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:

The Mendy Effect: Pep praises injured back

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Full back Benjamin Mendy cost Pep Guardiola and Manchester City $68 million, but perhaps he’ll be just as valuable as a very expensive sports psychologist.

The “Shark Team” member was amusing on social media even before his ACL injury sent him to the sidelines until at least April, but he’s become a must-follow Twitter fixture with his in-game messages (See some of his work below).

[ MORE: MLS Decision Day preview ]

City faces Burnley at 10 a.m. ET Saturday (Watch live on CNBC and online via NBCSports.com).

It’s fairly clear his act has translated in private, too, as apparently Mendy is just as good in group messages (Let us in, Pep. We won’t tell anyone). From ManCity.com:

“Usually, players who are out for a long time with injury are sad. They sometimes train apart and feel isolated.

“Mendy decided to be present. He is communicating on social media, WhatsApp and he calls his teammates and messages me. He is going to be so important outside the pitch because people like him make the atmosphere much better.”

It’s not surprising for anyone who’s been following the former Le Havre, Marseille and Monaco man.

Keep in mind, these Tweets below are from the last few days alone!

Ozil to Manchester United?!? Wenger reacts to gossip

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Sometimes, even the biggest Arsene Wenger detractors have to feel for the guy.

Coming off a thrilling late win in Serbia, one that saw Olivier Giroud cap off a team goal straight out of the creative Wenger playbook, the manager should’ve been discussing how to stretch those good vibes into this weekend’s visit to Goodison Park.

[ MORE: MLS Decision Day preview ]

Yet no. Instead of talking about how the Gunners would respect the struggling Toffees, Wenger had to address speculation from several outlets claiming Mesut Ozil would move to Manchester United, perhaps as soon as January.

Feeling it? No, no Wenger was not feeling it. From Arsenal.com:

“We have to deal with all kinds of speculation when the players are at the end of their contracts. On the other hand, to be professional is to give 100 per cent as long as you are somewhere. For the rest, we came out many times and said that’s the situation. It [the media] can come out tomorrow and say that he extends his contract here. It will be exactly the same, it will not change anything. When you play the next game, commit 100 per cent. … When a player plays for Arsenal Football Club, his commitment cannot be linked with the length of his contract, it has just to be linked with the responsibility and the ambition he has to win the football game.”
Of course most big clubs have to deal with such drama on a year-to-year basis and, yes, having Ozil and Alexis Sanchez still in town was completely avoidable. But the idea that Ozil could leave, for free, to Manchester United? We’re sure Gooners the world over will be thrilled with the gossip.

MLS Decision Day preview: Much at stake

Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press via AP
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Four teams can claim a Western Conference second round berth, while four more can earn a valuable first-round bye in the East.

Yep, there’s plenty to play for beyond the West’s final playoff spot Sunday during Major League Soccer’s Decision Day, when every team will take the pitch for 4 p.m. ET kickoffs.

[ MORE: Conte feels pressure ]

Here’s what we do know regarding the playoffs:

  1. Supporters’ Shield winning Toronto FC gets a first round bye, while No. 6 seed New York Red Bulls are headed to the road for a first round playoff
  2. New England, Montreal, Philadelphia, Orlando, DC, Minnesota, Colorado, and LA will not make the playoffs
  3. Full stop.

So, yes, this will be fun.

First, let’s look at the Eastern Conference Standings ahead of Sunday’s extravaganza:

Eastern Conference
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Toronto FC 33 20 8 5 72 35 37 13-3-1 7-5-4 68
x – New York City FC 33 16 8 9 54 41 13 10-4-2 6-4-7 56
x – Chicago 33 16 7 10 61 44 17 12-3-2 4-4-8 55
x – Atlanta 33 15 9 9 68 38 30 11-2-3 4-7-6 54
x – Columbus 33 16 5 12 51 47 4 12-2-3 4-3-9 53
x – New York 33 13 8 12 51 46 5 9-6-2 4-2-10 47

— New York City FC controls its bye destiny, though Columbus could join them on 56 points and would pass them on tiebreakers (wins).

— If that happens, Chicago could claim the second bye with a win or draw in Houston (The Fire owns the goal differential tiebreaker).

— If New York City and Chicago lose or draw, Atlanta could finish second with a home win over TFC.

— Columbus can finish second with a win and non-wins for Chicago and Atlanta.

Western Conference
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
x – Vancouver 33 15 7 11 49 47 2 9-5-3 6-2-8 52
x – Portland 33 14 8 11 58 49 9 10-4-2 4-4-9 50
x – Seattle 33 13 11 9 49 39 10 10-5-1 3-6-8 50
x – Sporting KC 33 12 13 8 39 27 12 10-6-1 2-7-7 49
x – Houston 33 12 11 10 54 45 9 11-4-1 1-7-9 47
San Jose 33 12 7 14 36 58 -22 9-5-2 3-2-12 43
FC Dallas 33 10 13 10 43 47 -4 7-7-2 3-6-8 43
Real Salt Lake 33 12 6 15 47 54 -7 8-4-4 4-2-11 42

Byes

— Vancouver finishes first with a win or draw at Portland. The ‘Caps could finish as low as third with a loss to Portland and a Seattle win versus Colorado.

— Portland finishes first — and wins the Cascadia Cup — with a win over visiting Vancouver.

— Seattle can claim a first round bye with a win over visiting Colorado and a Vancouver win over Portland.

— Sporting KC can finish second with a win at Real Salt Lake and non-wins for Portland and Seattle.

Final playoff spot

— San Jose claims the sixth seed with a home win over Minnesota. They can also finish sixth with a draw joined by non-wins for FC Dallas at home to LA and Real Salt Lake at home versus SKC.

— FC Dallas claims the sixth seed with a win over LA and a San Jose draw or loss versus Minnesota. FCD gets sixth with a draw, and a San Jose loss coupled with a RSL loss or draw versus SKC.

—  Real Salt Lake gets sixth with a win over SKC, and non-wins from San Jose and Dallas. RSL could also get sixth with a draw and losses for San Jose and Dallas.

(Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images)

Schedule
FC Dallas vs. LA Galaxy
DC United vs. New York Red Bulls
San Jose vs. Minnesota United
Real Salt Lake vs. Sporting KC
Houston vs. Chicago
Seattle vs. Colorado
Philadelphia vs. Orlando City
Portland vs. Vancouver
Montreal vs. New England
New York City vs. Columbus
Atlanta vs. Toronto

Predictions

— NYCFC hangs on for a draw against Columbus, earning a bye, leaving Chicago to host New York Red Bulls and Atlanta off to Columbus for the first round of the playoffs (We have Toronto beating Atlanta on Sunday).

— Vancouver and Portland draw, while Seattle beats Colorado. The ‘Caps and Sounders get byes, while Seattle takes back the Cascadia Cup.

— San Jose beats Minnesota, gaining the West’s sixth seed. The Quakes head to Portland for the first round, while SKC hosts Houston.

Conte feels pressure, but “most important thing is to work”

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Chelsea has sputtered a bit in its bid to repeat as Premier League champions, though this isn’t quite “stop me if you’ve heard this one before.”

The Blues sit fifth in the Premier League table with 13 points, nine behind leaders Manchester City, and tossed away a 2-0 lead before rallying to draw Roma at midweek.

The Blues host fourth-placed Watford to kick off Saturday’s Premier League action at 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday (Watch live on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com)

[ MORE: West Ham 0-3 Brighton ]

And while fans are frustrated with the plan, Chelsea was in 15th at the end of October during Jose Mourinho’s ill-fated follow-up to the 2014-15 Premier League title.

Still, manager Antonio Conte feels their pain, although he’s satisfied with the effort. From Chelsea’s official site:

“Do I feel the pressure? Every manager feels pressure, but I try to give all of myself into my job, so I’m happy when I go home because I know in every moment I give all of myself for the fans, the players and the club. In football you know anything can happen, but the most important thing is to work.”

Chelsea may not look as good as Man City or Manchester United, but is still well-positioned to finish amongst the leaders and is leading a very difficult UCL group with Roma and Atletico Madrid. Things are fine, but the gossip storm just won’t leave Conte and his future at Chelsea alone (Thanks, Italian press).