MLS Week in review: Round 26

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source:  The big match was the last of a long round of contests, Clint Dempsey’s first home match in Sounders’ rave green. Still, there was plenty to talk about elsewhere:

The big match in Seattle

Attendance late Sunday night at CenturyLink Field in Seattle was 67,385, the largest ever for a soccer game in Seattle, the second largest ever for a stand-alone MLS match (that’s over 18 years) and the third largest crowd worldwide this weekend. It was all about Cascadia Cup and Clint Dempsey’s home debut, which Seattle won, 1-0.

So, how did Dempsey make out? It’s all here.

Donovan approaches scoring record

Landon Donovan’s early goal was the only score in a 1-0 win over Vancouver.  It was a big win for the two-time defending MLS Cup winners and a big moment for Donovan, who is within three goals of equaling Jeff Cunningham’s all-time league scoring record.

More on that here.

Maybe the best save you’ll see all season

This is why the Galaxy made a change in goal; because Carlo Cudicini wasn’t making these game-saving stops. Well, newcomer Jaime Penedo sure did. Watch his work of art in the second half Saturday in the Galaxy’s 1-0 win at Vancouver:

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Statement wins from Real Salt Lake and Montreal

Real Salt Lake manager challenged his players, who had been taken apart last week in Los Angeles. Result? Listen to Kreis, a perfectionist who is not easy to please, after watching his team waylay Columbus, 4-0: “This for me, was the most complete game we have played this season. … And it comes at the right time, because we are entering the most critical stretch, and we’ve got a lot to play for and a lot to win. We needed a performance to put some confidence behind or our group, and I think that‘s exactly what we got.”

In the East, Montreal manager Marco Schallibaum was in the booth, suspended for the fourth time this year, as his team did a similar number on Houston. Justin Mapp, Felipe Martins and Marco Di Vaio all had big nights for Montreal.

New England also had a showy score line, a 5-1 win over Philadelphia. But in all honesty but

Two crushing blows:

Of course, there is another side to those “statements.” Columbus might just be done, and not just because they went into Utah and and got clobbered by a motivated Real Salt Lake, 4-0. Federico Higuain was caught throwing an elbows in stoppage time – of a match long since decided, so tsk-tsk, sir – and found himself on the business end of red card.

He was already set to miss the next Crew match for accumulation of cautions, and now will need to sit out an additional contest due to the red card. So for the Crew, barely hanging around in the playoff picture anyway, getting hammered in Utah and losing their top man for two matches may mean “Game, Set and Match” on the playoff chances.

Houston is better positioned, but will need to rally from a 5-0 humbling at Montreal, the club’s worst loss since moving to Houston in 2006.

Opportunity lost

Two teams paid Round 26 visits to Chivas USA, longtime occupant of last place in the West. FC Dallas arrested its long, slow slide down the table, winning for the first time since June. So, mission accomplished.

Et tu, New York Red Bulls?

Nope. Thierry Henry and Co. missed an opportunity to pull ahead of Montreal in the standings. No offense to Chivas USA, but points dropped against the Goats represent massive opportunity lost for any team with real playoff ambition.

Remember, teams that fall into the fourth and fifth spots will have one additional round in which to fall out of the post-season. Plus, they are losing ground in the fight for possible host duties of MLS Cup 2013.

Did blown call in New England affect the final outcome?

Philadelphia and New England were tied at 1-1 outside Boston when the Union had a goal disallowed. It was absolutely the correct call as Sebastian Le Toux was offside.

But a few minutes later, referee Allen Chapman disallowed a perfectly legitimate Union goal, and that decision turned the important Eastern Conference match.

It would have given the visitors a 2-1 lead.  Rather, the visitors struggled to get past the frustration and fell apart spectacularly. Final score: 5-1 for New England as things got away from Philly.

More on that one here.

Weekend’s top goal

There really were a bunch of worthy choices, including big strikes by Donovan and New England’s Kelyn Rowe and a highly technical, curving effort from Montreal’s Felipe Martins. But what about this one from D.C. United’s Dwayne De Rosario, one of the few moments of sunshine this year around RFK Stadium:

Money from Wembley replay will ‘support Rochdale for two or three years’

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Worst-case scenario for Tottenham Hotspur: drawing League One side Rochdale in Sunday’s FA Cup fifth-round clash; best-case scenario for the Dale: drawing the Premier League giants and forcing a replay at Wembley Stadium.

[ MORE: Man Utd draw Brighton in FA Cup QF; Chelsea get Leicester ]

For a club the size of Rochdale — 10,200-seat stadium, and never been above the third tier of English soccer — the financial impact of raking in half of the game’s gate receipts “will support the club for the next two or three years,” according to manager Keith Hill — quotes from the Guardian:

“I don’t know how much it is worth but a lot of money has gone into the new pitch. That was a heavy investment for us. Hopefully the money we make will support the club for the next two or three years. We will cut our cloth accordingly and we won’t be in debt.”

As for Steve Davies’ 93rd-minute equalizer, Hill was adamant that it was nothing short of what they “deserved”:

“It was a feeling of reward, not relief, because the performance deserved at least the opportunity for us to go to Wembley for a replay. I’ve always wanted to do that against a Premier League team and manager. Why not take them on and try to win? It could have been football suicide but I thought we gained their respect and to score the goal we did was tremendous. The players were magnificent.”

Tottenham Hotspur, soccer philanthropists.

Try, try again: Messi seeks 1st goal vs. Chelsea in 9th attempt

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LONDON (AP) As unlikely as it sounds, Lionel Messi is still waiting to score his first goal against Chelsea after drawing a blank in eight previous Champions League matches.

The five-time World Player of the Year is likely to get another chance to break his duck this week and Chelsea manager Antonio Conte believes the past will count for little when Barcelona visits Stamford Bridge on Tuesday.

“I hope we maintain this tradition but we are speaking about a fantastic player,” Conte said ahead of the last-16, first-leg Champions League game. “The most important thing is the present.

“We must have great respect but at the same time we must be excited to play this type of game and take on this type of challenge. It won’t be easy because we know very well this player, we are talking about one of the best in the world.”

The teams have produced some epic games in the past although they have not met in the Champions League since Chelsea pulled off a remarkable backs-to-the-wall semifinal victory over Barcelona on the way to winning the trophy in 2012.

Messi missed a penalty in the second leg at the Nou Camp as the London club overcame the first-half dismissal of captain John Terry, and a 2-0 deficit, to draw the game 2-2 and secure an unforgettable 3-2 aggregate win.

Bayern Munich hosts Besiktas in Tuesday’s other game while the following day sees Manchester United traveling to Sevilla, and Shakhtar Donetsk playing host to Roma.

Two weeks ago, the prospect of a Chelsea win over Barca would have been unthinkable after Conte’s men had slumped to successive defeats by two of the Premier League’s lesser lights.

The London club was still smarting from a 3-0 home loss against Bournemouth when it traveled to Watford and succumbed to an embarrassing 4-1 reverse.

Chelsea has got back on track since then, though, easing past West Bromwich Albion 3-0 in the league last Monday before swatting aside second-tier Hull 4-0 in the FA Cup four days later.

Conte has several selection dilemmas. He must choose between captain Gary Cahill and Antonio Rudiger for a place at the back, and between Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud up front.

Cesc Fabregas will also be desperate to play against his former team but may have to settle for a spot on the bench.

Barca has lost only once in 38 matches this season since falling in the Spanish Super Cup to Real Madrid in August. It has a seven-point lead at the top of La Liga and has reached the final of the Copa del Rey.

Messi is having another stellar campaign, scoring 27 times in all competitions, and he helped set up two goals in Saturday’s 2-0 win at Eibar.

Philippe Coutinho is ineligible for Barca following his move from Liverpool.

Mourinho claiming injury crisis ahead of CL showdown

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The next three weeks will go a long way toward defining Jose Mourinho’s second season at Manchester United, with the Red Devils facing not only fellow top-four aspirers Chelsea and Liverpool, but also contesting their Champions League round-of-16 tie with Sevilla.

[ MORE: VAR provider admits incorrect graphic displayed on TV ]

Thus, it’s not exactly the most convenient time for the words “injury crisis” to rear their ugly heads yet again, but that’s the challenge Mourinho claims he faces ahead of Wednesday’s CL clash.

Paul Pogba missed Saturday’s FA Cup victory with a last-minute illness; Marcus Rashford is dealing with a leg injury and remains questionable, as are Ander Herrera and Antonio Valencia; Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones and Marouane Fellaini are all but officially out, according to Mourinho — quotes from ESPN.co.uk:

“I didn’t rest one single player so we had today every player available here. I didn’t rest anyone. I brought two kids that played on Friday 90 minutes [for the under-23s] because I don’t have another player, so we arrive at this crucial moment with some problems.”

“Can we recover some of them to Wednesday? I believe so. I think Rashford, Herrera, Valencia — I think they have a chance.

“Paul, I don’t know. Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones, Marouane, Zlatan — I don’t think they have any chance.”

Mourinho dealt with a similar rash of injuries very late on last season, as his side barreled its way into, and eventually won, the Europa League final, securing a place in the CL this season. With a top-four finish all but out of reach at the time, Mourinho opted to rest his bare-bones group of first-team regulars in Premier League action and prioritize Europe’s “other” competition.

[ MORE: Man Utd draw Brighton in FA Cup QF; Chelsea get Leicester ]

This time around, United sit second in the PL table, just four points clear of fifth-place Tottenham Hotspur, and the path to winning the CL will prove far more difficult than taking on the likes of Saint-Etienne, Rostov, Anderlecht, Celta Vigo and Ajax.

Serie A: Napoli, Juve hold serve in 1-point title race

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A roundup of all of Sunday’s action in Italy’s top flight…

[ MORE: Barcelona now 31 games unbeaten | Real Madrid 17 points behind ]

Napoli 1-0 SPAL 2013

The battle for Serie A supremacy isn’t ending anytime soon, as Napoli and Juventus continue to match one another (nine straight wins for each side) in Europe’s only remaining major title race.

On Sunday, they even traded 1-0 victories — Napoli at home to SPAL 2013, with Juve triumphing over Torino in the Turin derby.

Brazilian midfielder Allan bagged the only goal for Napoli after just six minutes, finishing off a mesmerizing, free-flowing move that’s become synonymous with Napoli this season. The video-assisting referee came into play just after the hour mark, when Marek Hamsik headed home to make it 2-0 before the VAR wiped it away for offside.

Napoli’s current nine-game winning streak is the longest in club history.

Torino 0-1 Juventus

Juve’s victory came at something of a cost, though, as star striker Gonzalo Higuain was lost to an ankle injury after just a quarter-hour (the injury occurred after just three minutes), followed by a potentially serious knee injury for Federico Bernardeschi, who replaced Higuain, in second-half stoppage time. Higuain isn’t expected to miss significant time, with the club calling it a twisted ankle.

In between the injuries came Alex Sandro‘s 33rd-minute winner, a tap-in from close range masterfully set up by Bernardeschi. One additional positive for Juve: Sunday also saw Paulo Dybala return after missing five weeks with a hamstring injury. The Argentine star entered as a second-half substitute.

“Paulo played 30 minutes at a good level,” Juve manager Massimiliano Allegri said. “I’m pleased with his and everyone else’s performance. This is a good result against a well-organized Torino side.”

Elsewhere in Serie A

AC Milan 1-0 Sampdoria
Atalanta 1-1 Fiorentina
Bologna 2-1 Sassuolo
Benevento 3-2 Crotone