the match, the Sounder linchpin made a number of key tackles, giving his own Man of the Match-caliber performance.

RSL’s central defenders locked down Seattle’s attack.

The absence of Rosales was huge. Not only did it deprive Seattle of their biggest leg one advantage (Rosales versus RSL’s left back), it also took away the man most likely to augment the Sounders’ battle against Jamison Olave and Nat Borchers (Real Salt Lake’s central defenders).

RSL took the chance of leaving their defenders two-on-two against Eddie Johnson and Fredy Montero. With those numbers, you’d expect Seattle to generate some chance through their forwards, given enough opportunities. But thanks to strong performances from Olave and Borchers, Seattle’s 27-goal duo had very few opportunities. Olave had the speed and strength to compete with Johnson, while Borchers shadowed Montero’s forays backward to connect with his midfield.

With Olave and Borchers in form, Seattle was going to need a goal like Martínez’s to break through.

Alonso, Gspurning key the defense. Again.

Tonight, Michael Gspurning won the battle, even if he didn’t approach Rimando’s Friday heights. Tonight, Seattle’s goalkeeper lived up to Sigi Schmid’s year-long superlatives, making nine saves while keeping his 180-minute clean sheet.

In front of him, it was again Alonso cleaning everything up. Perhaps he was fortunate not to get called for a first half shoulder charge in the box, but after four years in Major League Soccer, the league’s premier destroyer knows how to walk that line. Late in the match, long after he’d picked up a 51st minute yellow card, Alonso made a number of key tackles deep in Seattle’s end that allowed his team to kill off the game’s final moments.

Packaged for takeaway

  • It was not a series to remember for Chris Wingert. The RSL defender, who was left looking at so many first leg crosses, picked up an injury in warmups. Kenny Mansally got the call at left back.
  • RSL also started without Fabian Espindola, Alvaro Saborio’s normal partner held back with an injured hamstring. The Argentine came on in the second half for Paulo Jr.
  • In the first half, Salt Lake was intent on using Paulo Jr.’s speed, repeatedly feeding balls into space behind Seattle’s defense. Nice reads from Gspurning thwarted the tactic.
  • Seattle and Los Angeles met in the 2010 Western Conference semifinals, the Galaxy getting a 1-0 win in Seattle en route to a 3-1 series victory.
  • For Real Salt Lake, the question is whether they keep this core together. They finished second in the West, but after three-straight playoff disappointments, Garth Lagerway and Jason Kreis may look to shake things up.

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.