Fulham 1-0 Stoke City: Bent’s late strike seals win for Cottagers (video)

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The 1-0 win against Stoke at Craven Cottage on Saturday was their first since August 17 against Sunderland, and marked their first victory in six games.

But the home side looked anxious in possession throughout, however Bent’s late strike will ease some of the pressure on under-fire manager Martin Jol. Stoke battled hard, and took the game to the Cottagers after the interval but wasted several good chances.

In the end, Fulham made them pay.

With their first home success of the season, Fulham climb out of the relegation zone into 17th spot with seven points, while Stoke are in 16th.

Early on Fulham were composed as they looked to get Damien Duff in down the flanks. But as the half wore on, the home side grew more nervous as Stoke got going.

In the 9th minute there was a potential flash point right in front of the benches, as Pajtim Kasami needlessly flung his hand out at Stoke defender Erik Pieters off the ball. Contact was minimal, and Pieters overreacted, but Kasami was silly to lash out so petulantly.

In the 25th minute came a real turning point, as Johnathan Walters raced clear and Fulham’s Fernando Amorebieta pulled him back right on the edge of the box. The linesman gave the foul and a free kick, as Stoke’s players protested for a penalty, but the foul looked to have taken place just inside the box. A let off for the home side.

And just moments later, Stoke came so close to taking a 1-0 lead as Sascha Riether cleared a header off the line following an out swinging corner.

Both sides battled away for most of the first half, with several careless passes adding to the building tension in Craven Cottage.

source: Getty Images
Fulham and Stoke battled it out down by the River Thames.

However, right on half time Bryan Ruiz was caught in the box as he tried to wriggle free. The home fans cried for a penalty, but referee Roger East turned their protests away. It looked like Marc Wilson tripped the Costa Rican attacker, as the Cottagers finished the half strongly.

At half time Kieran Richardson replaced Brede Hangeland, as Jol tried to change things around for Fulham with Amorebieta switching to center back.

Throughout the game Fulham’s players were severely lacking in confidence, as they searched for their first win in six games. Steve Sidwell worked hard in the Cottagers engine room, but was lambasted on several occasions by the home fans for giving the ball away. Although Fulham’s Macedonian winger Kasami looked a threat throughout.

Mark Hughes’ Stoke side were resilient and ground down Fulham with some late tackles and determined running, but both sides were reduced to speculative efforts.

One of which came from U.S. international Geoff Cameron, as his right-footed shot from distance was arrowing towards the top corner before being deflected wide for a corner.

From that set piece Stoke captain Robert Huth rose highest unmarked, but put his header over the bar as David Stockdale was left flapping. And soon after Oussama Assaidi’s cross found Stephen Ireland who volleyed just wide in the 68th minute.

That mini barrage of chances for Stoke breathed new life into the Potters, and in a few minutes Riether first cleared Huth’s header off the line, again, before running the length of the pitch and forcing Asmir Begovic into a fine save at his near post.

And moments later the game-winning goal arrived, as Bent was Fulham’s hero. The second half sub saw the ball ricochet to him in the box after Kasami’s shot in the 83rd minute and the striker, on-loan from Aston Villa, coolly slotted home to send Craven Cottage wild.

LINEUPS

Fulham: Stockdale; Riether, Hangeland (Richardson 46), Senderos, Amorebieta; Duff, Karagounis (Boateng 60), Sidwell, Ruiz; Kasami; Berbatov (Bent 66).

Stoke City: Begovic; Cameron, Huth, Shawcross, Pieters; Wilson (Whelan 59), Nzonzi, Ireland; Walters (Crouch 83), Arnautovic, Etherington (Assaidi 63).

Sky Blue’s Sam Kerr named NWSL league MVP for 2017

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CHICAGO (AP) Sky Blue FC forward Sam Kerr has been named the National Women’s Soccer League’s Most Valuable Player for this season.

Kerr, a standout on the Australian national team, had a league-record 17 goals and became the league’s fifth Golden Boot winner to also be named MVP.

[ MORE: MLS Decision Day preview ]

She became the first NWSL player to score four goals in a game on Aug. 19 against the Seattle Reign. Kerr rallied Sky Blue from a 3-goal deficit to beat the Reign 5-4.

Kerr’s award was announced Friday. The league had earlier announced the season’s other award winners: North Carolina’s Abby Dahlkemper was named Defender of the Year, teammate Ashley Hatch was named Rookie of the Year, Portland’s Adrianna Franch was named Goalkeeper of the Year and the Thorns’ Mark Parsons was named Coach of the Year.

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

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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.