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Roberto Mancini out as manager at Manchester City

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This certainly had the feel of “foregone conclusion,” didn’t it?

Roberto Mancini is out as Manchester City manager – to the surprise of absolutely no one.

A meager title defense, an early Champions League crash and Saturday’s FA Cup waste was too much for City’s Abu Dhabi owners.

Mancini had lately been hurt that club officials more or less refused to knock down the stories of his imminent dismissal – which began circulating in force the morning of Saturday’s FA Cup final. If there was already so much “smoke,” so to speak, the “fire” was definitely going to arrive once Wigan somehow pulled off the Wembley smash and grab on Saturday, leaving City officials with no titles for the year, and with little apparent doubt that Mancini was no longer the right man for the job.

Sure enough, the ax swung late Monday.

The statement from club management was quite to the point, emphasizing that the Italian manager “had failed to achieve any of the club’s targets, with the exception of qualification for next season’s Champions League.”

Well, there was that English Premier League title a year back, City’s only crown in England’s top tier for the last 44 years. Oh, and that FA Cup in 2011. But, details, details.

City’s championship defense in 2012-13 did sometimes look like weak sauce of the meek, pretty much kaput by February. Meanwhile, crosstown rival United attacked the task of reclaiming EPL glory with the fierce determination of wounded animals. Then again, Mancini’s men will finish second or perhaps third in the world’s most ballyhooed league; it’s not like they were stuffed back in coach class with Southampton and Sunderland and the like.

Mancini certainly brought some of this on himself. Given the wealth of talent and a year for settling into the Champions League groove (the 2011-12 campaign), finishing dead last in the group stage of the world’s most prestigious club tournament was surely quite an embarrassment for Sheikh Mansour, whose oil money seemed in almost limitless supply.

Or it did to some of us. Not so much to Mancini, who damaged his standing with ownership by publicly and repeatedly suggesting that he was somehow fighting with the shorter stick – a truly absurd and perhaps even entitled suggestion. There are 17 or 18 EPL clubs that would do anything to have City’s collection of talent, top to bottom on the roster.

Nor did Mancini assist his cause with his media interactions, which ranged from cumbersome (often due to his English language limitations) to downright bizarre.

In the end, City fans, players around the Etihad and members of the chattering class may judge this as “unfair,” and the cold calculation of his dismissal may not bathe the oil-moneyed owners in most flattering light. But backlash will be minimal, if there is any at all, because Mancini hardly comes across as a sympathetic character.

The speculation has centered on Malaga’s Manuel Pellegrini as Mancini’s replacement at the City of Manchester Stadium.

Check back for more on this at ProSoccerTalk.

USC wins NCAA women’s soccer national championship

Southern California's Morgan Andrews celebrates after scoring a goal against West Virginia during the first half in the NCAA Women's College Cup soccer final, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016 in San Jose, Calif. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
AP Photo/Tony Avelar
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SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) Katie Johnson broke a tie in the 75th minute and Southern California won the NCAA women’s soccer title Sunday, beating top-ranked West Virginia 3-1 at Avaya Stadium on Sunday.

The second-seeded Trojans (19-4-2) also won the College Cup in 2007.

The Mountaineers (23-2-2) lost for the first time since a 1-0 setback to Georgetown on Sept. 18. West Virginia had a 17-game unbeaten streak snapped, and allowed three goals for the first all season.

Johnson, who also had the winning goal in USC’s 1-0 semifinal victory over Georgetown on Friday, was wide open in front of the net when Leah Pruitt took a pass up the left sideline, beat defender Easther Mayi Kith, and delivered a perfect cross. Johnson simply rolled the ball into the goal to the right of goalkeeper Rylee Foster.

Johnson scored again off an assist from Nicole Molen in the 87th minute.

The Trojans got on the board just 1:22 into play after Julia Bingham directed a corner kick to the top of the penalty box, where Savannah Levin headed the ball forward to Morgan Andrews, whose header from 5 yards eluded Foster.

West Virginia’s Ashley Lawrence, a member of the 2016 Canadian Olympic team, tied it in the 66th minute when she ripped a shot from the top left corner of the penalty box just inside the near post.

After USC took the 2-1 lead, the Mountaineers nearly drew even in the 81st minute on a shot by Heather Kaleiohi that was stopped on a diving save by goalkeeper Sammy Prudhomme.

The Mountaineers outshot USC 21-8 and held a 9-1 edge in corner kicks.

The Trojans joined North Carolina (21 titles), Notre Dame (3) and Portland (3) as the only multiple winners of the College Cup.

USC won its 126th national team title on the same day its men’s water polo team lost 10-8 to Cal in the NCAA final just 45 miles away in Berkeley.

West Virginia, in its first College Cup final, was hoping to claim its first NCAA title in any sport besides its co-ed rifle team, which has won 18 national titles.

VIDEO: 70-yard volley from Chile is nearly impossible to believe

Alejandro Camargo, Universidad de Concepcion
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His name is Alejandro Camargo, and he scored what might just go down as the best goal of 2016 on Sunday: an impossibly perfect volley from well beyond the halfway line.

[ MORE: PL roundup — Chelsea top Man City; Arsenal, Spurs win big ]

Miguel Pinto is the opposing goalkeeper whose long-range clearance, which covered about 50 yards during the final seconds of Universidad de Concepcion’s clash with O’Higgins in the Chilean first division, was taken off the fly, first-time, by the Argentine midfielder to seal a 3-1 victory for the home side.

[ MORE: Serie A roundup — Roma, AC Milan win, still tied for 2nd ]

“The coach told us Pinto was always playing in advance of his goal, so I closed my eyes and hit it,” Camargo said after the game.

“Hit it and hope” has never looked so good.

Roma fans stay away from derby to protest new security barriers

A view of a huge section of empty seats as Roma fans desert derby in protest over security barriers, during a Serie A soccer match between Lazio and Roma, at the Rome Olympic stadium Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
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ROME (AP) Roma’s most ardent supporters stayed away from the derby match against Lazio in protest at barriers introduced at the start of last season in their area.

Normally filled with supporters waving huge banners, lighting flares and singing, half of the “curva sud” — southern end — of the Stadio Olimpico was left empty for Sunday’s match.

[ MORE: Serie A roundup — Roma, AC Milan win, still tied for 2nd ]

Three of Roma’s locally born standouts held a meeting with the “ultra” fans during the week. Captain Francesco Totti, Daniele De Rossi and Alessandro Florenzi asked the supporters to return, and the club itself has also tried to resolve the matter.

But the appeals had no effect.

In contrast, Lazio fans filled the northern end of the stadium as usual.

The plexiglass barriers were put in place by city officials for security reasons.

VIDEO: “Behind The Badge: Watford FC” — Episode 2

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In Episode 2 of Behind the Badge: Watford FC, watch the players’ recovery after a win against Leicester, a look at the club’s one-of-a-kind internship program and a flashback to a memorable moment in Watford’s history.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

To watch past episodes of Behind The Badge, including last season’s edition featuring a look inside Crystal Palace, head over to the full archive by clicking here.

[ MORE: PL roundup — Chelsea top Man City; Arsenal, Spurs win big ]

First episode: Watch full episode, here
Second episode: Above video
Third episode: Sunday, Dec. 11, 2 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Fourth episode: Sunday, Dec. 18, 2 p.m. ET – NBCSN