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.

Sky Blue’s Sam Kerr named NWSL league MVP for 2017

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CHICAGO (AP) Sky Blue FC forward Sam Kerr has been named the National Women’s Soccer League’s Most Valuable Player for this season.

Kerr, a standout on the Australian national team, had a league-record 17 goals and became the league’s fifth Golden Boot winner to also be named MVP.

[ MORE: MLS Decision Day preview ]

She became the first NWSL player to score four goals in a game on Aug. 19 against the Seattle Reign. Kerr rallied Sky Blue from a 3-goal deficit to beat the Reign 5-4.

Kerr’s award was announced Friday. The league had earlier announced the season’s other award winners: North Carolina’s Abby Dahlkemper was named Defender of the Year, teammate Ashley Hatch was named Rookie of the Year, Portland’s Adrianna Franch was named Goalkeeper of the Year and the Thorns’ Mark Parsons was named Coach of the Year.

The Mendy Effect: Pep praises injured back

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Full back Benjamin Mendy cost Pep Guardiola and Manchester City $68 million, but perhaps he’ll be just as valuable as a very expensive sports psychologist.

The “Shark Team” member was amusing on social media even before his ACL injury sent him to the sidelines until at least April, but he’s become a must-follow Twitter fixture with his in-game messages (See some of his work below).

[ MORE: MLS Decision Day preview ]

City faces Burnley at 10 a.m. ET Saturday (Watch live on CNBC and online via NBCSports.com).

It’s fairly clear his act has translated in private, too, as apparently Mendy is just as good in group messages (Let us in, Pep. We won’t tell anyone). From ManCity.com:

“Usually, players who are out for a long time with injury are sad. They sometimes train apart and feel isolated.

“Mendy decided to be present. He is communicating on social media, WhatsApp and he calls his teammates and messages me. He is going to be so important outside the pitch because people like him make the atmosphere much better.”

It’s not surprising for anyone who’s been following the former Le Havre, Marseille and Monaco man.

Keep in mind, these Tweets below are from the last few days alone!

Ozil to Manchester United?!? Wenger reacts to gossip

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Sometimes, even the biggest Arsene Wenger detractors have to feel for the guy.

Coming off a thrilling late win in Serbia, one that saw Olivier Giroud cap off a team goal straight out of the creative Wenger playbook, the manager should’ve been discussing how to stretch those good vibes into this weekend’s visit to Goodison Park.

[ MORE: MLS Decision Day preview ]

Yet no. Instead of talking about how the Gunners would respect the struggling Toffees, Wenger had to address speculation from several outlets claiming Mesut Ozil would move to Manchester United, perhaps as soon as January.

Feeling it? No, no Wenger was not feeling it. From Arsenal.com:

“We have to deal with all kinds of speculation when the players are at the end of their contracts. On the other hand, to be professional is to give 100 per cent as long as you are somewhere. For the rest, we came out many times and said that’s the situation. It [the media] can come out tomorrow and say that he extends his contract here. It will be exactly the same, it will not change anything. When you play the next game, commit 100 per cent. … When a player plays for Arsenal Football Club, his commitment cannot be linked with the length of his contract, it has just to be linked with the responsibility and the ambition he has to win the football game.”
Of course most big clubs have to deal with such drama on a year-to-year basis and, yes, having Ozil and Alexis Sanchez still in town was completely avoidable. But the idea that Ozil could leave, for free, to Manchester United? We’re sure Gooners the world over will be thrilled with the gossip.

MLS Decision Day preview: Much at stake

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Four teams can claim a Western Conference second round berth, while four more can earn a valuable first-round bye in the East.

Yep, there’s plenty to play for beyond the West’s final playoff spot Sunday during Major League Soccer’s Decision Day, when every team will take the pitch for 4 p.m. ET kickoffs.

[ MORE: Conte feels pressure ]

Here’s what we do know regarding the playoffs:

  1. Supporters’ Shield winning Toronto FC gets a first round bye, while No. 6 seed New York Red Bulls are headed to the road for a first round playoff
  2. New England, Montreal, Philadelphia, Orlando, DC, Minnesota, Colorado, and LA will not make the playoffs
  3. Full stop.

So, yes, this will be fun.

First, let’s look at the Eastern Conference Standings ahead of Sunday’s extravaganza:

Eastern Conference
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Toronto FC 33 20 8 5 72 35 37 13-3-1 7-5-4 68
x – New York City FC 33 16 8 9 54 41 13 10-4-2 6-4-7 56
x – Chicago 33 16 7 10 61 44 17 12-3-2 4-4-8 55
x – Atlanta 33 15 9 9 68 38 30 11-2-3 4-7-6 54
x – Columbus 33 16 5 12 51 47 4 12-2-3 4-3-9 53
x – New York 33 13 8 12 51 46 5 9-6-2 4-2-10 47

— New York City FC controls its bye destiny, though Columbus could join them on 56 points and would pass them on tiebreakers (wins).

— If that happens, Chicago could claim the second bye with a win or draw in Houston (The Fire owns the goal differential tiebreaker).

— If New York City and Chicago lose or draw, Atlanta could finish second with a home win over TFC.

— Columbus can finish second with a win and non-wins for Chicago and Atlanta.

Western Conference
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
x – Vancouver 33 15 7 11 49 47 2 9-5-3 6-2-8 52
x – Portland 33 14 8 11 58 49 9 10-4-2 4-4-9 50
x – Seattle 33 13 11 9 49 39 10 10-5-1 3-6-8 50
x – Sporting KC 33 12 13 8 39 27 12 10-6-1 2-7-7 49
x – Houston 33 12 11 10 54 45 9 11-4-1 1-7-9 47
San Jose 33 12 7 14 36 58 -22 9-5-2 3-2-12 43
FC Dallas 33 10 13 10 43 47 -4 7-7-2 3-6-8 43
Real Salt Lake 33 12 6 15 47 54 -7 8-4-4 4-2-11 42

Byes

— Vancouver finishes first with a win or draw at Portland. The ‘Caps could finish as low as third with a loss to Portland and a Seattle win versus Colorado.

— Portland finishes first — and wins the Cascadia Cup — with a win over visiting Vancouver.

— Seattle can claim a first round bye with a win over visiting Colorado and a Vancouver win over Portland.

— Sporting KC can finish second with a win at Real Salt Lake and non-wins for Portland and Seattle.

Final playoff spot

— San Jose claims the sixth seed with a home win over Minnesota. They can also finish sixth with a draw joined by non-wins for FC Dallas at home to LA and Real Salt Lake at home versus SKC.

— FC Dallas claims the sixth seed with a win over LA and a San Jose draw or loss versus Minnesota. FCD gets sixth with a draw, and a San Jose loss coupled with a RSL loss or draw versus SKC.

—  Real Salt Lake gets sixth with a win over SKC, and non-wins from San Jose and Dallas. RSL could also get sixth with a draw and losses for San Jose and Dallas.

(Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images)

Schedule
FC Dallas vs. LA Galaxy
DC United vs. New York Red Bulls
San Jose vs. Minnesota United
Real Salt Lake vs. Sporting KC
Houston vs. Chicago
Seattle vs. Colorado
Philadelphia vs. Orlando City
Portland vs. Vancouver
Montreal vs. New England
New York City vs. Columbus
Atlanta vs. Toronto

Predictions

— NYCFC hangs on for a draw against Columbus, earning a bye, leaving Chicago to host New York Red Bulls and Atlanta off to Columbus for the first round of the playoffs (We have Toronto beating Atlanta on Sunday).

— Vancouver and Portland draw, while Seattle beats Colorado. The ‘Caps and Sounders get byes, while Seattle takes back the Cascadia Cup.

— San Jose beats Minnesota, gaining the West’s sixth seed. The Quakes head to Portland for the first round, while SKC hosts Houston.