alonso head shot

Drilling down on: at Seattle Sounders 2, L.A. Galaxy 1

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It was something less than convincing – and that’s being kind – but the Galaxy came into Seattle and left with just enough.

It will be difficult for Bruce Arena’s Galaxy to feel warm and wonderful about a 2-1 loss, but they can sure like the opportunity that results from Sunday’s, er, “achievement” at CenturyLink Field: a chance to defend their MLS Cup inside their very own building.

Eddie Johnson’s early goal and another from Zach Scott kept hope afloat, but a controversial penalty kick for the visitors turned things in favor of the champs.

So the Galaxy prevailed in the two-leg, total goals series by a 4-2 margin and stands once again as Western Conference champion.

(MORE: Match highlights are here)

Man of the Match:

The midfield Sunday was no contest. At all. Seattle’s Osvaldo Alonso, assisted by central partner Brad Evans, crushed the Galaxy in the center of the park. The league’s top ball-winner did his usual bouncing around, and his distribution was sharp and precise. But his game had a better tactical discipline than we sometimes see. He remained central and kept himself out of tackles and tussles that might incur referee wrath. When Alonso did get a booking, it looked like a smart one to take.

Threesome of knowledge: What we learned

One decision can change everything:

The Galaxy didn’t have much going right in this one; they were beaten pretty well all over the field.

It looked so much different from the day’s earlier match, where Houston came into a hostile environment with a lead and a plan, and nursed home the mission a certain calm and cool.

The Galaxy looked surprisingly rattled and even a little overwhelmed. They were without Landon Donovan (sore hamstring) and didn’t have central midfielder Juninho until the second half. Still, there was plenty of experience out there.

And yet they were being run out of the stadium. Robbie Keane, so good for the last few months, never had much chance to be a factor; the Galaxy just never got enough possession. Even steady center back Omar Gonzales was having a bad match.

But then …

Sounders right back Adam Johansson had his arms out, away from his body as Keane tried a tricky little chipped cross on one of the few Galaxy incursions. Referee Mark Geiger had a good look as the ball hit first Johansson’s left hand and then skimmed his right.

Sounders fans may not agree, but it was the correct call.

To that point, the Sounders were rolling downhill, on a rave green rampage, powered by on the momentum of the playoff record crowd of 44,575. Seattle had a 2-0 lead in the match, still trailing by one on aggregate but surely feeling that the equalizer was in them.

But what a buzz kill the PK was. Keane converted and you never really got the impression Seattle had enough left to overcome the two-goal margin that had just been re-created.

Steve Zakuani had a big impact on things:

Sounders’ manager Sigi Schmid is never afraid of playing the hunch, gambling and trying something new, never mind the big circumstance. Sometimes things work out, sometimes not. Clearly, going with Steve Zakuani on a slick field, on a big occasion, was something of a gambler’s hunch. But this one paid off.

The Sounders went down Zakuani’s left side time and again in the first 45. He zipped by L.A. right back Sean Franklin early and that one seemed to power up the confidence. Fredy Montero, recognizing where Seattle was hurting the visitors, drifted left to create better connections.

It all had the added benefit of more or less shutting down L.A. right-sided attack; not only was right back Franklin utterly uninterested in roaming forward, right midfielder Christian Wilhemsson expended lots of energy in retreat, looking to give Franklin a defensive hand.

The Fredy Montero mystery deepens:

Did we just see the last of Fredy Montero’s turbulent four-year run at CenturyLink?

And wasn’t this the perfect microcosm of his up-and-down time in Seattle?

Montero looked like he could win it all by himself in the first 45 minutes, alive with ideas and energy, making those killer connections with Eddie Johnson and Zakuani, even winning aerial challenges with the towering Gonzalez.

And then came the second half, when Montero looked more like the broken and beaten shell we saw last week, when the Colombian striker was shockingly ineffective in Los Angeles.

So here’s the bottom line on Montero in the playoffs across four years: 10 games (829 minutes to be precise) and zero goals. And in the critical moments, season on the line, Montero was on the bench. Schmid removed Montero – the man who has absolutely carried Seattle’s offense over stretches since 2009 – after 73 minutes.

That cannot speak well of Montero’s chances of staying around.

Packaged for take-away:

  • Good as Alonso was over 90 minutes, he made himself look bad after the final whistle, berating Geiger and earning a second yellow card. He will miss Seattle’s first match next year, at least.
  • Johnson struck in the 11th minute. He was ruled offside, although replays showed otherwise.
  • Goalkeeper Josh Saunders may have been the one and only Galaxy man to have a match worth remembering.

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

China plans for 50,000 soccer academies by 2025

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 23:  China's President Xi Jinping addresses an audience of dignitaries including the British Prime Minister David Cameron (not seen) at Manchester airport on October 23, 2015 in Manchester, England. The President of the People's Republic of China, Mr Xi Jinping and his wife, Madame Peng Liyuan, are paying a State Visit to the United Kingdom as guests of The Queen.  They will stay at Buckingham Palace and undertake engagements in London and Manchester. The last state visit paid by a Chinese President to the UK was Hu Jintao in 2005.  (Photo by Oli Scarff - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
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BEIJING (AP) China plans to have 50,000 football academies by 2025 as part of an ambitious blueprint to grow into a soccer superpower.

The announcement, made by China’s football association Vice President Wang Dengfeng, more than doubles the earlier target of 20,000 academies by 2020.

Wang was quoted by state media on Wednesday as saying that each school would be able to train 1,000 young players on average, fulfilling the goal laid out in a plan announced last April of having 50 million competent players.

“This is a solid way to select football talent for our future reserves. Improving Chinese football is no longer just a dream,” Wang was quoted as saying on the website of the ruling Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily.

China’s men have only qualified for one World Cup and President Xi Jinping has made boosting China’s football fortunes a national priority. Plans call for again qualifying for the sport’s marquee event, hosting it and winning the title by 2050.

To that end, China last year signed Brazil’s World Cup-winning manager Marcello Lippi to take over the national men’s team. The government has also ordered the creation of 70,000 football fields to fill gaps in its youth program.

Teams in China’s professional leagues, meanwhile, have recruited international stars such as Alex Teixeira and Jackson Martinez on highly paid contracts, raising concerns that they are neglecting home-grown talent.

In response, China’s football association last month said it plans a series of measures in response to “irrational” spending by clubs. It also reduced the number of foreigners who can play per club at any given time from four to three and required that each team’s starting list must include at least two Chinese players under age 23.

UEL: Saint-Etienne hope Beric comes to the rescue vs. Man United

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 16:  Paul Pogba of Manchester United and Kevin Monnet-Paquet of Saint-Etienne in action during the UEFA Europa  League Round of 32 first leg match between Manchester United and AS Saint-Etienne at Old Trafford on February 16, 2017 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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PARIS (AP) While Zlatan Ibrahimovic was scoring a hat trick in Manchester United’s win over Saint-Etienne in the Europa League last week, Robert Beric’s 11-minute substitute appearance at Old Trafford was barely noticed.

Still reeling from a hamstring injury, Beric’s cameo had little impact as Ibrahimovic ended Saint-Etienne’s 10-game unbeaten run in Europe by 3-0.

[ MORE: Man City win in epic comeback vs. Monaco | Atleti blitz Bayer ]

Beric’s condition has improved since the heavy loss, and he featured in a French league game in Montpellier last weekend. The 1976 European Cup runner-up is hoping that’s enough for Beric to help it overturn their deficit against United on Wednesday in the last-32 return leg.

Beric, a versatile center-forward capable of playing with his back to goal and creating, joined Saint-Etienne last season. He’d scored 27 goals in 34 matches in his final season with Rapid Vienna, but was unable to replicate the feat in the French league because his progression was abruptly stopped by a serious right knee injury.

He is expected to start at Geoffroy Guichard Stadium after his teammates managed to force United goalkeeper Sergio Romero into only a single save from 14 shots last week.

“Beric is so skillful and astute in front of goal that we all want to give him a starting nod,” former Saint-Etienne striker Herve Revelli, now a club ambassador, told L’Equipe.

[ MORE: Rooney left out of Man United’s Europa League squad (again) ]

United was carved open at times, but the French club was made to pay for its blatant lack of efficiency. Revelli insisted Beric can make a difference.

“He is likely to put our chances into the back of the net,” Revelli said.

With an estimated budget of close to 70 million euros, Saint-Etienne simply can’t afford the services of a world-class striker. When he joined the 10-time French champion for a reported six million euros, Beric became the third most expensive player signed by the club.

A humble player and a man of few words, Beric is somewhat the opposite of the self-infatuated Ibrahimovic.

Unlike Ibrahimovic, who once said he will be “God of Manchester,” Beric rarely speaks about himself and his rare comments on social networks are limited to praise of his teammates and Saint-Etienne fans.

Beric, who scored the last of his three league goals this season back in September, is not yet fully fit and should not be able to last the whole match. But Revelli is counting on his instinct for goals.

[ MORE: Guardiola “so happy” to see Man City “achieve another step” ]

“With him in a finisher role, I firmly believe in our chances,” said Revelli, Saint-Etienne’s all-time best scorer.

Saint-Etienne needs to find a way to stop Ibrahimovic, but history does not favor the home side.

During his time in France with Paris Saint-Gernain, Ibrahimovic was the scourge of Saint-Etienne, scoring 14 goals in 13 games in all competitions. He now has 17, including three hat tricks.

“It’s difficult to neutralize him. There is a possibility that we will set up an anti-Ibra plan,” Saint-Etienne coach Chirstophe Galtier said. “I don’t know what’s inside Zlatan, but for sure he likes to play against us. It’s not easy to score a hat trick in a European Cup game.”

Champions League Wednesday: Leicester’s last stand; Porto-Juve

SEVILLE, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 21:  Claudio Ranieri, manager of Leicester City looks on during a press conference ahead of the UEFA Champions League round-of-16 first leg against Sevilla FC at Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan on February 21, 2017 in Seville, Spain.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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Previewing Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League round-of-16 action…

[ MORE: Man City win in epic comeback vs. Monaco | Atleti blitz Bayer ]

Leicester City vs. Sevilla

There’s no two ways about it: Leicester’s season — and perhaps their status as a Premier League club — is quickly spiraling out of control. The Foxes, just nine months after winning the PL title, sit 17th in the league table, one point clear of relegation, with 13 games still to play. Chances are, they won’t be back in the Champions League anytime soon, making Wednesday’s round-of-16 first-leg clash away to Sevilla all the more a monumental moment in the club’s history.

Where has hasn’t it gone wrong for Claudio Ranieri‘s side this season? If you’re of the mind that one player — N'Golo Kante in Leicester’s case — doesn’t make a team himself, then we’ll have to go one step further in diagnosing the stunning regression seen at the King Power Stadium this season: Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, who combined to score 41 goals in the PL last season, have managed all of eight together in 2016-17. It’s the loss of Kante, though, that has left the defense forever exposed (43 goals conceded in 25 PL games, after conceding 36 in 38 all of last season), and the goal-getters forever feeding on scraps (24 goals scored, compared to 68 last season).

[ MORE: Rooney left out of Man United’s Europa League squad (again) ]


Porto vs. Juventusfrom the AP

Juventus defender Leonardo Bonucci will be left in the stands for Wednesday’s Champions League match against Porto as punishment for his outburst aimed at coach Massimiliano Allegri.

Allegri announced the move on Tuesday at the pre-match news conference, saying he had agreed it with club officials as “a fair decision, out of respect for the squad, the fans and the club.”

Bonucci became embroiled in a heated argument over substitutions with Allegri after a 4-1 win over Palermo on Friday.

Allegri also will punish himself for his angry reaction to Bonucci, announcing a donation to charity.

U.S. U-20s awaken in 2nd half vs. Haiti, keep WCQ hopes alive

USMNT U-20 team (Photo credit: U.S. Soccer)
Photo credit: U.S. Soccer
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With many thanks to the hat trick scored by Brooks Lennon (Real Salt Lake, on loan from Liverpool), the U.S. U-20 national team’s hopes of qualifying for the 2017 U-20 World Cup remain intact.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage | MLS ]

After dropping all three points in their opening group-stage game against Panama on Saturday, Tab Ramos’ young Yanks faced elimination from CONCACAF’s U-20 Championship in Costa Rica with a defeat to Haiti on Tuesday. After 15 minutes, the Americans found themselves a goal down, the prospect of winning zero points from their first two games a terrifying possibility.

Then, Lennon struck from the penalty spot. A draw wouldn’t be enough, realistically, though, as they’d still trail Haiti by three points ahead of the final group game, against Saint Kitts and Nevis, with the top two sides from each team advancing to the classification stage.

The score remained 1-1 until halftime, after which point the Yanks roared to life with three goals in a seven-minute span. Luca de la Torre (Fulham) scored the first of the bunch, an empty-net finish after a failed punch by the goalkeeper. Lennon quickly followed suit with two more to make it 4-1.

With three points from two games and a goal differential that now sits at +2, the Yanks are second in Group B, just ahead of Haiti on goal differential (+1). Panama sit atop the group with six points and a +5 goal differential. A U.S. victory over Saint Kitts and Nevis, to go with a Haitian upset of Panama, would see the Americans finish top of the group go into Group E in the classification stage, which would see them accompanied by a pair of second-place sides. The first-place side in each classification group qualifies for May’s tournament in South Korea.