Osvaldo Alonso: ‘I’m very happy’ for Cuban national team’s success in Gold Cup

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SEATTLE — Despite not being able to play for his native country anymore, Seattle Sounders FC midfielder Osvaldo Alonso is not afraid to support Cuba in the CONCACAF Gold Cup. He watched the final group match against Belize, an improbable 4-0 win that sent Cuba into the quarterfinals.

“They have to play now [against Panama] like they did with Belize,” Alonso said after Sounders training on Thursday. “I hope they go to the semifinal.”

It’s the second time in Gold Cup history that Cuba advanced beyond the first round. The other came in 2003, when a 2-0 win over Canada and 3-0 loss to Costa Rica was enough to advance out of the three-team group, based on that head-to-head result with Canada. (All three teams in the group ended on three points — Costa Rica had a plus-2 goal difference, while the others finished with minus-1.)

Under intense scrutiny every time it takes the field, mostly from people counting players to see whether any of the 23-man roster has defected to the United States, Cuba has held onto every player so far. When the team played in Portland, Ore., against Costa Rica to open its tournament, Alonso made the short drive south to watch the game.

“They’re focused. I don’t know anybody [who has] defected yet, but I think they’re focused on the game,” he said. “They want to win. I spoke with them when I went to Portland. They told me they’re going to play hard to be in the final.”

Alonso had only positive memories of his time playing with Cuba, despite life off the field driving him to defect to the U.S. He left the team during the 2007 Gold Cup, on an outing to a Wal-Mart in Houston.

He trained with Chivas USA for a short time, eventually signing with the Charleston Battery of the United Soccer Leagues First Division. After he won the USL-1 Rookie of the Year, Seattle Sounders FC picked him up.

“Always good things go through my mind, being with the national team,” Alonso said. “Representing Cuba is something good, but now I have to focus on Seattle. I have to forget Cuba. I’m not allowed to play anymore, so the only thing I have from Cuba is just my friends.”

Charleston, where Alonso signed his first American professional contract, has become somewhat of a haven for Cuban defectors. Goalkeeper Odisnel Cooper, midfielder Maikel Chang and forward Evier Cordovéz currently play for the Battery. All three left the Cuban team prior to a World Cup qualifier against Canada in Toronto in 2012.

“It’s a great opportunity for them to come here, to play in the MLS and USL — any league,” Alonso said. “I’m very happy for them, to come here and get the opportunity to play professionally.”


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Jonas nets 2 late goals to keep Benfica in title hunt

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LISBON, Portugal (AP) Jonas scored two late goals to lead Benfica’s 3-1 comeback win at Pacos Ferreira on Saturday, keeping it close to Portuguese league leader FC Porto.

Jonas equalized in the 72nd minute and gave the defending champion the lead in the 88th.

[ MORE: Man United-Chelsea meet in giant Sunday PL clash ]

Rafa Silva added a third goal after the host was reduced to 10 men in stoppage time when Gian dos Santos was shown a direct red card.

Luiz Phellype gave Pacos Ferreira the lead in the ninth.

The double increased Jonas’ league-leading tally to 27 goals.

Benfica moved to within two points of Porto before the pacesetter visits Portimonense on Sunday.

Sporting Lisbon is third at five points behind Porto. It hosts Moreirense on Monday.

Orlando City trades defender Jose Aja to Whitecaps for allocation money

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The Vancouver Whitecaps have struck a deal with an Eastern Conference side to help solidify their back line.

[ MORE: USMNT’s Johannsson leads Werder Bremen to win ]

On Saturday, the Cascadia club finalized a deal to acquire Orlando City defender Jose Aja in exchange for $125,000 in Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) for 2019.

Additionally, Orlando could receive another $100,000 in TAM if Aja remains on the Whitecaps roster next season and a 2021 second-round MLS SuperDraft pick if Aja is in Canada for the 2020 campaign.

Aja has made 25 appearances for Orlando since coming to MLS in 2016 from his native Uruguay.

The timing of the deal is intriguing, given Tim Parker’s willingness to exit the Whitecaps ahead of the 2018 MLS season.

PST reported on Thursday that Parker is seeking a move back to the East Coast, and the New York-native is being tracked by several Eastern Conference sides, including the New York Red Bulls, D.C. United and the Montreal Impact.

Parker is considered one of the top American defenders in MLS, and is actively seeking a massive pay raise ahead of the new season, after making just under $100,000 in 2017.

PL Sunday preview: Red Devils battle Chelsea at Old Trafford

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It will surely be one of the biggest fixtures of the season when Manchester United and Chelsea get together on Sunday, and for both clubs a victory could be vital in projecting their form for the rest of the 2017/18 campaign.

Meanwhile, a crucial meeting at Selhurst Park pits teams on opposite ends of the table against one another. Crystal Palace enters the weekend levels on points with 18th-place Swansea, while Tottenham could leap Chelsea for fourth if results go in favor of Spurs.

[ MORE: Liverpool continues to score at lightning pace against West Ham ]

Crystal Palace vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 7 a.m. ET on NBCSN

The injury bug has hit Palace hard as of late, with a total of 12 senior team players being left out of Roy Hodgson‘s squad. The list includes Wilfried Zaha, Yohan Cabaye and Mamadou Sakho, which won’t make things easy against a talented Spurs side.

Tottenham have had a ton of success in this fixture recently, winning the last five encounters and only allowing one goal in the process.

Mauricio Pochettino‘s men have hit the ground running in the second half of the season thus far, picking up a league-high 15 points in the Premier League since the start of 2018.

If there is a saving grace for the Eagles though, it is that Palace has been solid at home this season, and gone unbeaten in nine of its last 10 fixtures at Selhurst.

Manchester United vs. Chelsea — 9:05 a.m. ET on NBCSN

After a pair of draws from the PL sides kicked off their Champions League Round of 16 campaigns midweek, United and Chelsea can now focus their attention back to England; at least for the time being.

Jose Mourinho’s team came away from Seville with a crucial scoreless draw after the hosts tested goalkeeper David De Gea on numerous occasions, while Chelsea were close to pulling out a victory against Barcelona had it not been for a big-time mistake from Andreas Christensen late in the match.

Nonetheless, this is a fixture that always garners significant attention, especially from the Blues, who tend to have a better go of it. United has won just once against Chelsea in their last 14 fixtures, with the lone victory coming last season.

That said, Antonio Conte and his side have failed to exemplify consistency this year, and that includes road matches. The Blues have just two road wins in their last nine attempts across all competitions, which bodes well for the Red Devils.

The good news for Chelsea is the recent form of attacking duo Willian and Eden Hazard. The Brazilian was constantly in dangerous positions up the pitch against the Blaugrana in their recent UCL encounter, nabbing the lone goal for the Blues, while Hazard has scored six times in his last six PL matches.

The 2 Robbies: Unstoppable Liverpool, Man United-Chelsea and more

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In today’s episode, Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe discuss Liverpool’s emphatic win over West Ham (0:17), breakdown an extremely complicated relegation situation where nearly half of the league is in jeopardy of going down (10:05), before closing the show with a preview of tomorrow’s Man United v. Chelsea match (28:10).

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

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