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.

Serie A: Juve keep winning to remain 1 point back of Napoli

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TURIN, Italy (AP) Juventus closed the gap on Serie A leader Napoli back to just one point as the six-time defending champion eased past Genoa 1-0 on Monday.

Douglas Costa scored in the 16th minute, the first conceded by Genoa in five league matches. It was a less than convincing performance from Juventus but it was never really troubled, as goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny – standing in for the still-injured Gianluigi Buffon – was little more than a spectator.

“What was important was to win,” Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri said. “At the end there was a bit of nervousness because we were lacking in energy a bit.

“We could have finished off the match in the first half, and again with a couple of occasions after the break. We didn’t manage to so compliments to Genoa.”

The battle for the Serie A title is shaping into a two-horse race. Juventus moved 10 points clear of third-placed Lazio, although the capital side has a match in hand.

“The season is still long and all those who are behind us can still get back into the race,” Allegri said. “It was important to stay in Napoli’s slipstream.”

Juventus needed to win after Napoli beat Atalanta 1-0 on Sunday.

Allegri’s side started brightly and had an early chance to take the lead but Genoa goalkeeper Mattia Perin did well to keep out a free kick from specialist Miralem Panic.

However, it did not take much longer to strike. Douglas Costa passed out left to Mario Mandzukic, who played a delightful return ball for the Brazil midfielder to slot into the bottom left corner.

League Cup semi: Man City take 2-1 lead into 2nd leg vs. Bristol

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Manchester City can move one step closer on Tuesday to claiming their first of four potential trophies this season, when Pep Guardiola‘s men take on Bristol City in the second leg of the League Cup semifinal.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday ]

After coming back to beat the Robins in the first leg at home, Man City must now go on the road and take care of business to reach the Feb. 25 final at Wembley Stadium. As he has done so many times — and so famously — in the sky blue of City, Sergio Aguero grabbed the late winner (91st minute — WATCH HERE) 14 days ago.

For a few not-so-insignificant periods of the game, Bristol were very much the aggressors and appeared more likely to make the score 2-0 than for City to get back to 1-1. Bobby Reid converted from the penalty spot in the 44th minute after her was brought down under John Stones‘ wild, sliding tackle. Kevin De Bruyne leveled things up 10 minutes into the second half, setting the stage for Aguero’s late heroics.

[ MORE: Alexis-for-Mkhi swap complete | De Bruyne’s new contract ]

Since the first leg on Jan. 9, City have failed in their bid to finish the PL season with an unbeaten record before bouncing back to beat Newcastle United on the weekend, courtesy of a hat trick from Aguero — Guardiola quotes, from Sport24:

“I said many times it was going to happen, we can lose, so (it is) important the reaction we have. Still we have 42 points to play (for). It is 14 games. It is a lot of games to play and difficult games like Saturday and like Liverpool. It is important to show the team is still there but I don’t have the feeling we give up.

“We want to go through to the final in the (League) Cup and the FA Cup, so (we have) a lot of games but I think the people have the desire to keep going, to keep going, to keep going.”

[ MORE: One dream January signing for each top-six side ]

Bristol, meanwhile, have fallen on hard times: it’s been nearly a month (Boxing Day, to be specific — five losses, one draw) since Lee Johnson’s side last won a game in any competition, and they’ve fallen from second to fifth in the Championship table — Johnson quotes, from the Guardian:

“We don’t want to be brave losers, we want to compete to win. It’s up to the players to be focused and tactically aware, and who knows what will happen if we can show the same quality as we have shown in the previous rounds?

“We have to make sure we’re really bold. If you’re going to deliver a corner, do it like you mean it. I’d rather fail bold than fail timid. We know we have to score. I hope Pep picks his absolute best team and we can give them a right go. I’m not sure you could go and play an under-23 side against us at the moment and I think he’ll know that.”

The winner of Arsenal versus Chelsea (0-0 after the first leg) awaits in the final.

The 2 Robbies: Alexis-Mkhitaryan Swap Becomes Reality

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Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe react to the Alexis Sanchez-Henrikh Mkhitaryan swap deal between Arsenal and Manchester United finally becoming reality (0:20), Swansea’s stunning 1-0 victory over Liverpool (9:20), Southampton’s much-needed draw with Spurs (22:30) and Watford’s decision to part ways with Marco Silva (36:20). The gents end the show sharing their memories of the late English striker, Cyrille Regis (39:45).

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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Inter Milan sign Barcelona midfielder Rafinha on loan

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MILAN (AP) Inter Milan completed the signing of Barcelona midfielder Rafinha on loan until the end of the season, with a view to a permanent move.

Inter can sign the Brazil international permanently for $43 million plus $3.7 million in bonuses, and said on Monday that option “must be taken up before the end of the season.”

Rafinha, who was born in Sao Paulo, had been at Barcelona since 2006, when he joined its youth team. He spent the 2013-14 season on loan at Celta Vigo.

After nine months out after surgery on his right knee, he made his first appearance of the season last week as a late substitute in Barcelona’s Copa del Rey defeat at Espanyol.

“It’s an important stage in my life,” he said, “and I had a lot of desire to approach this new phase in my career.”

Inter has slipped to fourth in Serie A, 11 points behind leader Napoli.

It could slip out of the Champions League places if Roma wins its match in hand on Wednesday.

“I hope to play in as many matches as possible and help the team to reach our objective which is Champions League qualification,” Rafinha said.