AS Roma players celebrate at the end of their Italian Serie A soccer match against Bologna at the Olympic stadium in Rome

Roma finally breaks through before half, routs Bologna to stay perfect

Leave a comment

Roma’s 5-0-0 start to the Serie A  season had included one brow-furrowing curiosity: They’d failed to score a goal in the first half of any of their games. After intermission, they were scoring at a rate of 4.8 goals per game (12 goals in 225 minutes), but theoretically, it was taking a half of wearing down before Rudi Garcia’s attack could make their way through tiring opponents.

That theory proved more a hypothesis on Sunday, with the Giallorossi exploding in the first half of Bologna’s visit to the Stadio Olimpico. Alessandro Florenzi opened the scoring in the eighth minute (his third of the year), putting home the rebound of a Miralem Pjanic restart. Francesco Totti set-up Gervinho to double Roma’s lead nine minutes later, while on 25 minutes, Totti got a second assist on another spectacular goal from Mehdi Benatia (the defender second in two games).

Telling of their early success, this wasn’t even Roma’s quickest three goals of the season. Hosting Verona in round two, Roma scored three times in 11 minutes, though one came via a Fabrizio Cacciatore own goal. Today’s outburst — 18 minutes; three goals — had the virtue of all coming off Roma feet.

Garcia’s side went on to win the game 5-0, their most decisive win of the season, one which finally saw their dominance pay off before a mid-match regroup. Perhaps that’s a sign of Bologna’s struggles (now 0-3-3 on the season). Perhaps it’s just random. Or perhaps it’s just Roma gaining confidence from their 6-0-0 start – executing before their opponents fold. With the win, Garcia’s team stays two points clear of Napoli and Juventus.

[MORE: Serie A Sunday roundup: Juventus labor to win Turin derby.]

But the result leaves the same question we’ve been asking for two weeks: Are Roma for real? Perhaps Saturday, when they travel to Milan to face Inter, we’ll get a better idea, but across all the small indicators we’ve seen from their soft opening schedule, the answer has been Yes. Their 17 goals scored lead the league, while their single goal allowed make them the stingiest team in Serie A. The lopsided result not only shows their continued improvement but hints they may be less susceptible to the slips we’ve recently seen from Napoli and Inter. Firepower’s difficult for less-talented teams to match.

source: Reuters
Francesco Totti recently signed a contract extension that will keep him at Roma until he’s 39, and with his hot start of the Serie A season, there’s reason to think he could be valuable come 2016. The Roma icon has started the season with one goal, six assists in his first team’s first six games. (Photo: Reuters.)

And that Roma firepower includes convincingly strong starts from both their core and their new acquisitions. The 37-year-old Totti shows no signs of slowing, Daniele De Rossi’s off to one of his strongest starts in recent seasons, while Miralem Pjanic continues his understated stardom. Among the new signings, Benatia’s acquisition form Udinese has offset the loss of Marquinhos to Paris Saint-Germain, Kevin Strootman’s already provided three assists in midfield, while Gervinho and Adem Ljajic have combined for six goals. Maicon has proven surprisingly decent since returning to Italy, while Morgan De Sanctis has only conceded once since moving from Napoli.

Roma may yet prove a fluke, but talent won’t be an excuse, particularly with the likes of Ljajic, Michael Bradley, Marco Borriello and Nicolas Burdisso in reserve. And with no European commitments to distract them, Roma may be set to replicate what Juventus did two years ago.

Perhaps they won’t go on to win the title (as that regrouping Juve team did), but with a offseason’s regroup and a streamlined set of commitments, Roma may be set for bigger and better things. This start may turn out to be step one.

Sydney FC return to winning ways in A-League

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 24:  Goalkeeper Danny Vukovic of Sydney FC makes a save as Bruno Fornaroli of City competes for the ball during the round 21 A-League match between Melbourne City and Sydney FC at AAMI Park on February 24, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)
Scott Barbour/Getty Images
Leave a comment

SYDNEY (AP) Bobo scored twice as Sydney FC rebounded from its first loss in the A-League to beat Melbourne City 3-1 and continue atop the table.

[ MORE: Schmeichel speaks about Ranieri sacking, state of Leicester ]

Sydney’s ambitious attempt to become the first team to end the regular season unbeaten came unstuck last week when it was beaten by Western Sydney Wanderers in a fractious local derby, repercussions of which continued through the week. Wanderers were fined $20,000 by Football Federation Australia after its fans unfurled an obscene banner targeting Sydney coach Graham Arnold.

[ MORE: Chelsea, Everton extend unbeaten run in Saturday’s PL play ]

Sydney raised itself above that controversy on Friday with a comprehensive win over Melbourne City which briefly took it 11 points clear in first place.

Melbourne Victory restored the gap to eight points when it beat defending champion Adelaide United 2-1, and Perth leapfrogged Melbourne City into third place when it dumped the Wanderers 2-0.

Bobo opened Sydney’s scoring with a penalty, but City canceled that out only a minute later.

Sydney went in front again after the break, and Bobo sealed the win, set up by a superb through ball by Milos Ninkovic which highlighted their developing combination.

Midfielder Brandon O’Neil said Sydney was determined to leave behind the contention of their derby loss.

“When it all came out, the FFA and Western Sydney had to deal with it and it did,” O’Neil said. “It brought us together and we spoke about a few things, and nothing changed for us. We want to be premier (champions).”

Melbourne Victory’s win over Adelaide kept it in touch with Sydney with seven regular season rounds remaining.

Wellington kept its faint playoff hopes alive, staying in seventh place with a 2-1 win over Brisbane.

Whitecaps acquire U.S. defender Brek Shea in deal with Orlando City

Toronto FC v Orlando City SC
Alex Menendez/Getty Images
Leave a comment

With almost a week to go until the Major League Soccer season kicks off, the Vancouver Whitecaps and Orlando City may have pulled off one of the biggest trades of offseason.

[ MORE: MLS negotiating to bring Chicharito to U.S. in 2018 ]

The clubs announced on Saturday that the Whitecaps have acquired U.S. Men’s National Team midfielder/defender Brek Shea in exchange for forward Giles Barnes, who is headed to Orlando City.

“We are excited to welcome Brek to our club and city,” said Whitecaps FC manager Carl Robinson. “Brek is a tall, physical, skilled player and will bring a different dimension to our attack. Brek will join the group in coming days and we anticipate he will be available for selection as early as this Thursday’s Champions League match against New York.”

Shea, 26, began his career in MLS with FC Dallas before heading to England for a brief stint with Stoke City. The U.S. defender made his way back to MLS ahead of Orlando City’s inaugural season in 2015 and started 39 matches in that span.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Meanwhile, Barnes has scored 33 goals since joining MLS in 2012. The 28-year-old forward played with the Houston Dynamo before spending last season with the Whitecaps.

Report: MLS negotiating to bring Chicharito to U.S. in 2018

Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez, Bayer Leverkusen & Mexico
AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
Leave a comment

Major League Soccer has attracted some of the world’s biggest stars over recent years and now one of the Mexican national team’s top talents could be heading stateside very soon.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

According to ESPN FC, MLS is currently in negotiations with Bundesliga side Bayer Leverkusen in an attempt to lure Mexican striker Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez to the U.S. in the summer of 2018.

Expansion side Los Angeles FC has been heavily linked with Hernandez, with the club making its entrance into MLS in 2018. Additionally, the Los Angeles Galaxy have also been said to have strong ties with Chicharito.

Hernandez, 28, is currently under contract until next summer, and MLS is reportedly seeking a move in 2018 to avoid paying a transfer fee for the El Tri forward.

ESPN FC is also reporting that Chicharito could make around $9 million annually if he does in fact join MLS.

In 2015, Orlando City and the Chicago Fire were both linked with acquiring Hernandez but the Leverkusen forward was insistent upon the fact that he play Champions League football.

PL Sunday: Spurs look to regain second against Stoke

Leave a comment

Although there’s only one match on Sunday’s Premier League docket, the fixture bears great weight for both clubs.

[ MORE: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Tottenham vs. Stoke City — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Spurs have the chance to move back into second place at White Hart Lane as Mauricio Pochettino‘s side are firmly in a battle to finish runners’ up to Chelsea this season. Tottenham currently sit 13 points out of the top spot, however, five clubs are within four points of another in the battle for second. Danny Rose and Erik Lamela remain sidelined due to injuries but Spurs will remain the favorites in the fixture after having won their previous two league meetings.

Stoke enters Sunday having gone unbeaten in five of its last six PL matches and the Potters can enter the top 10 with a victory. Mark Hughes‘ side could be given a big lift with the potential return of Xherdan Shaqiri while Saido Berahino could be in line to earn his first start since joining Stoke. Both players could present massive upside for the Potters, who have struggled to find goals as of late. In their last four matches, Stoke have managed just three finishes, one of which came from an own goal.