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:

While PSG has won the title, Areola’s playing for his future

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PARIS (AP) Although Paris Saint-Germain has easily won the French title, Alphonse Areola still has plenty to play for.

The next four games could be crucial in deciding whether PSG keeps the goalkeeper or tries to sign a big name in the transfer window, possibly Thibaut Courtois. The 25-year-old Areola is the same age as Courtois, but has nowhere near the international standing of the Chelsea keeper.

[ MORE: Turkey hands bid plans to UEFA for EURO 2024 ]

It is hard for Areola to stand out, however, in a team noted almost singularly for its attacking prowess. While PSG has already scored more than 100 league goals, and remains on course to reach 100 points this season, Areola has rarely been talked about.

The common perception is that PSG will thrash teams in the French league, so letting in a goal or two is irrelevant.

However, Areola has been one of PSG’s most consistent players this season, and last Sunday he made a personal record of eight saves in a 1-0 win at Bordeaux.

He was also one of the few PSG players to come through the loss to Real Madrid in the last 16 of the Champions League with any credit. Without Areola’s shot-stopping, and particularly his bravery rushing off his line, the 5-2 aggregate loss would have been bigger.

With 104 goals, PSG’s attack is the best in the league by far and has netted 25 more than deposed champion Monaco.

But PSG’s defense is also the best and Areola has conceded only 21 goals in the 31 he has played. Although PSG has dominated most of those, losing only twice all season, he has still made on average four saves per game.

Having replaced Kevin Trapp as No. 1, Areola has missed only three league games all season. It represents a reversal for both.

When Trapp was signed by former coach Laurent Blanc in 2015-16, Areola went on loan to Spanish club Villarreal. He established himself as regular in Villarreal’s side and gained further experience in the Europa League. Spanish media were largely impressed by his consistency and his agility on the goal-line.

He returned to PSG and battled with Trapp for the starting position last season. But coach Unai Emery seemed unsure who he really preferred, with Trapp starting 24 games to Areola’s 14. PSG ended up losing the title to Monaco.

But the hierarchy is much clearer now and the error-prone Trapp, once hailed by Blanc for his passing out from goal, is the one expected to leave.

Areola has further incentive to do well with the World Cup coming up. He is challenging Marseille goalkeeper Steve Mandanda to be France’s No. 2 behind Hugo Lloris in Russia. For now, Areola is a squad member but has yet to make an international appearance under coach Didier Deschamps.

But he has done well at every level for France, starting with the under-16s a decade ago. He got his first taste of international success when he helped France win the Under-20 World Cup in 2013.

While Paul Pogba was one of the stars of the tournament, Areola’s crowning moment came in the final itself. France drew 0-0 with Uruguay and he saved two shots in the penalty shootout. Prior to the shootout he had a word with France’s designated penalty takers, confidently telling them “do your job and I’ll do mine.”

With Emery almost certain to be replaced next season, it promises to be a frenetic offseason of buying and selling at the club.

But whoever replaces Emery should perhaps think twice before letting Areola leave. The Parisian-born Areola came through the youth ranks at PSG, as did center half Presnel Kimpembe and midfielder Adrien Rabiot.

Star-studded sides like PSG often import their best players and fans are happy to see them arrive, because it shows ambition. But they nevertheless identify more closely with homegrown talents such as Areola.

More AP Ligue 1 coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/Ligue1

Jerome Pugmire on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/jeromepugmire

Infantino has ‘full confidence’ in Samoura amid ethics issue

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ZURICH (AP) FIFA President Gianni Infantino says he retains “full confidence” in secretary general Fatma Samoura after an attempt to embroil her in an ethics investigation.

[ MORE: Turkey hands in bid plans to UEFA for 2024 EUROs ]

Samoura has expressed irritation at “totally ridiculous and baseless” claims she broke FIFA rules by not declaring an alleged conflict of interest in the 2026 World Cup bidding contest.

FIFA has not specified the exact nature of the complaint or the progress of any ethics investigation after it was alleged she was a relative of former Senegal player El Hadji Diouf, who is an ambassador for Morocco’s bid.

Samoura insisted on Wednesday the former Liverpool forward “is not a member of my family and therefore everything is crystal clear.”

FIFA’s top administrator received a public show of support from Infantino.

“I can confirm my full confidence in Fatma Samoura to lead the FIFA administration,” Infantino said in a statement to The Associated Press on Thursday.

The former United Nations official was hired by Infantino in 2016 months after he was elected as Sepp Blatter’s successor.

Morocco is due to take on a joint bid from the United States, Canada and Mexico in the June 13 vote for the 2026 World Cup host.

Photo: Flamengo supporter tattoos club jersey on body

MAURÍCIO DOS ANJOS VIA VICE
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A supporter in Brazil has taken fandom to a whole new level with a piece of body art that shows his devotion to the club.

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Maurício dos Anjos, a passionate Flamengo fan, has been a life-long supporter of the Rio de Janeiro-based club, and has the tattoo to prove it.

While it may look like body paint, Dos Anjos has a tattoo on the upper-half of his body depicting the Flamengo jersey, and it’s pretty awesome.

“People ask me if I don’t find it strange that I’m always wearing a Flamengo shirt. And I just don’t,” dos Anjos told VICE. “To me, it’s normal. But it doesn’t seem like anyone I talk to about it actually dislikes my tattoo.”

In total, Dos Anjos says the body work took over 90 hours and 30 sessions to complete the tattoo.

Has the perception of MLS really changed?

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When David Beckham arrived in Los Angeles back in 2007 his presence changed the complexion of Major League Soccer for all the right reasons, and the perception of the growing league changed.

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Over the years, MLS has strived to move into the upper-echelon of the global game, in an attempt to compete with the likes of the Premier League, Bundesliga and La Liga, but naysayers still indicate to this day that the United States’ top flight lacks the quality of the aforementioned.

Phrases like “retirement league” and “uninspired” have been used to describe MLS in the past, particularly when it comes to the league’s willingness to spend boatloads of cash on notable players well past their prime.

Examples such as Andrea Pirlo, Steven Gerrard and Rafael Marquez have at times dampened the perception of MLS due to the lack of quality on the pitch from those players, along with several others that had previously boasted extensive resumes.

Now, we’re at a time where MLS has picked up its scouting, with clubs focused more on younger, more skilled talents from South America and Europe.

That has led to major signings over the past several years, such as Ezequiel Barco, Miguel Almiron, Diego Rossi and Jesus Medina, to name a few.

Has that changed the overall complexion of MLS though?

On Thursday, Kevin De Bruyne‘s agent, Patrick de Koster, suggested in an interview that the Belgium international would likely “finish” his career in MLS.

“For now, he’s very happy at this club,” De Koster said. “We always look what the best solution for the player, both financially and football wise. Kevin’s future? I can see him finish at Los Angeles.”

This comes on the heels of a 36-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimovic joining the LA Galaxy in a move that has sent shockwaves across the league and the world because of the Swede’s great presence on a global scale.

It’s not to say that players like Ibrahimovic, or previous signings like David Villa and Didier Drogba cannot help the overall growth of MLS, because they certainly bring an awareness to the matches and draw attention to their respective clubs.

However, the long-term viability of MLS has been and will continue to be sustained on youth players succeeding in the league, as well as being able to draw promising young talents into the top flight of the U.S.