New York Red Bulls v DC United - Eastern Conference Semifinals

The terrible toxin around Red Bull Arena: Rafa Marquez


All credit to D.C. United for Thursday’s accomplishment. Ben Olsen’s team was tactically disciplined, collectively committed and ultimately dug out the decisive goal – surely the club’s most significant goal in at least five years.

But there is a less lovely story from the other side last night in Harrison, N.J., where the New York Red Bulls collapsed beneath the weight of their own destructive choices. They paid a handsome price, yet again, for the utterly unjustifiable choices around Rafa Marquez.

I’ve said before, but it was never more true: At this point, anything Marquez does to damage and tear down the team is no longer his fault. It’s the club’s fault for its stubborn desire to keep the former Mexican international around.

Marquez is an anchor strapped to the ankle of this franchise and last night he sank the whole thing. (Believe it – no matter how many ways his former Barcelona teammate Thierry Henry tries to defend the guy.)

The Red Bulls were in good shape last night. Hans Backe’s side was more or less in control of the teams’ Eastern Conference semifinal second leg. Sloppy or imprecise finishing aside, they were in charge of a 0-0 match.

United went a man down with 20 minutes remaining. Surely, you would think, with a man advantage while playing at home, Backe’s pricey assembly of stars could come shining through. To have that man advantage, even if the night needed another 30 minutes to declare a winner, meant everything.

Then Marquez did what he’s been doing since his arrival into Harrison: he thoughtlessly and selfishly brought it all down.

Marquez probably should have been ejected for his awful elbow into Chris Pontius’ head in the 61st minute. Granted reprieve, and fully aware that referee Mark Geiger would presumably not hesitate to even up the match, Marquez then brutally chopped down Pontius just six minutes after Bill Hamid’s ejection for D.C. United.

Series over. And probably Backe’s time at Red Bull Arena, too.

(MORE: Highlights and analysis from last night’s contest)

By all appearances, Marquez is always in it for himself. There was always an injury (some of the mysterious variety), or a costly moment of inattention or rank indifference on game day. There were nasty shots at teammates. There were moments of utter madness, like his post-game antics that led to suspension in last year’s playoffs.

And there was no value in a $4.6 million salary, that for a man who started just 32 of 68 games over the last two years. (Some of his absences were due to international call-ups or because Backe just chose not to use him, which is indicting on its own.)

Either way, he wasn’t available enough. And when he was, all the smooth passing in the world could not possibly balance his toxic tendencies.

No matter how many Red Bulls-branded shirts this guy sells in Mexico, the organization simply must cut its losses. If not, the Red Bulls will continue to deserve every damaging and deadly deed this disaster of a signing reaps.

VIDEO: Premier League Player of the Week – Matchday 9

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There was some eye-popping moments in the Premier League this weekend, yet still very little debate who shone brightest.

Stoke City’s Xherdan Shaqiri scored a pair of Goal of the Month competitors in the same day in the Potters’ 2-0 win at Hull City on Monday.

[ MORE: MLS Cup predictions ]

The first was a curling wonder from distance, while the second came from a bit closer as the big-calfed Swiss attacker bamboozled the Hull wall and goalkeeper.

The Potters are up to 16th in the Premier League table with nine points.

Finnish fans celebrate surprise title for IFK Mariehamn

IFK Mariehamm
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HELSINKI (AP) Fans of IFK Mariehamn have gathered in the main square of the remote Finnish town to celebrate their team’s surprise league title.

“I feel very proud,” the club’s managing director, Peter Mattsson, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview on Monday, adding that “thousands” were expected to turn up for the party.

Watched by more than 4,000, Mariehamn clinched the Finnish title on Sunday with a 2-1 home victory over Ilves, from the industrial city of Tampere.

[ MORE: Full MLS Cup bracket ]

Mariehamn held off 11 other teams, including the traditionally strong Helsinki club, HJK, and defending champion SJK from western Finland. It ended three points clear of second-placed HJK for its first league title.

Local media dubbed the team “Leicester” after the surprise English Premier League champions last season.

Mariehamn, which has a population of 11,500, is the capital of the Aland islands off the southwestern Finnish coast

Kroenke: “Very high” on Wenger who is “very hard” to replace

Jeff Fisher
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LONDON — Arsenal remains “very high” on Arsene Wenger and it will be “very hard” replacing the manager who is in the final year of his contract, owner Stan Kroenke told The Associated Press on Monday.

Wenger this month celebrated 20 years in charge of Arsenal and has offered no indication whether he wants to sign a new deal into next season.

The 67-year-old Frenchman became the Premier League’s longest serving manager when Alex Ferguson retired from Manchester United in 2013. United is now on its third manager in three years and has not competed for the Premier League title since Ferguson’s departure.

In a rare interview about Arsenal, Kroenke noted the tricky post-Ferguson succession at United while discussing the challenge of eventually replacing Wenger.

“You see it (at United), you bring up a comment like that,” Kroenke told the AP after Arsenal’s annual general meeting. “It’s very hard. He’s a great manager.”

Wenger signed his last three-year contract extension in 2014.

“We will sit down and discuss the future at the appropriate time,” Arsenal chairman Chips Keswick told shareholders at a meeting where Wenger didn’t address his contract situation in his speech.

Although Wenger has won the Premier League three times, the last success came in 2004 – a drought which frustrates fans.

“He’s been a wonderful influence on the club,” Kroenke said. “We are all very high on Arsene. We are (joint) top of the table right now.”

Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool are only separated on goal difference at the summit. Despite Wenger only winning the FA Cup twice since 2004, the team is in the lucrative Champions League for the 19th successive year thanks to its runner-up finish last season. Wenger is yet to win European football’s top prize.

“I know a number of (sports team) owners that are very successful that say the same thing – the hardest thing to do is be consistently competitive at the top of the league,” said Kroenke, who also owns the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams. “Arsene has always done that and Arsenal has always been in that position. We have always been competitive.

“We may not always win the things we want to win. We are very focused on winning for sure the league. Arsene’s been consistently at the top and I will tell you – it’s very, very hard to do if you look around sports.”


2016 MLS Cup playoffs bracket in full

TORONTO, ON - MAY 07:  Michael Bradley #4 and Jozy Altidore #17 of Toronto FC celebrate a goal by teammate Tsubasa Endoh #9 during the first half of an MLS soccer game against FC Dallas at BMO Field on May 7, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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With Major League Soccer’s Decision Day 2016 in the books, we now know who will battle it out for MLS Cup.

[ MORE: Who will win MLS Cup? ]

Up first on Wednesday and Thursday are the four knockout round games, then the Conference semifinal first legs kick off this weekend.

We get into it thick and fast.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage

The PST crew already selected their picks for the postseason and filled out their bracket. You can see that by clicking on the link above. FWIW, I have Toronto FC beating the Seattle Sounders in MLS Cup…

[ MORE: Ranking MLS playoff teams ]

Below is the MLS playoff bracket in full so you can make your picks and let us know who you went for in the comments section below.


MLS Playoff bracket, 2016

MLS Playoff bracket, 2016