Xabi Alonso and Sergio Ramos earn suspensions – Master tactics by The Special One?


Master tactics or merely a coincidence?

That’s the question after Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos and Xabi Alonso both earned suspensions for yellow card accumulation during their first-leg Champions League match against Galatasaray. Both players were cautioned towards the end of the match meaning they will be suspended for the second-leg of the quarter-final in Istanbul on April 9. UEFA rules state that any player who accumulates three yellow cards during the Champions League knockout stages is suspended for his next match.

The theory is that Ramos and Alonso – as directed by Mourinho – intentionally got themselves booked knowing that Madrid’s three goal cushion essentially renders the second leg a mere formality. For Galatasaray fans it’s an offensive suggestion but is nevertheless worth exploring as UEFA rules state that players who deliberately seek a booking can be handed a two-game ban.

The problem, of course, is proving that Ramos and Alonso deliberately sought the booking. At the moment the best evidence is that both players went into the book when the match was 3-0 with time nearly having expired. Alonso was booked in the 84th minute for an angry confrontation with referee Svein Oddvar Moen, who made a host of questionable decisions throughout the night. Six minutes later, Ramos followed suit as he kicked the ball away after committing a foul. While one could argue that both instances indicate a desire to be cautioned as they were innocuous occurrences transpiring outside the run of play, proving intent seems impossible unless Ramos and Alonso admit to their misdeeds.

Even assuming UEFA somehow manages to prove intent, the ramifications could be devastating as players will thereafter have to be even more convincing in their efforts to be booked. This could result in intentional fouls comitted during the run of play, which raises the potential for injury. It’s a slippery slope that UEFA is on with this rule and one that, if the governing body is not careful, could get out of hand.

In all likelihood Ramos and Alonso will not be assessed a two match ban. But a variety of penalties could ensue, as there is precedence.

Three years ago both Ramos and Alonso were sent off in a Champions League knockout stage match at Ajax. Late in that game Madrid was winning 4-0 when the duo, both one card away from suspension, wasted time during free-kicks. They were each issued second yellow cards, sent off and suspended for the irrelevant final group game. But when the next round of games came both enjoyed a clean slate. UEFA thereafter handed Jose Mourinho a two-game suspension and a £35,000 fine, while Ramos and Alonso were each fined £18,000.

If you’re sitting there reading this and thinking, ‘holy crap, that’s nuts‘, that’s because it is nuts. It’s nuts that UEFA can assess such steep penalties on an intent-heavy rule but it’s even more nuts that Mourinho is that clever of a manger. He knew the rule, recognized the loophole and did his best to access it.

And you wonder why we call him ‘The Special One’.

TFC’s Bradley: “Responsibility, privilege and passion” on line in playoffs

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 11: Michael Bradley #4 of United States looks on against New Zealand in the second half during an International Friendly at RFK Stadium on October 11, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images
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Toronto FC’s supporters fell in love with the club almost immediately, but it’s taken to Year 10 for the Reds to get a home playoff match.

The latest batch of TFC stars have embraced the battle for relevance, at times even surpassing expectations the lofty expectations of championship-starved Toronto.

[ MORE: Bradley talks TFC renaissance

This is a city which has seen the Blue Jays and Raptors find the precipice of glory in recent seasons, but not reach the apex. The Leafs haven’t been to a Stanley Cup final since the NHL had a whopping six teams.

So winning would be a mighty big accomplishment, right Michael Bradley?

From MLSSoccer.com:

“Being captain or a big player on a team in this city carries an extra weight,” said captain Michael Bradley. “I’ve loved every second of that; playing in this city, for this city, and being captain. It’ll be nights like Wednesday night where the responsibility, privilege and passion that I have for this role will get magnified that much more.”

He has a way with words, doesn’t he? The USMNT captain begins Canada’s quest for a title at 7:30 p.m. ET against visiting Philadelphia.

Whitecaps lock up Welsh coach Robinson through 2020

VANCOUVER, BC - APRIL 5:  Head coach Carl Robinson (right) of the Vancouver Whitecaps FC during their MLS game against the Colorado Rapids April 5, 2014 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Colorado won 2-1. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)
Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images
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Vancouver is hanging onto stalwart coach Carl Robinson despite a massively disappointing season.

The Whitecaps were tipped to compete for the Supporters’ Shield, only to miss the playoffs. There were plenty of excuses for the ‘Caps, including an injury to Kekuta Manneh and the transfer of Octavio Rivero.

And Vancouver is alive as the No. 1 seed in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals, also claiming the Cascadia Cup.

[ MORE: Nyarko says DC can aim high ]

Robinson has signed an extension through 2020, from WhitecapsFC.com:

“Carl’s body of work over the course of his five years at the club has shown that he is one of the top up-and-coming head coaches in North America. While this past season was certainly a learning experience for everyone involved within the club, we have complete faith in Carl’s continued vision in acquiring the necessary players to build a team that will compete with the best in MLS.”

Robinson turned 40 this month, and has been leading the ‘Caps since December 2013. This is a smart move for both Vancouver and its coach.

PST shortlists Major League Soccer award candidates

New York City FC forward David Villa, left, and New York City FC defender Chris Wingert celebrate Villa's early goal during the first half of the match between New York City FC and Toronto FC, Sunday, July 12, 2015, at Yankee Stadium in New York. (AP Photo/Kevin Hagen)
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Major League Soccer’s playoff run begins tonight with Philadelphia at Toronto and LA hosting Real Salt Lake, and it also gives us a chance to run down the regular season.

We’ve already discussed several items, including Portland and Columbus’ historic flops, DC United’s red-hot form, pre-playoff power rankings, and predictions.

[ MORE: Chalobah’s double nutmeg ]

But what about the season that was, the one that saw Bradley Wright-Phillips snag his second Golden Boot and Colorado nearly grab a shocking Supporters’ Shield?

We rounded up our staff’s opinions to put together combined shortlists for MLS awards.

Rookie of the Year

Jordan Morris (Seattle)
Keegan Rosenberry (Philadelphia)
Alex Muyl (RBNY)
Jack Harrison (NYCFC)
Jonathan Campbell (Chicago)

Newcomer of the Year

Ronald Matarrita (NYCFC)
Ashley Cole (LA Galaxy)
Tim Howard (Colorado)
Nicolas Lodeiro (Seattle)
Jelle van Damme (LA Galaxy)
Luciano Acosta (DC United)
Ola Kamara (Columbus)
Shkelzen Gashi (Colorado)

Goalkeeper of the Year

Brian Rowe (LA Galaxy)
Andre Blake (Philadelphia)
David Bingham (San Jose)
Jake Gleeson (Portland)
Luis Robles (RBNY)

Coach of the Year

Patrick Vieira (NYCFC)
Jesse Marsch (RBNY)
Pablo Mastroeni (Colorado)
Oscar Pareja (Dallas)
Greg Vanney (Toronto)

Most Valuable Player

David Villa (NYCFC)
Sebastian Giovinco (Toronto)
Sacha Kljestan (RBNY)
Bradley Wright-Phillips (RBNY)
Ignacio Piatti (Montreal)
Osvaldo Alonso (Seattle)

Spanish FF fines Valencia for bottle toss; Chastises Barcelona

VALENCIA, SPAIN - OCTOBER 22:  FC Barcelona are hit by objects thrown from the seats after Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona scores his team's third goal from the penalty spot during the La Liga match between Valencia CF and FC Barcelona at Mestalla stadium on October 22, 2016 in Valencia, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Spain’s football federation has fined Valencia about $1600 for the water bottle tossed at celebrating Barcelona players on Saturday.

It’s also criticized Barca’s reaction to Neymar being hit with the water bottle.

[ MORE: Watch the incident here ]

Lionel Messi in particular flipped out at fans, who were furious after Barca scored a match-winning penalty and celebrated near the touch line.

From the BBC:

Spain’s football federation criticised the Barca players for their “exaggerated reaction” and for celebrating in front of home fans, but added “nothing justified” the reaction of the Valencia supporters.

There’s an easy joke to make about playacting/diving here, as Luis Suarez hits the deck despite not appearing to be hit.

But it’s critical to remember that these players at the moment don’t have any idea what’s happened, only that they’ve been hit. And Suarez is covering head, perhaps wondering what’s coming next. Neymar laying on the pitch for a while seems a bit overboard, but I don’t blame Messi nor his teammates for being furious with the supporters.

What do you make of it?