Disappointment can’t overshadow season of improvement for D.C. United

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One year ago, D.C. United were watching the MLS playoffs from home after finishing seven points out of the playoffs. Burdening with one of the worst defenses in Major League Soccer, Ben Olsen’s club was dragging to seventh in the East, a -3 goal difference unable to compensate for their 52 goals allowed. For the RFK faithful, it was another disappointing season and another year removed from the franchise’s glory days.

It’s a testament D.C.’s 2012 accomplishment that the dour mood that surrounded the franchise is now a memory. No more talk of fading legacies. No delicate thoughts of the Bruce Arena years. This season, Olsen kept D.C. in a playoff race since March. Thanks to a late season run to second in the East, La Barra Brava had reason to believe their team a contender.

And ultimately, that belief was rewarded. Though Houston’s 4-2 aggregate victory in the Eastern Conference final left little doubt who should represent the East in the MLS Cup Final, D.C.’s presence in the conversation spoke to all the improvements the team’s made since last year:

  • A year of health from Chris Pontius plus the addition of rookie Nick DeLeon helped D.C.’s attack take a step forward, the team’s 53 goals scored ranking fourth in MLS. A near-full season of Dwayne De Rosario helped;
  • Perry Kitchen, moved back into midfield for his second MLS season, provided cover for the back line;
  • Brandon McDonald and Dejan Jakovic helped the defense shave nine goals off 2011’s total;
  • As did improvement in goal from the still-improving Bill Hamid.

But as Houston made apparent over the last week, there’s only so much progress you can make in 12 months. Over the course of 180 minutes, D.C. United — playing essentially a 4-5-1 formation that helped protect a still vulnerable defense — was a better set up to take advantage of opponent mistakes than create opportunities of their own.

It’s a formula that’s rarely going to beat a Dominic Kinear-led team. Without De Rosario and Pontius (who only played 12 minutes in the series), United was left reliant on lapses like the one that led to Branko Boskovic’s second leg goal. There were never going to be enough. Without a threat up top or any push from their two-man shield, D.C. wasn’t going to keep up with a in-form Dynamo.

But in light of how far D.C.’s come in 2012, it was too much to ask them to keep pace. Houston was a finalist last year and have since added Boniek Garcia, Ricardo Clark, and Mac Kandji (while losing Geoff Cameron). They’re better positioned to claim 2012’s title than 2011’s. It would have been an amazing accomplishment if Olsen found a way past Kinnear’s team. That he didn’t shouldn’t diminish how far D.C.’s come.

If that’s doesn’t serve as a silver lining for United fans, consider the improvements the team’s likely to see next season. Bill Hamid will be a year older and, presumably, a year better. Same can be said for Andy Najar (suspended for the final series), Kitchen, and DeLeon. If they make the playoffs again in 2013, D.C. can expect better health from their two main goal scoring threats: Pontius and De Rosario. Ben Olsen, having proved himself one of the league’s promising young coaches, will build on this season’s experience.

Positives are always elusive in the minutes after a season’s extinguished, but when D.C. and their fans are ready to move on, they’ll be able to reflect on their most successful season since claiming 2007’s Supporters’ Shield.

And the 2013 season is only four months away.

ProSoccerTalk will keep up the discussion of the chase for MLS Cup through the Dec. 1 final.

U.S. Open Cup Final preview: Sporting KC vs. New York Red Bulls

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New York Red Bulls and Sporting KC are set to tangle for the 104th Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup on Wednesday in Missouri.

[ MORE: League Cup wrap ]

The longtime rivals met more often while Eastern Conference foes — SKC now plies its trade in the West — and KC leads the league series 21W-20L-13T.

Here’s everything you need to know about the most prestigious tournament in American soccer, one that earns a spot in the CONCACAF Champions League.

  • Sporting KC is looking to move into a tie with Chicago Fire and Seattle Sounders for the most USOC titles amongst active teams with four. Maccabi Los Angeles and Bethlehem Steel won five but are no longer active clubs (The USL side Bethlehem Steel FC is a new entity).
  • The Red Bulls, meanwhile, enter their second final in search of their first Open Cup.
  • New York knocked off New York City FC, Philadelphia Union, New England Revolution, and FC Cincinnati to reach the final.
  • KC topped Minnesota United, Houston Dynamo, FC Dallas, and San Jose Earthquakes.
  • The sides met May 3 at the same venue, with Dom Dwyer scoring twice in a KC victory.
  • KC is 3-0 in USOC finals, having won in 2002, 2012, and 2015.

As for Wednesday, the Red Bulls enter the match without an MLS win since Aug. 12. That five-match span includes four-straight ties. KC has two wins and a draw from its last four games.

Dwyer’s not around for KC anymore, but the firepower remains. Home field advantage will likely tilt the field for KC, but this is the sort of match that begs for a Bradley Wright-Phillips moment or two. We’ll call it for the hosts, but just… 2-1.

NASL launches lawsuit against United States Soccer Federation

NASL.com
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Using scathing language, the North American Soccer League announced Tuesday its intention to take its problems with the United States Soccer Federation to court.

A Division II soccer league until recently, the NASL accused the USSF of using unjust means and arbitrary rules to prop up Major League Soccer at the expense of the sport in the United States.

[ MORE: Klopp rages at defending ]

Tuesday’s press release makes clear that the NASL believes MLS’ relationship with the USL is detrimental to soccer in the United States and unfair to competitors. It also notes the tricky relationships between U.S. Soccer, MLS, and Soccer United Marketing.

The NASL isn’t trying to win a big financial judgment, it says, rather get its D-II status back in the face of what it deems destructive practices from the USSF.

From NASL.com:

The complaint alleges that the USSF has selectively applied and waived its divisional criteria to suppress competition from the NASL, both against MLS and against United Soccer League (USL).  For example, under the USSF’s divisional criteria, there are European clubs that have successfully operated for decades that would be considered ineligible for “Division I” or even “Division II” status due to arbitrary requirements like stadium capacity and market size.

The complaint alleges that the USSF sought to limit competition from the NASL to MLS and USL, and now seeks to destroy the NASL by arbitrarily revoking the NASL’s “Division II” status for the upcoming 2018 season. The complaint only seeks injunctive relief against the USSF’s conduct regarding its divisional designations.

NASL board of governors chairman and New York Cosmos owner Rocco Commisso said the USSF had left the league “no choice” but to file suit.

The NASL and fourth-tier NPSL took the bold step of filing a claim against FIFA, CONCACAF, and the USSF with the Court of Arbitration for Sport, asking that the United States be forced to implement a promotion/relegation structure.

Riccardo Silva, owner of NASL side Miami FC, made waves when a July report showed he presented MLS with a $4 billion TV offer to inject pro/rel into MLS.

Messi scores four (4) as Barcelona hammers Eibar (video)

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Lionel Messi scored four times as Barcelona belted Eibar 6-1 at the Camp Nou on Tuesday.

The 30-year-old now has 522 goals for Barca, including nine in five league matches this season. That includes two hat tricks.

[ MORE: Klopp rages at defending ]

Paulinho and Denis Suarez also scored for Barca, which is yet to lose a point in La Liga play.

Messi scored a penalty to start the scoring, then started a combination play before scooting into the 18 to score low and left.

Watch the movement from the Argentine magician.

Messi added his second when he drew the defenders and keeper to play him straight-on, then used the outside of his boot to flick a deft finish home.

He’d later dash to the doorstep to complete the 6-1 scoreline.

And how often do we see this? Messi starting and finishing a combination. When you’re an elite player who also thirsts for goals every minute on the pitch, you’ll score a few.

League Cup: Foxes oust LFC; Stoke, Burnley upset (video)

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Leicester City turned to its favorite tactics to send Liverpool out of the League Cup, while Bristol City stunned struggling Stoke City as 11 matches dotted the English tournament landscape on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Pulisic up for major award ]


Leicester City 2-0 Liverpool

Both sides were decidedly second-string, and the Reds had plenty of control over the proceedings despite a lack of goals.

But substitute Shinji Okazaki scored in traffic after Vicente Iborra headed a corner kick his way, and the Foxes took a late lead.

And Okazaki cued up Islam Slimani for a wonderful 78th minute marker (see above) to ensure the result.

Bristol City 2-0 Stoke City

The Robins were flying at Ashton Gate, getting an opener in the 50th minute through Famara Diedhiou and a 60th minute insurance tally from Matt Taylor.

Stoke left some starters on the bench in Erik Pieters, Joe Allen, Jack Butland, and Jese, but had plenty of their best in the XI (Kurt Zouma, Eric Choupo-Moting, Darren Fletcher).

Tottenham Hotspur 1-0 Barnsley

Spurs had a hefty edge in shots and possession, but the visitors held firm against a decent side including Dele Alli, Son Heung-min, Jan Vertonghen and Mousa Dembele.

Fernando Llorente made his first Spurs start, but it was Dele who broke the Londoners through on the side’s 17th shot of the night.

Burnley 2-2 (3-5 PKs) Leeds United

Sean Dyche‘s Premier Leaguers were dismissed from the tournament by Thomas Christiansen’s high-flying Championship side.

It took penalty kicks, where Leeds GK Andy Lonergan stopped James Tarkowski to send the Clarets out of the Cup.

Hadi Sacko had an eye for the winner, assisted by Pablo Hernandez, but Chris Wood converted an 89th minute penalty to, seemingly, send the match to extra time.

Hernandez then scored a penalty of his own in stoppage time, only for Robbie Brady‘s free kick to equalize and again put the match on pace for extra time.

Elsewhere
Crystal Palace 1-0 Huddersfield Town
Aston Villa 0-2 Middlesbrough
Brentford 1-3 Norwich City
Bournemouth 1-0 (ET) Brighton
West Ham 3-0 Bolton
Wolverhampton Wanderers 1-0 (ET) Bristol Rovers
Reading 0-2 Swansea City
Arsenal vs. Doncaster Rovers — Wednesday
Chelsea vs. Nottingham Forest — Wednesday
Everton vs. Sunderland — Wednesday
Manchester United vs. Burton Albion — Wednesday
West Bromwich Albion vs. Manchester City — Wednesday