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

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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.

MLS Snapshot: FCD lose 2nd in a row; Fire win 4th straight

AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh
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The game in 100 words (or less): After starting the 2017 season nine games without a loss, FC Dallas, the longest-lasting unbeaten team in MLS, has lost two straight. Saturday saw their unbeaten start come to an end, against the San Jose Earthquakes, just as Wednesday’s trip to Toyota Stadium saw Oscar Pareja’s side drop all three points to the Chicago Fire. All three of the game’s goals were scored during the opening nine minutes, as FCD fought back from 1-0, but couldn’t find a second equalizer on the night. Nemanja Nikolic bagged the opener, his 11th goal in 13 games to extend his lead in the Golden Boot race to two, in the 3rd minute. Roland Lamah brought FCD back to level terms three minutes later, but David Accam restored the home side’s advantage after three more minutes. Nikolic had every opportunity in the world to take his goals tally to a dozen during second-half stoppage time, but Chris Seitz denied the Hungarian international from the penalty spot. For the first time since Sept. 2012, Chicago have won four straight league games, and sit just two points back of Eastern Conference-leading Toronto FC (26 points).

[ WATCH: Chicharito-to-MLS in doubt due to $10M contract demands ]

Three moments that mattered

3′ — Nikolic redirects past Seitz for 1-0 — Nikolic ran 15 yards straight ahead without a single FCD player picking him up or impeding his path to the near post, and they paid for it.

6′ — Lamah taps it in to make it 1-1 right away — Lamah has been quite the disappointment since arriving in Dallas this winter, but he happened to eb in the right place at the right time in this one, as a failed clearance fell to the five-times-capped Belgian international for an easy tap-in, and his first MLS goal.

9′ — Accam cuts inside to make it 2-1 just as quickly — At some point, Accam will be properly rated by the wider MLS audience, as he’s been Chicago’s best player for two full seasons, and has only hit a new high with capable attackers all around him.

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

Man of the match: Dax McCarty

Goalscorers: Nikolic (3′), Lamah (6′), Accam (9′)

Report: Chicharito-to-MLS in doubt due to contract demands

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While Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez has the feel of the player most clearly destined to play in MLS since Thierry Henry, we might have to wait a little while longer before the 28-year-old Mexican international ditches Europe in favor of a return to North America.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

According to a report from ESPN FC on Thursday, Hernandez is seeking an annual salary “way north of $10 million,” which would shatter the current record contract for an MLS player (Kaka — $7.2 million per year).

Hernandez has one more season left on his contract with Bundesliga side Bayer Leverkusen. During the summer of 2018 he’ll be available for any club in the world to sign on a free transfer. With Los Angeles FC, the team Hernandez has reportedly been negotiating with for months now, set to debut in MLS in March 2018, chances are they’d like the centerpiece of their squad (and the largest annual investment in MLS history) to be involved on opening day, thus a fee will be required, very likely pushing the club’s total investment (salary plus fee) into the neighborhood of $50 million.

[ WATCH: Giovani dos Santos’ jaw-dropping volley vs. MIN ]

You can see pretty quickly why LAFC might balk at such demands.

With that said, 1) LAFC shouldn’t be surprised by this recent development, given Hernandez’s otherworldly allure within the LA market; 2) to piggyback on no. 1, a player should be paid every cent he’s worth to the club, on and off the field, and there might not be a player in the entire world (this side Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo) who’d make LAFC a bigger hit in LA from day one.

Enrique “more than satisfied” with Barca tenure, eyes one more trophy

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MADRID (AP) Luis Enrique is finally saying goodbye to Barcelona, with one last chance at a trophy.

The Luis Enrique era in Barcelona ends after the Copa del Rey final against Alaves on Saturday, when the coach could cap his three-year stint with a ninth trophy out of a possible 13.

It would be a fitting farewell for him nearly three months after his surprise announcement that he was leaving.

“It would be a special title,” Luis Enrique said.

The former Barcelona midfielder has won nearly everything as the coach, since replacing Gerard Martino in 2014.

He led the team to the treble of the Spanish league, Copa del Rey, and Champions League in 2015. He achieved the league-Copa double in 2016, and began this season with the Spanish Super Cup title, their only trophy so far.

It hasn’t been Luis Enrique’s best season with Barcelona, which was eliminated in the quarterfinals of the Champions League, and lost the Spanish league to Real Madrid last weekend.

“I’m happy and more than satisfied for all the years that I’ve enjoyed with this club,” the 47-year-old Luis Enrique said.

He announced in March he was leaving so he could get some rest.

“I came here to be a leader and I’ve been one. I’m leaving when I think it’s the best time to do it.”

His other titles included the 2015 European Super Cup and the 2015 Club World Cup.

Barcelona has yet to lose a Copa del Rey home-and-away series since he took over, a run of 12 straight triumphs.

“We are all thankful for these three years (with Luis Enrique),” captain Andres Iniesta said. “We have to win one last title to finish the best possible way.”

Barcelona has been in the Copa final in seven of the last nine seasons, including the last four. It has won it a record 28 times, including the last two.

Alaves will be playing in the final of a major tournament for only the second time in its 96-year history. The other was the UEFA Cup 16 years ago, when it lost to Liverpool 5-4 in extra time.

Alaves’ only winner’s trophy is for Spain’s second division. It was a promoted club in Spain’s top division this season after 10 years in the lower divisions, including four in the third tier. It finished ninth in the Liga.

Alaves enters the Copa final boosted from having beaten Barcelona 2-1 at Camp Nou at the beginning of the season.

The coach touted to replace Luis Enrique at Barcelona is Ernesto Valverde, who left Athletic Bilbao this week. An official announcement is expected next week.

Marco Silva leaves Hull; Premier League clubs lining up

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Marco Silva came to the Premier League, he saw the PL, but he didn’t conquer the PL — at least, not yet.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

It was announced on Thursday that the 39-year-old Portuguese manager, who took over last-place Hull City in January, has left the club after succumbing to relegation from the PL. Silva, whose stock rose quickly during his brief stay in England, signed a contract that ran only through the end of the season should they be relegated, thus he’s not sure on options these days. Hull would have undoubtedly welcomed him back for a run at promotion from the Championship next season.

As recently as Wednesday, Silva was expected to be named the new boss at Porto, though various reports stated that talks between the manager and club had broken down.

[ MORE: Terry “couldn’t care less” about criticism of his farewell ]

Watford and Crystal Palace, both of whom are manager-less after Walter Mazzarri was fired and Sam Allardyce resigned, respectively, are said to be extremely interested in Silva’s services.