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Overshadowing progress, Mourinho’s Madrid exit becomes increasingly contentious

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When José Mourinho left Porto, he did so triumphantly. Same at Inter Milan, and while the mood was more somber when he left Stamford Bridge, there was still the acknowledgement that Mourinho had been integral to Chelsea becoming a true Premier League power. Everywhere he’s gone, he’s not only won. He’s moved the club forward.

The same is true at Real Madrid, even if Mourinho’s impending departure is becoming more contentious by the moment. When The Special One arrived from Inter Milan after the 2009-10 season, the Merengues were on the wrong side of an ever-growing gap between themselves and Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona. They’d also been eliminated in Champions League’s Round of 16 in six straight seasons. In year one, Mourinho got El Real to the semifinals and won the Copa del Rey. In year two, he again reached the semis and added a league title. He had moved another club forward.

That’s not enough at Real Madrid. He was brought in to win Champions League, and with last week’s elimination at the hands of Borussia Dortmund, Mourinho will end his three-year tenure without a European Cup. He ended Real’s second round curse and reversed a trend that was saw the Merengues romped whenever they faced Barça, but bringing to Madrid a bombast that matched his resume, Mourinho knew: No Champions League, no success in the Spanish capital.

They’re ridiculous standards, but they’re ones Mourinho embraced when he moved from Milan. That was part of the challenge – the prospect of being the man who returned El Real to European glory. So as the Portuguese saunters off to Stamford Bridge this summer, don’t waste your time passing judgment. Better to spend your time witnessing the growing carnage being left in his wake as the Spanish season winds down.

Take today’s press conference, an opportunity José Mourinho used to stoke some fires.

source: APOn Iker Casillas (right):

For me I prefer Diego Lopez as a goalkeeper to Iker Casillas. It’s simple. It’s not a personal decision. I like a keeper that is good with his feet, who is dominant in the air and who is a phenomenon between the posts.

I prefer this other profile of keeper. In the same way that Casillas can say that he prefers another type of manager, like Del Bosque or Pellegrini. While I am the coach of Real Madrid, Diego Lopez will play in goal.

Seems rather innocuous, but in the context of Real and the Madrid media, it’s still anathema, despite the fact Casillas hasn’t been the No. 1 in four months. There’s a reason Casillas’s nicknamed “Saint Iker,” and while Mourinho’s winter handling of Casillas and Sergio Ramos can be seen as a step that helped offset the club’s player power culture (and get the team re-focused after a terrible autumn), many see the move as affront to the club. How do you bench the captain for club and country?

It’s a sentiment with which Pepe probably agrees. The Portuguese international was thought to be one of the most pro-Mourinho players in the squad, yet he recently claimed the team’s captain “deserved more respect” from the coach.

To which, Mourinho noted one possible motivation for Pepe’s sudden forthrightness:

It’s very easy to analyze Pepe. His problem has a name, and that name is Raphael Varane. It’s not easy for a man of 31 years of age to be overtaken by a kid of 19.

Regardless of motivation, Mourinho seems to have lost Real’s Portuguese contingent, with Cristiano Ronaldo also offering some off-putting words about Mourinho in the wake of Real’s Champion League exit. Take Diego López and Michael Essien out of the picture, and almost anybody around Real Madrid could be next to kick Mourinho as he’s going out the door.

All of which is a bit silly. Just as Mourinho knew what he was getting into when he moved to Madrid, the club knew who they were getting when they bought him from Inter Milan, and while it’s the media and the players (not the people who hired Mourinho) that are taking these parting shots, there’s still an element of the greater Real Madrid community rushing to condemn a man who moved them forward. Media, fans, players are all trying to get on record before he leaves, as if this type of perverse “say it to his face” logic can mask the underlying dissonance.

To the media, Mourinho is a selfish “I” instead of “we” type of guy, but he’s always been, and while his inability to deliver a “decima” opens him up to second-guessing, critics should be mindful of context. That selfishness has driven more successes than failures, and after mid-May’s Copa del Rey final, Mourinho could leave Madrid with three trophies and three successive trips to Europe’s final four. Given that relative success – achievements that transcend the context into which he was dropped – Madridistas would be better served asking what endemic factors at the club meant Mourinho’s latest successes where ultimately limited ones.

Perhaps Madrid would have never made another Champions League semifinal if Casillas and Ramos hadn’t been checked, leaving the club to continue their autumn descent?

But in the face of a person as combative as Mourinho, counterpunches are inevitable. And it’s hard to begrudge a community’s chance to fire back at a man who seems to have had his bags packed for months. But those countermeasures will be meaningless if Madridistas don’t stop and consider what really went wrong. It would be wrong to use these last, contentious weeks as reason to blame a man who was a relative solution.

Three takeaways from the Red Bulls CCL draw against the Whitecaps

New York Red Bulls forward Bradley Wright-Phillips, left, trips over Vancouver Whitecaps defender Kendall Waston inside the Whitecaps box during the first half of a CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal soccer match, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017, in Harrison, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
AP Photo/Julio Cortez
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With 90 more minutes to play up in Vancouver, this tie is far from over. However, Wednesday night’s clash at Red Bull Arena surely presented intriguing storylines ahead of leg two.

The Vancouver Whitecaps picked up a critical away goal in their 1-1 draw against the New York Red Bulls in the first leg of their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal meeting.

While their CCL clash was the first competitive action for either side since 2016, both clubs showed glimpses of brilliance in the first of their two encounters in the competition.

Here’s a look back at three important takeaways from the Red Bulls’ draw against the Whitecaps.

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Red Bulls still working out kinks up front

Bradley Wright-Phillips has been one of Major League Soccer’s most prolific goalscorers since joining the Red Bulls, but even the star striker struggled to find the ball in dangerous positions on Wednesday. The Red Bulls striker netted the game’s equalizer after 62 minutes, but chances were far and few between on the night for Wright-Phillips.

Despite dominating the possession for long spells of the match (as is the case much of the time), the Red Bulls found difficulty breaking down the Whitecaps when it mattered most.

Jesse Marsch’s side managed just two shots on target throughout the 90 minutes, while Sacha Kljestan’s penalty kick miss voided the host side from leveling up the first leg just after the halftime break.

The Red Bulls have wanted to toy with a two-striker set since early 2016, and Marsch finally got his wish with Argentine DP Gonzalo Veron match fit for the start of the campaign. Veron looked solid at times with his quality first touches and quick pace, but it was the final ball that was often lacking.

Sacha Kljestan and Daniel Royer interlinked well with one another behind the two strikers, and with Mike Grella and Alex Muyl also tabbed as rotational players in the midfield, Marsch will have a solid group to pick from to help his attack develop moving forward.

Manneh is coming into his own

He scored, facilitated and just looked all around dangerous against the Red Bulls. Kekuta Manneh has become one of the most intriguing MLS players over the past 12 months in large part because of his success in the league as well as the opportunity to represent the U.S. Men’s National Team.

While his goal wasn’t the prettiest six minutes before halftime, the Whitecaps attacker was in the right spot, just as he was for much of the night. His three shots on target led all players involved, but it was Manneh’s confidence under pressure that was most impressive.

The Whitecaps didn’t throw too many numbers forward on the night — with the second leg being north of the border — but Manneh and the Whitecaps attack thrived on the counterattack on several occasions.

With a number of players unavailable for Carl Robinson’s side, including Yordy Reyna, Christian Bolanos and Fredy Montero, the visitors played a strong opening leg, particularly after playing the final 20 minutes down a man when Cristian Techera was dismissed for a high tackle on Red Bulls defender Sal Zizzo.

Youngsters show out for both sides

Experience is still the name of the game for both the Red Bulls and Whitecaps, but Wednesday night also provided a glimpse into the future with several stellar performances from the youngsters on the pitch.

Sean Davis was tasked with filling the hole in the central midfield after Dax McCarty was treaded away from the Red Bulls this offseason, and although the youngster has had experience in the past, he certainly didn’t disappoint for Marsch’s group. The 24-year-old looked confident in his distribution and defended well when called upon alongside Felipe.

Meanwhile, Whitecaps attacker Alphonso Davies continues to turn heads for a player that is only 16 years old. Davies only appeared in eight MLS matches last season for the Western Conference side, but looked like a seasoned veteran against the Red Bulls at times with his blazing strides and pinpoint passes.

The young attacker surely has room to grow, particularly in front of net, but hey, he’s 16.

New York Red Bulls 1-1 Vancouver Whitecaps: BWP saves a draw

New York Red Bulls' Aaron Long, top, climbs over Vancouver Whitecaps forward Erik Hurtado while competing for the ball during the first half of a CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal soccer match, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017, in Harrison, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
AP Photo/Julio Cortez
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  • ‘Caps nap road goal
  • Techera sent off in 71′
  • Return leg March 2

Kekuta Manneh and Bradley Wright-Phillips traded goals as the Vancouver Whitecaps and New York Red Bulls drew 1-1 in their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal first leg on Wednesday at Red Bull Arena.

Cristian Techera sent the ‘Caps down to 10 men in the 71st minute when he connected with a kick between Sal Zizzo’s legs.

A deft touch by Wright-Phillips set up Sacha Kljestan for a fifth minute chance, but two sliding Whitecaps helped pressure the captain’s shot wide of the near post.

Vancouver had a chance two minutes later when Alphonso Davies played Russell Teibert down the right wing, and the Whitecaps wide man curled a shot wide of the far post.

[ MORE: Amazing beach soccer bicycle kick goal ]

The Whitecaps beat Luis Robles before halftime. Kendall Waston flicked a ball toward the net, and Kekuta used his head to turn the ball off Justin Bilyeu and behind Robles. 1-0, 39′.

A foul outside the 18 nearly saw Kljestan level it up with a 45th minute free kick.

Kljestan should’ve tied it up with a PK just after the break. He didn’t, barely chipping his Panenka attempt above shin level. Woof.

Wright-Phillips made it 1-1 in the 62nd minute, when Zizzo’s cross dropped at his feet. A quick reaction had the ball in the back of the net.

Sacha Kljestan stars in “When Panenkas Fail” (video)

HARRISON, NJ - MARCH 22:  Sacha Kljestan #16 of New York Red Bulls heads the ball in front of Steve Birnbaum #15 of D.C. United during their match at Red Bull Arena on March 22, 2015 in Harrison, New Jersey.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images
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When Panenkas don’t go well, players look foolish.

Sacha Kljestan looks foolish.

The New York Red Bulls captain strode to the penalty spot to level the score in Wednesday’s CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal first leg against the visiting Vancouver Whitecaps.

[ MORE: Leicester grabs away goal ]

Only he didn’t. Kljestan chipped his attempt barely a foot off the ground, allowing David Ousted to kick the chance away. Bradley Wright-Phillips blazed the rebound over the frame, and it remained 1-0 for the ‘Caps.

WATCH: Liverpool loanee nets hat trick for U.S. U-20 side

STEVENAGE, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 19:  Brooks Lennon of Liverpool celebrates his goal during the Premier League 2 match between Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool at The Lamex Stadium on September 19, 2016 in Stevenage, England.  (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images
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If Brooks Lennon brings this sort of scoring prowess to Real Salt Lake, he may just walk away Rookie of the Year.

On loan from Liverpool, Lennon is first on duty with the United States U-20 men’s national team in Costa Rica.

The U.S. opened U-20 World Cup qualifying with a 1-0 loss to Panama, and was under the gun when it allowed an early goal to Haiti late Tuesday evening.

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But Lennon scored a trio of goals and sent in the corner that Luca de la Torre eventually finished as the Yanks won 4-1. The U.S. has St. Kitts and Nevis in the final group match on Friday.

The top two teams from each group of four advance to the next round, in which four teams will qualify for the U-20 World Cup. That tournament is set for May in South Korea.