Ranking the foursome of surviving MLS goalkeepers

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The signature touchstones of Major League Soccer’s 2012 playoffs to this point have included big weather, big upsets and big performance from the men guarding goal.

So let’s look quickly at the foursome of starting backstoppers remaining as the teams make final prep for today’s conference finals opening legs. In fact, let’s rank them:

1. Seattle’s Sounders Michael Gspurning: The veteran Austrian was among the league’s best this year, even edging Kansas City’s Jimmy Nielsen for best goals-against average (0.73). More than the numbers, of course, he’s essentially been a rock of stability behind a defense that’s only been stable-ish.

His performance in the series against Real Salt Lake was flawless, even if we talked more about the other fellow, Real Salt Lake’s Nick Rimando, whose exceptional night in Seattle overshadowed Gspurning’s good work. Still, he’s been everything they need.

(MORE: match preview for Galaxy-Seattle)

2. Houston’s Tally Hall: The playoffs have never been a problem for Hall, who is still in only his second year as an MLS starter. Houston’s big 2011 playoff run began with Hall’s remarkable 10-save performance as the Dynamo upset Philadelphia at PPL Park. (That was his first post-season match; not bad, eh?)

This year, Hall has done little wrong in allowing two goals in three matches. One bad choice to hurry out of goal got dicey in the Dynamo win over Sporting K.C. in Houston, but he’s generally been squeaky clean otherwise.

(MORE: match preview for Houston-D.C. United)

3. L.A. Galaxy’s Josh Saunders: The Galaxy was clearly better in 2012 with their starting man in goal, having suffered measurably as Saunders missed a chunk in mid-season due to personal reasons. Down the stretch, however, the 31-year-old Oregonian has not been at his best. There has been a wobble here and there, and then we all saw that ball he let wiggle free against San Jose. In the end, it didn’t crater the Galaxy playoff ambitions, but it certainly can’t add to the stores of confidence for Saunders (or his teammates).

4. D.C. United’s Bill Hamid / Joe Willis: Hamid, United’s young starter, is struggling. So perhaps it’s just as well that Willis, Hamid’s young backup (although not quite as young) will guard goal today as Hamid sits out his mandatory one-game red card suspension. (Oh, and never Tweet while angry, young man. It’s unbecoming, and you should know better.)

EFL Cup Rewind: Southampton, Newcastle knocked out by Championship sides

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Last season, Southampton made it to the EFL Cup final. This year, it’s a different story.

The Saints were bounced by Wolverhampton Wanderers, 2-0 at home on Wednesday in the second round of the cup. Joining Southampton of Premier League sides going home early was Newcastle, which lost 3-2 after extra time at home against Nottingham Forest.

Four other Premier League sides did advance to the third round, as Stoke City, Huddersfield Town, West Ham United and Burnley all won their fixtures.

Here’s a look at the rest of Wednesday’s EFL Cup action:

Blackburn 0-2 Burnley

Cheltenham 0-2 West Ham

Huddersfield 2-1 Rotherham

Newcastle 2-3 Nottingham Forest

Southampton 0-2 Wolverhampton

Stoke City 4-0 Rochdale

Breaking down who each Premier League team could face in the UCL Group Stage

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The UEFA Champions League group stage lineup is complete, with five Premier League clubs making the list.

On Wednesday, Liverpool joined Chelsea, Tottenham, Manchester City and Manchester United in the group stage after beating Hoffenheim, 6-3 on aggregate in the playoff qualification round.

Thursday’s Champions League draw (2 p.m. ET) will place clubs into groups of four, where they’ll play three matches at home and away.

Here’s a look at the four coefficient pots and who each Premier League club could face:

(more…)

Follow Live – Texas Derby, Cascadia Cup headline busy night of MLS action

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Welcome to MLS Rivalry Week.

The surging Houston Dynamo could move to first place in the Western Conference with a win over rivals FC Dallas while the current first-place side, the Seattle Sounders travel north and across the border to face Vancouver Whitecaps FC.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

The Dynamo have made an impressive turnaround under coach Wilmer Cabrera and he’ll have the trio of Ricardo Clark, Alberth Elis and star forward Erick Torres available to face Dallas after missing the Dynamo’s match at Vancouver last weekend, which ended 2-1 in favor of the Whitecaps.

FC Dallas are in its worst form of the season, winless in its last four games, but the team will be extra motivated to beat its rivals.

El Capitan is on the line after draws between FC Dallas and the Dynamo in two matches earlier this season.

Meanwhile up in Vancouver, the Whitecaps host a Sounders squad that pulled out a last-gasp victory last weekend over Minnesota United. While the team is in great form on the road recently (two wins and two draws), the top story heading into the game is the unexpected absence of Joevin Jones, who left the Sounders for his home in Trinidad and Tobago ahead of the upcoming international break.

[ FOLLOW: Live MLS scores ]

On the other side, Fredy Montero faces his former club and carries an interesting record into Wednesday’s match. Of his 35 MLS goals, 11 have been scored against Cascadia Cup competition.

Here’s a look at Wednesday’s action:

Full schedule

Columbus Crew vs. LA Galaxy – 7:30 p.m. ET

D.C. United vs. Atlanta United – 7:30 p.m.ET

FC Dallas vs. Houston Dynamo – 8 p.m. ET

Toronto FC vs. Philadelphia Union – 8 p.m. ET

Real Salt Lake vs. San Jose Earthquakes – 10 p.m. ET

Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Seattle Sounders – 10 p.m. ET

Portland Timbers vs. Colorado Rapids – 10:30 p.m. ET

UCL Playoff Wrap: Liverpool, Sporting CP, CSKA advance to group stage

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It was another memorable European night for Liverpool in front of the Kop at Anfield.

Lifted by three goals in the opening 21 minutes, the Reds cruised to a 4-2 win over Hoffenheim 1899 in the second leg of the UEFA Champions League playoff stage Wednesday evening. With the win, Liverpool returns to the Champions League group stage for the first time since the 2014-2015 season.

[ MORE: Champions League scores ]

Sadio Mane set up Emre Can twice and both Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino chipped in with goals of their own to lead Liverpool to victory. After Can’s double and Salah’s goal gave Liverpool a three-goal lead, Hoffenheim’s Julian Nagelsmann brought Mark Uth off the bench onto the field and he promptly scored in the 28th minute to draw within two.

Firmino again put Liverpool ahead by three goals with a goal into an open net in the 63rd minute. Hoffenheim recorded a consolation goal in the 79th minute through Sandro Wagner but Liverpool was resolute and held on for victory.

Liverpool, and the rest of the winning clubs, will learn their fates for the group stage on Thursday.

Here’s a look at the rest of the Champions League playoff scores:

Slavia Prague 0-0 APOEL (APOEL advances 2-0 on aggregate)

FC Copenhagen 2-1 Qarabag FK (Qarabag advances on away goals, 2-2 on aggregate)

FCSB (Steaua București) 1-5 Sporting CP (Sporting CP advances 5-1 on aggregate)

CSKA Moscow 2-0 BSC Young Boys (CSKA advances on aggregate, 3-0)