Stoppage time history: Wigan defeats City, wins first FA Cup

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Seconds into second half stoppage time, Ben Watson became the most famous player in the history of Wigan Athletic. On a late corner from Shaun Maloney, Watson rose short of Manchester City’s near post to head a flick past Joe Hart. Moments later, Wigan had their first major honor club history. Wigan Athletic — embattled by relegation, facing one of the most well-funded clubs in the world, and only 35 years from playing non-league soccer — have won the 2012-13 FA Cup.

After a week in which the debate between relegation and glory confounded the Latics’ story, supporters were left with no doubt as to which they preferred. When the final whistle blew while the game’s clock showed 94:04, a Wigan section left short by a kickoff that precluded train travels home erupted, compensating for the few seats left vacant by the late start. Dave Whelan’s team, hamstrung by their budget and the challenges of being the soccer club in a rugby town, had the defining moment in their club’s history.

And in a turn of near-literary coincidence, the Cup-winning goal came right after the game’s proverbial midnight moment. With City having been reduced to 10-men just minutes before, the idea of Wigan turning into a pumpkin was starting to fade. Seconds after the game reached the end of regulation time, with Wigan starting to come into their advantage, Maloney was taking his corner kick. And with the first shot of stoppage time, Watson made Cinderella’s dream come true.

They may yet end up in the second division, but thanks to this trophy, they’ll be in Europe. And they’ll always have that walk up Wembley’s stairs. They’ll always have the memory of lifting the FA Cup in front of over 86,000 at one of the holiest grounds in world soccer. They’ll have their winner’s metals, and long after Wigan’s added years of first and perhaps second division football to their history books, Roberto Martínez’s team will always be the first listed under the Latics’ major honors.

source: APWith superior energy and a tactical edge, Wigan were the better side over the match’s first 45 minutes even, if they gave up the half’s best chance. That fell to Carlos Tévez who, on a ball played in from the left, put a right-footed shot back toward the near post. Joel – the young Wigan keeper who took over the number one’s job half-way through the season – kicked out desperately with his right foot, the shot going off his boot and over the bar. It was the best chance City would have all day.

A Callum McManaman threat down the right; a Roger Espinoza penalty shout through the left – Wigan had the quantity of chances, especially through the 22-year-old McManaman’s matchup against City left back Gael Clichy. Perpetually dribbling past defenders only to find crowds, McManaman’s best chance was thwarted when a ball won behind the defense would have had to beat three defenders and the keeper after his exploits led to a shot. His desperate left-footed shot, taken after dancing from the goal line back toward the shot, was blocked before if got half way toward goal.

After halftime, City took more control, but given their huge edge in talent and resources, it was a meek control. Joel’s day was not a difficult one, with the uninspired Citizens squad seemly unaware that their manager’s job might be on the line.

Samir Nasri came off early, with James Milner brought on to give the team some life. Jack Rodwell’s introduction for Carlos Tévez in the 69th switched the team to a 3-5-2. None of it worked, with Pablo Zabaleta’s second yellow card earned while stopping another McManaman charge rendering Roberto Mancini’s changed worthless.

In stoppage time, it was Rodwell who failed to mark Watson on a near post run, the Wigan substitute head and shoulders above his Manchester City mark while making contact with Maloney’s inswinger. With a flick that gave Hart little chance to react, Watson gave Wigan one of the biggest upsets in FA Cup history.

It’s been 25 years since this kind of David toppled a Goliath. Then Wimbledon held on after a 37th minute goal from Lawrie Sanchez allowed them to claim silverware at Liverpool’s expense. Now, with the gaps between haves and have-nots larger than ever, Wigan may have created a new standards for English soccer Cinderellas.

They may have also helped settle the debate between honor and survival. In the moments after something’s won, it’s difficult to judge such things, but these moments are the ones we should remember most. In the those tears clouding the eyes of Wigan supporters, we see the answer. Promotion, relegation – these are things that happen to any club, and while you don’t want to scoff at the finances that underscore life in the Premier League, you also can’t dismiss history. Very few teams can ever claim to have won an FA Cup.

In their first trip to Wembley, Wigan emerge victorious. Regardless of how their relegation battle unfolds, the Latics made history. They’ve won their first FA Cup.

MLS Snapshot: Sounders in firm control after Leg 1

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The game in 100 words (or less): The Seattle Sounders took full control of the Western Conference finals with a resounding 2-0 win over ten-man Houston. The Sounders already had hit first in the 11th minute through Gustav Svensson but the red card to Jalil Anibaba changed the game. Houston had some chances later but fatigue meant the focus and control was off. Former Dynamo striker Will Bruin’s goal may have put the tie to bed.

Three moments that mattered

11′ — Gustav Svensson Goal — The Sounders wanted to set the tone early and they picked up an early goal off a corner kick, as Svensson redirected a header past Dynamo goalkeeper Joe Willis. The goal changed the complexion of the game to that point, until our next big moment.

28′ — Jalil Anibaba red card — Joevin Jones was a menace to deal with tonight and after getting past Anibaba, the latter pulled Jones down and as it appeared to be denial of a goal-scoring opportunity, Anibaba was given his marching orders. Suddenly, Houston, down a goal and down a man, had a lot more to do to stay in the tie. Nicolas Lodeiro missed the subsequent penalty kick but Will Bruin picked Lodeiro up later.

42′ — Will Bruin goal — The former Dynamo man scored a massive goal against his former club on a great cross from Jones on the left wing. While the tie isn’t over, the Sounders are in firm control and look set to repeat as Western Conference playoffs champions.

Man of the Match: Joevin Jones

Three things: Sounders cruise after (and before) early red

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The Seattle Sounders all but booked a return appearance in the 2017 MLS Cup final on Tuesday, doing so by beating the Houston Dynamo 2-0 in the first (away) leg of the Western Conference finals on Tuesday. The game wasn’t as close at the final score might appear to indicate.

[ RECAP: Sounders take 2-0 lead over Dynamo ]

We learned the following three things over the course of the 90 minutes…


The red card hurt Houston

No way, you’re kidding, right? Clearly a 28th-minute red card (shown to Jalil Anibaba for the denial of an obvious goal-scoring opportunity) is going to have a massive impact on the outcome of a game. But, it really crippled Houston, given the way they play — having a numerical advantage in the center of midfield is so important to Wilmer Cabrera’s side, in the name of frantically winning the ball back after conceding half or even two-thirds of the field.

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When you have to haul off one of three central midfielders, in hopes of still being about to force-create chances on the rare occasion you recover the ball and move it forward, three things are bound to happen: 1) legs are going to get very heavy, very quickly; 2) the clock appears to be counting up in double-speed; 3) you begin to concede two-thirds and three-quarters of the field instead — every move Seattle worked during the second half came after a waltz in the final third before finally meeting resistance.

At right, you can see every Sounders pass originating in Houston’s half of the field — remember, Seattle are the away team here. Playoff games rarely, if ever, come much easier than that.


Addition by subtraction… again?

This one isn’t so much a lesson from Tuesday’s game, as much as it’s a trend played out over the course of an entire season: much like they wound up being in 2016 following Clint Dempsey‘s heart condition robbing him of the final four months of the season, the Sounders are once again, dare I say it, better without another indomitable figure: Osvaldo Alonso.

Here’s the numbers to back it up: without Alsono in the starting lineup this year, Seattle went 6W-2D-2L. In those 10 regular-season games, they scored 20 goals (2.0 per game, versus 1.3 with him in the lineup) and conceded 12 (1.1 per game, same when he played).

The central midfield pairing of Cristian Roldan (7) and Gustav Svensson (4) has proven a formidable foe for anyone and everyone during the second half of the season. On Tuesday — granted, against 10 men for more than an hour — they could do no wrong. (Passes attempted on the right; defensive actions on the left — green triangles are tackles won, orange are recoveries, blue are interceptions, purple are clearances, red are tackles lost.)

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Alonso has been an unbelievable servant for nine MLS seasons, he’s an MLS Cup champions, a four-time U.S. Open Cup winner, a Supporters’ Shield winner and one of the best defensive midfielders in MLS history. He’s also 32 years old with a growing history of lower-body injuries that seem to never fully heal, and he’s now clearly third in the pecking order behind Roldan and Svensson. It’s clearly an oversimplification to say that soccer is a young, mobile man’s game these days, but it’s certainly true of MLS, and the results are in near total agreement.


May I have some hope, please?

Here’s a not-so-fun fact if you’re a Dynamo fan: your team won one — singular — game on the road in 17 tries this season. Not a dark enough outlook? OK, have this: that lone away win came against D.C. United, who finished 21st out of 22 teams if you put MLS into a single table.

Maybe Seattle weren’t so good at home this year… I’m really just searching for anything at this point, you’re thinking. OK, it’s possible, I suppose. They lost once at home all season, to Toronto FC, the best regular-season team in MLS history, by the final score of 1-0, in the month of May.

We’ll see you in Toronto or Columbus for MLS Cup, Seattle Sounders.

MLS Snapshot: Toronto FC hold Crew on the road

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The game in 100 words (or less): Without two of its stars, Toronto FC set out to play compact and hold on for a draw on the road, and that’s exactly what they did. Michael Bradley recorded 17 recoveries and a trio of interceptions as TFC broke up play and covered the passing lanes, frustrating the Columbus Crew all night. The best chance fell to Harrison Afful late, but TFC goalkeeper Alex Bono made a crucial save to keep it at 0-0.

Three moments that mattered

0′ — The starting lineup — In a game with chances few and far between, the tactical set-up by Greg Vanney – in which his side without Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore came out in a 4-1-4-1 formation – proved to be the difference in the game, frustrating the Crew all night.

52′ — Pedro Santos penalty kick no-call — Justin Meram plays a neat pass through the TFC backline that Santos runs on to, and he appears to be taken down in the box by Bono. Referee Robert Sbiga doesn’t blow the whistle and lets play continue, where Ola Kamara takes a shot that’s deflected away. Santos appeals for video review, and receives a yellow card for his efforts.

85′ — Big Save Bono — Gregg Berhalter’s 77th minute substitution to bring on Kekutah Manneh helped to push Afful higher up the field, which led to this late-game chance. Bono, who hadn’t had a whole lot to do, came up with a massive stop to keep the tie level.

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Man of the Match: Alex Bono, Toronto FC

Three things: Being happy with 0-0, and sabotage by Precourt

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On what felt sure to be a seminal night in franchise history, Columbus Crew SC were held by Toronto FC to a 0-0 draw in the first leg of the 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs Eastern Conference finals on Tuesday. Leg 2 will be played next Wednesday, Nov. 29.

[ RECAP: TFC hold Crew SC to scoreless draw in leg 1 of East finals ]

We learned (roughly) three things over the course of the 90 minutes…


Who’s happiest with 0-0?

There’s a case to be made that both sides will be quite happy with Tuesday’s result — Crew SC for the fact they conceded no away goals, and TFC facing no deficit whatsoever before their home leg — but it’s quite clear that TFC should be the happier of the two, given 1) they were the best regular-season team in MLS history, this season; and, more importantly, 2) Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore were suspended for leg 1 (they’ll both be back for leg 2) and Crew SC failed to capitalize anywhere meaningful.

TFC lost once at BMO Field all season, while Columbus managed just four victories away from home. Granted, any draw where both sides score would see Crew SC through to MLS Cup, which they would host no matter the opponent (54 points in the regular season; Seattle Sounders and Houston Dynamo finished on 54 and 50, respectively).


TFC’s tactical adjustment pays off

For all of the regular season, TFC head coach Greg Vanney deployed a back-three, with great success — 69 points, an all-time regular-season record. Nov. 21, three games from lifting (or losing) MLS Cup, is hardly the ideal time to deviate from the only path you’ve known.

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Alas, the absences of Giovinco and Altidore, TFC’s permanent strike partnership in the 3-5-2, changed everything. Without Altidore’s hold-up play bringing the best player to ever grace the league into attacking moves, the 3-5-2 would have quickly devolved into a 5-3-2, followed in short order by a 5-4-1. Columbus need no invitation to hold north of 60 percent of possession in a given game, which is exactly what would have happened. Not just meaningless possession, either, but camping-inside-TFC’s-defensive-third possession; 50-crosses-into-the-box possession; get-the-center-backs-forward-too possession.

Vanney was proactive with his starting lineup, putting another body in midfield by sacrificing a striker for another man in the middle, and it paid off. At right, you’ll see Crew SC’s attempted passes into/from TFC’s defensive third. Woof.


Anthony Precourt sinks to a new low

How low is Anthony Precourt willing to go in order to sabotage Crew SC, the club he owns and efforts to move to Austin, Tex., without so much as a phony attempt at a non-relocation resolution, and alienate the fans that have supported the franchise since MLS’s debut season in 1996? Tuesday night saw Precourt and Co. up the ante as they intentionally restricted entry (two gates for the entire stadium, causing thousands to miss the game’s opening minutes) into MAPFRE Stadium with the presumed intent of a half-empty venue when the television broadcast kicked off and panned left to right.

You pay good money for a ticket so you can see your team play, which ultimately results in filling the pockets of the villain whose no. 1 goal it is to steal your team, and this is how you’re treated on gameday.

This is shameful stuff from all parties involved — Crew SC, under the leadership and direction of Precourt, and MLS, who have allowed this entire saga to be played out in a public forum and enabling Precourt every step of the way.