Monterrey’s stunning comeback makes it three straight CCL titles

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When Santos Laguna went up 2-0 after 50 minutes the CONCACAF Champions League title looked to be heading the way of Herculez Gomez and company. But in the final 30 minutes Monterrey exploded for four goals to snatch victory from the hands of their Mexican neighbor.

It was a display for the ages for the Rayados, whose spectacular comeback showed why they came into the match as the tournament’s two-time defending champions. Victor Manuel Vucetich’s side began the game very much in control but Darwin Quintero’s 37th minute goal from five yards out handed the Guerreros a 1-0 lead. Five minutes after the break Santos doubled its tally through Panamanian defender Felipe Baloy, who headed Osmar Mares’ corner into the side netting.

While Santos were dreaming of champagne celebrations, Monterrey had other ideas and their sustained pressure finally paid off in the 59th minute. Jesus Corona collected the ball on the right side and took his space with pleasure, driving down the field and crossing into the path of Aldo de Nigris, who cracked a one-time left-footed shot into the bottom corner.

With Guadalajara’s Estadio Tecnológico shaking under a vociferous crowd the Rayados found their equalizer in the 84th minute. Humberto Suazo’s corner kick was skimmed out to the top of the box where an unmarked Neri Cardozo hit a low burner that Oswaldo Sanchez was late getting down on. It was a decent shot but one where the defense and goalkeeper should have done better.

The leveler gave Monterrey plenty of momentum but still left Vucetich’s side down on away goals, forcing them to press on. Three minutes later the do-it-all Suazo dropped back to take a set piece play from 45 yards out and served a perfect ball into the box and onto the head of de Nigris, who re-directed it into the bottom corner for his brace.

Down 3-2, Santos barreled forward in search of the goal that would’ve brought the score level but it wasn’t to be as Pedro Caixinha’s side were caught stretched in stoppage time. Jesus Zavala collected the ball just inside midfield and tore into the Santos box, slipping a delightful pass under the onrushing Sanchez for Suazo to thump home. It was justice served for the Chilean striker, who had been heavily involved in the Monterrey attack throughout the entire 90 minutes.

For Santos, it was a crushing blow but one that on the balance of play, seemed a fair result. With the victory, the Rayados will represent the CONCACAF region at the FIFA Club World Cup in Morocco in December.

For U.S. international Herculez Gomez, it was a night of missed touches and, arguably, missed calls. Despite playing a vital role in Santos’ run to the finals, he was omitted from his side’s Starting XI and had to wait until the 63rd minute to enter the match. Inserted as a left midfielder, Gomez’ role was primarily defensive as Santos tried to preserve its lead. The 31 year old was his typical hard-working self, lacing two shots off target while earning a caution for some feisty play. Gomez almost earned his club a breakthrough in the 90th minute as he laid claim for a penalty but referee Marco Rodriguez wasn’t interested.

In the end it was disappointment for the American, who has recently been linked to a transfer back to MLS where he could star for either Toronto FC or Seattle, possible in a Designated Player role.

Who is Kenny Saief, and other USMNT Gold Cup personnel questions

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Kenny Saief is an 23-year-old American left-sided player with UEFA Champions League experience.

So why do we know so little about the Miami-born man?

The answer is pretty straight-forward: Saief’s entire career has been under-the-radar. After coming up through a series of Israeli teams, he moved to KAA Gent in Belgium. None of those matches, even adding in his representing the full Israel national team twice, got a ton of play on American soil.

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So when Saief filed his one-time switch to represent the United States, paving the way for a USMNT call-up for this summer’s Gold Cup, even those of us who’d followed his career from afar had put a limited amount of actual observation on match footage.

So here’s the long-and-short:

  • Saief turns 24 in December.
  • He moved to Gent from Israeli second tier side Ramat haSharon in 2014.
  • Played a total of 35 minutes in friendlies versus Serbia and Croatia.
  • Saief has 20 total appearances between the Europa and Champions Leagues.
  • Posted a UCL assist versus Wolfsburg in the 2015-16 Round of 16.
  • Had goal, 2 assists in UEL this season, played 180 mins vs. Spurs.
  • Has 15 goals, 9 assists in 107 apps for Gent.

Saief should get an opportunity to make an impact for Bruce Arena’s USMNT, perhaps as soon as Saturday’s friendly against Ghana in East Hartford.

Who else stands a chance to gain the most from this tournament?

Joe Corona — The 26-year-old made his thirst-inducing name in American soccer circles by scoring a pair of goals in the 2013 Gold Cup, but has just 17 caps to his name. His call-up over veterans like Benny Feilhaber and Sacha Kljestan either shows how high he’s risen or how far those veterans have fallen.

Cristian Roldan — Seattle’s hard-nosed midfielder was playing college ball at Washington just three years ago, and it’s not crazy to think strong performances could boost him onto the radar of bigger clubs abroad (let alone make him a mainstay along Kellyn Acosta with the USMNT).

Dom Dwyer — If Roldan’s rise is surprising, Dwyer’s really is astounding. It’s easy to forget that the Sporting KC star forward was playing junior college soccer in 2010 before spending one season of Division I soccer with South Florida. Now he has 57 MLS goals and a look at becoming the clinical finisher the American side has wanted for some time.

Justin Morrow and Eric Lichaj — The 29- and 28-year-old fullbacks would love to prove their mettle is as good if not better than Jorge Villafana, the current front-runner to start at left back should the Yanks complete their revitalized run to the World Cup. Lichaj, a Nottingham Forest veteran, is also adept at right back.

This isn’t to say that Juan Agudelo and Kelyn Rowe won’t benefit from strong tournaments, but the names above have either been rescued from soccer’s scrap heap or at least Jurgen Klinsmann’s prison.

PODCAST: Bob Bradley talks MLS past, USMNT

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Scott Nicholls and Otis Earle welcomed Bob Bradley to their “Beyond The Pitch” podcast to discuss his time coaching the Chicago Fire, the Fire’s current squad, how MLS has evolved, the new generation of players coming into the USMNT and more.

Perhaps most interesting is Bradley talking about previous losses with stinging emotion that sounds like they happened yesterday, including the 2000 MLS Cup.

[ MORE: Latest Men In Blazers pod ]

Since being fired from Swansea City after less than 100 days, Bradley has been linked with the Norway national team gig as well as a return to Los Angeles. Keep up with the U.S. coach here, and check out the podcast here:

U.S. Open Cup preview: Which underdog has best odds?

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Every dog has its day, and the three lower-tier clubs remaining in the 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup are hoping for a second.

Miami FC, Sacramento Republic, and FC Cincinnati enjoyed wins over Major League Soccer sides in the fourth round, and now get further MLS tests in this week’s fifth round.

[ MORE: Lampard linked with manager opening ]

Once FC Dallas and Colorado Rapids tangle on Tuesday, attention turns to the underdogs on Wednesday. Who has the best chance to advance?

  1. Miami FC vs. Atlanta United — Playing an MLS expansion side at Riccardo Silva Stadium will give Miami a bit of confidence, and this is also a side with some good experience in pressure spots. Whether it’s manager Alessandro Nesta or MLS vets Michel, Gabriel Farfan, and Michael Lahoud, MFC won’t shy away. Upset chance: Solid.
  2. FC Cincinnati vs. Chicago Fire — The visitors are having a heck of a season in MLS and don’t have a group which will be worried by a huge crowd, but there’s no debating that 25,000-plus in Southern Ohio give FCC more than a puncher’s chance. Upset chance: Improbable, but possible
  3. LA Galaxy vs. Sacramento Republic — If LA puts something close to its best side out there, Sacramento will struggle to stop its attack.  Upset chance: Long shot.

Elsewhere on Wednesday, New England hosts DC United, Philadelphia visits the Red Bulls, Seattle is off to San Jose, and Houston hosts Sporting KC.

WATCH: Spain’s Saul smashes a shot past Italy’s Donnarumma

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Since returning from a loan at Rayo Vallecano, Saul Niguez has been a somewhat under the radar star at Atletico Madrid.

Coming off his best season with Atleti, the 22-year-old Saul is making an even bigger name for himself at the U-21 EURO this summer.

Spain’s Saul scored a hat trick past Gianluigi Donnarumma and Italy on Tuesday, and the second goal was laced with venom.

Getting onto the ball from 30-plus yards out, Saul smashed his shot with enough power that the ball barely had occasion to rotate.

Saul is under contract at the Vicente Calderon through 2022, and has three caps for Spain’s senior team, too. He was rated Atleti’s third-best performer by WhoScored this season.