MLS Week in Review: Round 28

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Two big routs

Don’t be fooled by the ‘close’ score out of Kansas City, where Peter Vermes’ team blew through the potential stop sign of all those missing pieces. Graham Zusi and Matt Besler were just settling into Columbus with the national team as SKC was passing comfortably in and around the visiting Crew from, yes, Columbus. It finished 3-0 but really wasn’t that tight, as SKC had 11 of the game’s first 14 shots and claimed nearly 60 percent of the first hour’s possession.

Portland was similarly in control of matters at Jeld-Wen Field, surviving a couple of early Toronto threats before putting their foot on the game in a meaningful way. Things have gone a bit loose for Caleb Porter’s team over the last few weeks, so a resounding 4-0 win (that did include a couple of late strikes, in fairness to the visitors) will go a long way to restoring some confidence and good feeling.

The weekend’s most shocking result

Not so far back, the Houston Dynamo had this showy streak going, never beaten in their mew home ground, which opened in 2012. Man, that thing is gone, gone. And how.

Sporting KC was the first to wrestle a win out of BBVA earlier this summer. But that was a close one, with the visitors giddy about tiptoeing away 1-0 victors. That’s why Sunday’s 4-1 loss to New York at BBVA Compass Stadium was such a head spinner.

If we weren’t convinced by Houston’s recent 5-0 loss at Montreal (the proud club’s worst defeat to date) that defense has gone all pear shaped for the Orange, maybe we all believe it now. The Dynamo can still make the playoffs, especially as fellow Eastern Conference aspirants New England, Chicago, Philadelphia and even New York still have issues of their own. But Kinnear had better turn up a striker who can reliably find goal, and then restore the back line to usual Dynamo standard. This is certainly not how the club pounded its way into the last two MLS Cup finals.

(MORE: As bad a game as Houston has ever played?)

Vancouver still experimenting

Nigel Reo-Coker, long a midfielder, took another rare turn at right back, while promising young defender Johnny Leveron was pushed ahead into the midfield for Vancouver. Later, one of the league’s top outside backs, Y.P. Lee, was inserted as a midfielder. Sure. Why not? It smacks of more over-thinking from manager Martin Rennie, who has been accused of this before.

On one hand, Vancouver had never won in Texas, so a little tinkering might have seemed reasonable. It would have, that is, if this were Round 8 or even Round 18. But it isn’t. It is Round 28! These things need to be sorted by now. They do, at least, for teams planning on playing past Round 34, which approacheth with speed.

None of it worked, by the way. FC Dallas won, 3-1, collecting three big points and vaulting past Vancouver in the standings.

The missing men

Dallas, Sporting Kansas City and Seattle all survived without substantial lineup pieces, as important types were away for international duty. (I must resist the urge to write once again about MLS plowing through the international fixture windows, but that drum has been banged all to heck, hasn’t it?)

But the Galaxy didn’t survive unharmed. Without Robbie Keane, Omar Gonzalez and Landon Donovan, the Galaxy DPs three, they fell at home to Colorado’s young buckaroos. Edison Buddle’s stinger was the difference in a 1-0 Rapids win.

Weekend’s worst moment…and a controversial moment

It had to be New England goalkeeper Matt Reis getting ejected just five minutes into his team’s home match against Montreal, leaving the Revs to deal with a 10-vs-11 for almost an entire match. Referee Sorin Stoica was absolutely correct as he pointed to the spot, but considering the early minute and enough doubt about whether Montreal striker Marco Di Vaio was actually going to reach a loose ball before being tripped, a red card was a controversial choice – and potentially a season altering one. It certainly was a bad moment for the Revs, so desperate to get back into the playoffs after an extended absence. They could not overcome it in a 4-2 loss.

Mike Magee is back

The Chicago Fire playoff hopes are on the skids, but Mike Magee’s bid for a Golden Boot prevails anew. The Fire attacker had been stuck on 14 for most of August and then into September. So Magee’s 15th on Saturday in Seattle temporarily put the league leadership solely in his Chicago pocket.

Now, about that league MVP bid that could easily find its way to Magee if the Fire can find its way into the playoffs: a late own goal at CenturyLink Field prevented Chicago from taking a point, as offensively depleted Seattle won, 2-1. So those post-season hopes are, as we mentioned, on the skids.

Best goal

For novelty, technical craft and for gravitas, it was Jair Benitez’s goal from almost 60 yard,the insurance effort in Dallas’ 3-1 triumph over Vancouver in the Texas swelter. Nicely done, sir.

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Dempsey, Sounders steal a point on wild night in Portland

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The game in 100 words (or less): An entire game can change in the blink of an eye. For the Seattle Sounders, that blink came in the 44th minute of Sunday’s 2-2 draw with the Portland Timbers. Up 1-0 by way of Joevin Jones’ opener in the 27th minute, the defending MLS Cup champs were poised to head into halftime with a one-goal advantage and every belief imaginable that they’d been the better team for the entire first half. Blink. Brad Evans wrapped his legs around Darlington Nagbe, giving away a penalty and earning himself a red card, just like that, in the blink of an eye. Fanendo Adi stepped up to convert from the spot, but it still was to be a hard-fought 1-1 scoreline from Seattle’s perspective. Then, Dairon Asprilla got loose, completely unmarked atop the six-yard box, on a corner kick, and it was 2-1 after four minutes of first-half stoppage time. 45 more minutes pass, and the Timbers… blink. Clint Dempsey, 34 years old but fresh off the bench 40 minutes earlier, out-leaps everyone in the box and heads past Jake Gleeson to steal a point for Seattle.

[ MORE: San Jose fire Kinnear after 2.5 seasons ]

Three Four moments that mattered

27′ — Jones gets two chances, puts the second away — It’s a classic case of “I dropped my controller” from Alvas Powell, who just stops as Jones cuts across the penalty area. There’s no reason Jones should get a second look on this one.

44′ — Evans brings down Nagbe in the box, sees red — Goodbye, lead. Goodbye 11 versus 11. Things would unravel very quickly for Seattle.

45+4′ — Asprilla rises above to make it 2-1 — Seattle’s marking of Asprilla was nonexistent, and the Colombian showed off some serious hops to get his head to David Guzman’s corner kick.

90+4′ — Dempsey heads home deep in stoppage time — A costly turnover by Asprilla, a hit-it-and-pray cross by Roman Torres, and Dempsey snatches a point at the death.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Cristian Roldan

Goalscorers: Jones (27′), Adi (45′ – PK), Asprilla (45+4′), Dempsey (90+4′)

Russia has reasons for optimism despite Confed Cup exit

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MOSCOW (AP) When the anger subsides after another group stage exit and another goalkeeping blunder, Russian fans might find they can be proud of their team at the Confederations Cup.

Russia failed to reach the knockout rounds of a fourth major tournament in a row, but there’s no shame in losing by one goal to European champion Portugal and North American champion Mexico.

“We will move on,” coach Stanislav Cherchesov said after Saturday’s 2-1 loss to Mexico. “We have won (the fans’) hearts and minds to a certain extent in this month that we have been together … I think that we have given some reasons to feel optimistic about us.”

If Russia’s fans agreed with Cherchesov that Russia had done well to limit Portugal to a single Cristiano Ronaldo goal, there was frustration that Russia hadn’t done better against a poor Mexican side.

Russia wasted chances to exploit Mexico’s ragged defending and add to Alexander Samedov’s opener, while goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev performed an inexplicable lunge which allowed Hirving Lozano to head in the winner. Akinfeev was lucky not to be red-carded, too, after his foot caught Lozano in the chest.

Akinfeev was the immediate scapegoat for Russia’s exit, with fans and newspapers calling for his removal.

The most-capped player in the squad – the Mexico game was his 101st international appearance – Akinfeev’s bulletproof consistency in the Russian Premier League has kept him the undisputed national-team No. 1 for years.

When the world is watching, though, he gets flustered and makes mistakes.

Against South Korea at the 2014 World Cup, an innocuous long shot slipped from his grasp and went in, paving the way for another early Russian exit from the tournament. There have been more than a few blunders in the 43 games since Akinfeev last kept a clean sheet for CSKA in the Champions League, too.

But it’s hard to see who could replace him. The naturalized Brazilian reserve keeper Guilheme is agile but injury prone, while Vladimir Gabulov is a solid but unspectacular veteran. Zenit St. Petersburg’s Yuri Lodygin challenged Akinfeev for a while, but was brought low by his own tendency for embarrassing errors.

On the positive side for Russia, defender Georgy Dzhikiya was solid in all three group games after having only made his debut on June 5, and Cherchesov’s three-man back line was mostly reliable.

Less successful was Cherchesov’s attempt to bolster the midfield by starting Roman Shishkin – usually a defender – in a defensive midfield role against Portugal and Mexico, while 33-year-old ex-Chelsea winger Yuri Zhirkov did his World Cup hopes no favors with a red card Saturday.

Russia’s run of injuries before the tournament weakened the midfield in particular, with Alan Dzagoev and the promising Roman Zobnin both missing out. Forward Artyom Dzyuba’s absence left Cherchesov relying heavily on Fyodor Smolov, who showed touches of class but missed a good chance against Portugal.

Perhaps the biggest damage from Russia’s Confederations Cup exit will be to Russian pride.

Officials have often bragged that the home advantage for next year’s World Cup could drive Russia to new heights, perhaps a repeat of South Korea’s charge to the semifinals in 2002. Those expectations are now being reviewed.

Just one World Cup host in history – South Africa in 2010 – has failed to get out of the group stage. Avoiding a repeat may be the most Russia can hope for.

FOLLOW LIVE: Timbers host Sounders in PNW showdown

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They don’t get much bigger, or more heated, than this one in MLS — it’s Portland versus Seattle, the Timbers versus the Sounders, tonight at Providence Park (10 p.m. ET).

[ FOLLOW LIVE: Timbers vs. Sounders ]

To keep up-to-the-second informed on proceedings in Portland this evening, hit the above link, or click right here.

Seattle won the first meeting between these sides, 1-0 back on May 27, on their home turf at CenturyLink Field. Cristian Roldan, who’ll depart for U.S. national team camp following Sunday’s game, scored the only goal that afternoon in Seattle, a 4th-minute header from three yards out.

Mustafi: Arsenal players powerless, hope “brilliant” Sanchez will stay

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Shkodran Mustafi admits that he, along with his Arsenal teammates, feels helpless with over the ongoing transfer saga of Alexis Sanchez.

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

The Chilean superstar is linked with a move away from Arsenal this summer, as the Gunners fell out of the Premier League’s top-four and the 28-year-old’s contract is set to expire next summer. Perhaps most importantly, Sanchez hasn’t so much as publicly stated a desire to remain at the club, which, from the outside, appears to have left his future in even greater doubt.

Mustafi admits he hasn’t a clue how things will shake out in the coming weeks, but he’s quick with a pleading sales pitch for Sanchez to stay — quotes from Goal.com:

“I have no idea. Obviously the other players cannot make that decision, he has to make that decision.

“I’m not too much involved. I hope he stays because he is a really brilliant football player but there’s nothing in my hands that I can do.”

[ MORE: De Boer set to be named new Crystal Palace boss ]

Arsenal would likely have to double (if not more) Sanchez’s current $180,000 weekly wages in order to convince him to forego a season in the UEFA Champions League and commit his long-term future to a club presently trending in the wrong direction.