2012 MLS Cup - Houston Dynamo v Los Angeles Galaxy

PST MLS Cup 2012 Man of the Match: Omar Gonzalez

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CARSON, Calif. – Completing a season where his absence left no question how valuable he was to a team defined by it’s top-line stars, defender Omar Gonzalez was ever-present for the LA Galaxy on Saturday. Kept out of the team until summer while recovering from an offseason knee injury, the 2011 MLS Defender of the Year transcended his position, scoring the Galaxy’s first goal before providing a vital contribution toward the game-winner. Dominant in the air at the back while providing a series of late, crucial clearances that protected his keeper, Gonzalez completed his 2012 comeback with a Man of the Match performance in Saturday’s MLS Cup final.

MORE: What we learned from LA’s 3-1 win over Houston

That it was Gonzalez – not goalscorers Landon Donovan or Robbie Keane, or the retiring megastar David Beckham – who stole the stage should surprise nobody. That he did it in the opponent’s penalty area as opposed to his own was the shock.

In the 60th minute, with his team having conceded an opener just before halftime, Gonzalez found himself unmarked at the left post eight yards from goal, Juninho having taken a touch before lining up a cross to LA’s most dangerous aerial threat. As he elevated for the outswinging ball, right back Kofie Sarkodie tried to backpedal out an contest the cros. The second-year right back proved out of his league against the 6’5″ center half. Gonzalez hammered the ball back across goal, just inside Tally Hall’s far post to make it 1-1.

Though LA’s second came from the spot, it was another Gonzalez header that started the penalty-drawing play. On a chipped in ball from David Beckham, Gonzalez cut in front of Hall to win the ball, knocking it down to start a series of events ending in a Ricardo Clark hand ball. When Landon Donovan slotted home the ensuing kick, LA had the lead they’d never relinquish.

In defense, Gonzalez’s brilliance existed in persistence, not highlights. Though he was the man that kept Calen Carr onside ahead of Houston’s only goal, the rest of his game was impeccable. In the first half, he helped LA withstand Houston’s early change with perfect positioning ahead of the crosses he would eventually defuse. In the second, his early aggression stepping into midfield set an the intense tone that spurred LA to three-goal half. At match’s end, his recovery on balls played behind the line kept Josh Saunders’ save total at a modest five.

Fifteen clearances. Eleven interceptions. Six headers won. They’re numbers that will be overshadowed by his opening goal, but ultimately, the defensive contributions were worth more.

In the process, Gonzalez reaffirmed his place as the league’s best defender nine months after his knee injury temporarily relinquished the title. No other player in the league is as capable of such a dominating, all-around performance from defense. For it, Gonzalez was rightly recognized as the 2012 MLS Cup Man of the Match.

Brighton 2-2 Stoke: Seagulls remain ninth thanks to Izquierdo’s equalizer

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Three Premier League newcomers remain in close contention with one another after 12 weeks, one of which picked up another positive result today.

[ MORE: Congested PL schedule challenges the big boys ]

Brighton & Hove Albion earned a 2-2 draw against Stoke City at the Amex Stadium on Monday after Jose Izquierdo’s persistence gave the home side the leveler in the 60th minute from Glenn Murray‘s clever pass inside the box.

The result made for Brighton’s sixth consecutive match unbeaten at home this season.

A back-and-forth first half saw the on-loan Chelsea defender give Stoke the lead heading into the halftime break after a disappointing spell of defending by Brighton allowed Zouma to finish of a corner kick.

Pascal Gross gave Brighton an equalizer one minute from halftime after Davy Propper had done superbly to create space for himself down the right wing.

The visitors struck in the 28th minute after Shaqiri delivered a perfect long ball into the path of Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting.

The Cameroonian proceeded to control the pass beautifully from his Stoke teammate, before tucking his shot from close range into the near corner past Brighton goalkeeper Maty Ryan.

Brighton thought they had the chance to level the score prior to the equalizer when the hosts appeared to have a penalty appeal after Murray went down inside the Stoke area. However, referee Lee Mason opted against spot kick.

The two sides will both be in action on Saturday when Brighton travels to Old Trafford to face Manchester United and Stoke takes on Crystal Palace.

At the half: Zouma’s header has Stoke in front against Brighton

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It’s been a wild one thus far at the Amex Stadium, and we’ve still got 45 minutes left to play.

Stoke City holds a 2-1 advantage against newcomer Brighton & Hove Albion after Kurt Zouma gave the visitors the lead on the stroke of halftime.

[ MORE: West Brom fires manager Tony Pulis ]

Zouma headed home close range in first-half stoppage time to restore the Potters’ advantage, after Pascal Gross had equalized in the 44th minute for Brighton.

Stoke opened the scoring just prior to the half hour mark when Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting finished off a stellar move that originated from a Xherdan Shaqiri long ball over the Brighton back line.

Brighton were fortunate not to be reduced to 10 men after Glenn Murray went in late on a challenge against Stoke defender Kevin Wimmer.

Murray thought he had won himself a penalty kick minutes prior, but referee Lee Mason decided to continue play.

Miguel Almiron named MLS Newcomer of the Year

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Unsurprisingly, one of Atlanta United’s biggest stars took home some hardware on Monday after a stellar first season in Major League Soccer.

[ MORE: Previewing the MLS conference finals ]

Atlanta attacker Miguel Almiron was named MLS Newcomer of the Year today, beating out Chicago Fire forward Nemanja Nikolic and teammate Josef Martinez for the honor.

Almiron, who joined Atlanta from Argentine side Lanus, netted nine goals and added 14 assists for the Eastern Conference squad in 2017 and helped guide the club to the MLS Cup Playoffs after finishing fifth in the East.

The 23-year-old received an 37.38% average of the vote for the award, which was compiled based on votes from a combination of media members, MLS players and executives. Nikolic finished second with 24.92 percent, while Martinez checked in at number three.

Watch Live: Brighton and Hove Albion vs. Stoke City

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Chris Hughton looks to lead his Brighton and Hove Albion to a fifth-straight result as the Gulls welcome Stoke City to the Amex Stadium on Monday (Watch live at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

The Gulls have won two and drawn two, powered by goals from Glenn Murray and the playmaking of Pascal Gross.

Stoke’s 3-4-1-2 has Ramadan Sobhi, Eric Choupo-Moting, and Xherdan Shaqiri attacking the final third.

LINEUPS

Brighton and Hove Albion: Ryan, Bruno, Dunk, Duffy, Bong, Stephens, Propper, Knockaert, Izquierdo, Gross, Murray. Subs: Krul, Hemed, Goldson, Schelotto, Suttner, Brown.

Stoke City: Grant; Zouma, Shawcross, Wimmer; Diouf, Fletcher, Allen, Pieters; Shaqiri, Ramadan; Choupo-Moting. Subs: Haugaard; Berahino, Jese, Afellay, Martins Indi, Adam, Crouch.