Major League Soccer Week in Review – Round 22

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All-Star break

Thing is, it’s not much of a “break,” per se. This is just what everyone calls it. Either way, no mid-week matches for as the best of the bunch gather in Kansas City for Wednesday’s contest against Roma.  United States midfield maestro Michael Bradley is a member of the Italian Serie A club.

Landon Donovan was just added to the MLS roster. It’s the summer of Donovan, don’t you know?

Mike Magee scores. Again.

An interesting and unlikely pair are trying to break from the peloton in the Golden Boot chase. Vancouver’s Camilo and Chicago’s Mike Magee have 13 goals each to lead the field. Magee’s latest was a easy far-post finish in a 1-1 draw at Houston. And that trade for Robbie Rogers’ right just looks better and better for the Fire … worse and worse for the Galaxy. (Watch Magee’s latest goal here.)

Best game: New York’s win over Real Salt Lake

If it wasn’t the best match of the weekend, it was darn sure the best 10 minutes of MLS Round 22.

The night at Red Bull Arena was physical but included plenty of skillful stuff, too. Alvaro Saborio, fresh off Gold Cup duty with Costa Rica, netted a hat trick, just the fourth in MLS this year.

New York had a 2-0 lead late after 23 minutes and still led by a goal in the 80th minute –then all heck broke loose.  Saborio scored twice within 10 minutes as the visitors, still missing about half its lineup due to injuries and international absences, climbed into a sudden 3-2 lead.

Fabian Espindola supplied New York’s 89th minute equalizer, and then Dax McCarty found a wonderful time for his first goal of 2013, a brave diving header and game-winner in the 94th minute. Final score: 4-3 New York.

Match highlights are here. (They are 10 minutes long, but what did you expect? There was a lot going on!)

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Dramatic wins in Canada, by the Canadian clubs

Montreal and Toronto had late goals to record dramatic wins before their home fans.

Montreal took advantage of a whopping seven minutes of stoppage time, as Blake Smith found space on the left and beat Kansas City goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen in the 96th minute. That gave the Impact a 1-0 win in the kind of physical, emotional contest you would expect in an exchange of these two clubs.

The drama rose to another level yet in Toronto, where Ryan Nelson’s club actually trailed Columbus going into the 87th minute. But Bobby Convey and  Jeremy Brockie helped arrange a goal for Jonathan Osorio.

As a driving rain poured down, TFC poured on the pressure, desperate for its first league victory at BMO Field in more than a year. Defender Stephen Caldwell headed one off the post, and then in the 94th minute Convey set up Andrew Wiedeman for the winner in a 2-1 result.

Bobby Convey? He’s still playing?

Mostly a forgotten man and a tale of talent squandered, Bobby Convey, on his third MLS team in three years, had two assists in Toronto’s win. The Reds are too far behind for a playoff run, but getting the former U.S. international back on track would surely assist in the ongoing (latest) rebuilding effort around BMO Field.

The champs are hurting

Quick checklist of the biggest LA Galaxy names: Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane, Omar Gonzalez, Robbie Rogers.

Quick checklist of the LA Galaxy players absent from Saturday’s match in Colorado: Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane, Omar Gonzalez and Robbie Rogers.

Throw in yet another underwhelming performance from goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini, and it’s not hard to see why the Galaxy

Not hard to see Donovan and Gonzalez struggled at DSG Park, looking pretty tame in a 2-0 loss. Donovan and Gonzalez are finished with Gold Cup duty and should be back in the lineup when Bruce Arena’s team resumes league play at FC Dallas on Aug. 11. Keane and Rogers should be recovered from injuries by then as well.

Rookies still getting it done in the Rockies

Central midfielder Dillon Powers had a goal and an assist in the latest match of his outstanding rookie season. He has four goals and four assists.

Fellow rookie Deshorn Brown was in for 77 minutes of the 2-0 win over Los Angeles. And  rookie goalkeeper Clint Irwin recorded his 8th shutout.

(By the way, Chris Klute, the  Rapids’ outstanding young left back, is not a rookie; I’ve seen several people make that mistake. He signed a professional contract previously with Atlanta of the NASL, and he even played one match last year with the Rapids.)

Either way, it’s clear that Rapids manager Oscar Pareja has an outstanding eye for young talent, and knows a little about how to manage it.

Tight in the East … just six points separate top from no playoffs

Brad Davis returns … but not quite enough for the Dynamo

The Houston Dynamo’s versatile U.S. international midfielder got back into a league match for the first time in a month. He had an impact, too, providing the assist (Brad Davis, assists … they go together like coffee and cream, eh?) on Cam Weaver’s goal in a 1-1 draw with Chicago. That was the first goal for a Houston forward since early May. Seriously.

David couldn’t do enough, however, as Houston would surely have loved all three points at home. As of today, the MLS runner-ups in 2011 and 2012 are not in the playoffs. (Houston is tied with New England, behind on tiebreakers, but does have a game in hand on the fifth-place Revs.)

Set pieces. It’s always set pieces

As the playoffs draw closer, every goal takes on added significance. And that means every restart is a potential post-season spot waiting to happen. Or something like that.

Restarts were big as Colorado upended the Galaxy. Hendry Thomas’ 41st minute strike was off a corner kick. Both of San Jose’s goals in a 2-1 win over visiting Portland were off restarts, a penalty kick from Victor Bernardez and Steven Lenhart’s game-winner off a clever free kick execution.

Kevin Alston returns to the field

New England defender Kevin Alson created the happy news of the weekend when he came on in the 84th minute of New England’s 2-1 win at D.C. United. This is the first time Alston, a former MLS All-Star has stepped onto the field since his diagnoses and treatment for a rare form of leukemia in April.

The East is a beast

Check out those Eastern Conference standings. The top team (Kansas City) has 36 points. The sixth place team (Houston) has 30. So, a mere six points separates the conference winner from a team not going to the post-season as things stand.

Overall, seven teams have a real shot at the playoffs. Eight if you count Columbus, although Saturday’s 2-1 loss (when Robert Warzycha’s team had a lead, as mentioned earlier, in the 87th minute) may be hard to rally past. The Crew has lost five of its last six.

Benitez happy to stay at Newcastle if he “has the tools to compete”

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Rafa Benitez is approaching something vaguely resembling sainthood in the northeast of England — with the Newcastle United-supporting portion, at least — but his future remains in doubt as the end of the current Premier League season draws nearer and the next one approaches.

[ MORE: Salah beats De Bruyne to win PFA Player of the year award ]

Benitez and Newcastle owner Mike Ashley have endured an unhappy working relationship for much of Benitez’s 25 months at the club. The Spaniard was true to his word, though, when he stuck around another season after being relegated from the PL in 2016, then again after winning promotion on the Magpies’ first attempt, but he’ll be faced with the same dilemma again this summer, even after guiding Newcastle to a mid-table finish (they currently sit 10th with five games left to play).

[ MORE: Man United reach FA Cup final | Chelsea join them ]

If he’s not given assurances that he’ll be handed the necessary funds to properly strengthen his squad during the upcoming summer transfer window, the 58-year-old could very well walk away and leave Ashley to play the part of all-too-familiar villain. Or, as Benitez put it this weekend, Ashley could fork over “the tools to be capable of competing” and make everyone, from the manager to the fans, happy — quotes form the Guardian:

“If they [Ashley’s representatives] want to talk to my people [about a new contract,] they can talk. The main thing is to be sure we share the same ambition.

“I want to win games and I want to win trophies and I want to have the tools to be capable of competing. At the same time, I like to improve players, coach players, follow a business plan, a realistic business plan in modern football. I have no problem with that because I did it in the past.

“We have to be sure to have all the tools to compete and achieve what we want to achieve because Newcastle is a massive football club and we want it to reach its potential.”

Of course, the perfect scenario for everyone involved would have been for any one of the numerous takeover bids to have gone through during the last two years, but as was most recently evidenced earlier this year, Ashley and the Toon can’t seem to quit each other just yet.

MLS: Timbers end NYCFC’s unbeaten start; Seattle get 1st win

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Sunday was a very good day for a pair of green-clad Cascadia rivals, the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders, as the former put to end the unbeaten start of the best team in MLS, while the latter picked up their first win of 2018…

[ MORE: Saturday’s MLS roundupOther MLS Things — The Archive ]

Portland Timbers 3-0 New York City FC

Through their first seven games, NYCFC were almost inarguably the best team in MLS (aside: how much better is their opening-day walkover of Sporting KC looking these days?), but Patrick Vieira’s side might as well have not even shown up to Providence Park on Sunday. Chalk it up to “it’s only one game,” or “these things happen in MLS,” or “NYC to Portland is a long trip for Russian clubs,” or any other credible rationale you prefer, but they were nothing more than 11 passengers for the whole of 90 minutes.

A quick look at the defending on all three of Portland’s goals…

Vieira was right at halftime, when he said his side was lacking intensity and aggression, and that it’d be nigh impossible to get back into the game in the second half if they continued to play that way. Spoiler: it was, because they did.

Just as I’ll not be rushing to judgment over NYCFC’s no-show performance, I’m not yet buying into the idea that Portland have figured things out defensively on the back of one clean sheet (their first of the season).

Seattle Sounders 3-1 Minnesota United

Speaking of firsts, Seattle are the proud owners of points — as in, more than one point — after putting three past Minnesota but almost fatally failing to kill the game off after going 2-0 up. I’m not sure what any defender in black is doing on this sequence…

Alas, Gustav Svensson, Will Bruin and Jordy Delem were far more clinical with their chances than the Loons…

Still, though, Seattle were completely helpless when it came time to grab control of the game while in a commanding position. Osvaldo Alonso is nowhere near the player he once was, which is a massive problem against teams that set up to counter-attack, as Minnesota did on Sunday. It doesn’t help that Roman Torres and Chad Marshall are the plodding center backs behind him.

The obvious answer to the midfield problem is to play Cristian Roldan deeper, alongside Alonso as they did en route to winning MLS Cup in 2016, but injuries to a number of key attackers have forced him into a de facto no. 10 role for the time being. These things will work themselves out with a bit of time, I suppose.

Full MLS scoreboard

Sporting Kansas City 6-0 Vancouver Whitecaps (Friday) — FULL RECAP
Montreal Impact 3-5 Los Angeles FC — FULL RECAP
Houston Dynamo 5-1 Toronto FC
New York Red Bulls 1-2 Chicago Fire
Columbus Crew SC 2-2 New England Revolution
Orlando City SC 3-2 San Jose Earthquakes
FC Dallas 2-0 Philadelphia Union
Real Salt Lake 3-0 Colorado Rapids
LA Galaxy 0-2 Atlanta United

Salah beats De Bruyne to win PFA Player of the Year award

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LONDON (AP) Mohamed Salah has been voted Player of the Year by his fellow professionals in English football in recognition of an incredible scoring return to the Premier League with Liverpool.

[ MORE: Man United reach FA Cup final | Chelsea join them ]

The Egypt forward collected the Professional Footballers’ Association award at a ceremony in London on Sunday, two days before Liverpool’s Champions League semifinal first leg against Roma.

It is a reunion with the Italian club he left in the offseason for 42 million euros (then $47 million). The hefty fee appeared to be a gamble for Liverpool but now represents a real bargain.

The former Chelsea player has scored 41 goals in 46 appearances in all competitions for Liverpool – enabling him to beat Manchester City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne in second place to the PFA award.

Tottenham striker Harry Kane was third.

[ MORE: Man City thrash Swansea in pursuit of points record ]

“It’s a big honor,” Salah said. “I’ve worked hard and I’m very happy to win it.”

Salah is preparing to lead Egypt into its first World Cup in 28 years and he is the first player from the North African nation to win English football’s top individual prize.

“Hopefully I’m not the last one,” he said. “I’m very proud to win and I’ve worked very hard.”

Salah’s impact has been more remarkable given his underwhelming 2014-15 season at Chelsea before being offloaded by then-manager Jose Mourinho. He went on loan to Fiorentina in early 2015 and Roma in 2016, and then on a permanent basis to Roma in August 2016.

Scoring 15 goals and setting up 11 more for Roma convinced Liverpool to bring Salah back to a second spell in England.

[ MORE: Liverpool draw West Brom in final tune-up before UCL semis ]

His goal at West Bromwich Albion on Saturday was his 31st in the league this season, tying the scoring record in a 38-game campaign held by Cristiano Ronaldo, Alan Shearer and Luis Suarez.

Suarez was the last Liverpool player to be crowned player of the year by the PFA in 2014 before moving to Barcelona.

It’s a sign of his remarkable impact that Salah secured the award with third-place Liverpool and that none of Manchester City’s newly crowned champions won the accolade.

But City winger Leroy Sane was voted PFA Young Player of the Year.

The PFA women’s player award went to Chelsea forward Fran Kirby, while Lauren Hemp of Bristol City secured the young player prize.

CONCACAF cancels women’s U-17 tournament due to violence

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MIAMI BEACH, Fla. (AP) CONCACAF has canceled the rest of its 2018 Women’s Under-17 Championship following violence in Managua, Nicaragua, where the tournament began Thursday.

The Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football made the announcement Sunday. The tournament was to have determined the region’s qualifiers for the Under-17 World Cup in Uruguay, which starts Nov. 13.

More than two dozen people have been killed since Wednesday according to the independent Nicaraguan Human Rights Center, though the government had acknowledged only nine dead. Dozens of shops in Managua were looted during protests and disturbances sparked by government social security reforms.

The U.S. opened Friday with a 4-0 win over Costa Rica and had been scheduled to play Bermuda on Sunday and Canada on Tuesday.