New York clinches a playoff spot in dramatic draw with New England (video)

5 Comments

New York seemed to be on cruise control Saturday at Red Bull Arena, about to become Major League Soccer’s first, official playoff participant on Saturday – when it all went sideways … about four different ways.

Mike Petke’s team did enough to secure its playoff spot, but sure made hard work it after leading most of the way.

First there was a controversial penalty kick decision that allowed New England to tie in the 80th minute. Then there was an ejection that left New England with 10 men.

Then Diego Fagundez scored what looked like a huge, dramatic game-winner for the visiting Revolution. And that was while a man down, remember.

And then Tim Cahill scored a 97th minute equalizer – the goal that puts New York into the playoffs.

It was certainly no ordinary night. The backdrop was framed with drama: the Red Bulls needed only a draw to clinch their post-season spot and take another step toward an Eastern Conference regular season championship.

They seemed on their way to getting in with a win (surely the preferred way) but a controversial handball on New York’s Jamison Olave changed the game and breathed fresh life into New England’s playoff hopes. If Olave – who was having an excellent match, helping generally prevent New England’s Premier League-bound striker Juan Agudelo from being dangerous – got much arm on Saer Sene’s shot, it wasn’t much.

Olave appeared to block the ball legally with his upper chest area or front part of the shoulder.

Minutes later, Revolution midfielder Andy Dorman was ejected for a nasty tackle, damaging the visitors’ chances of getting a second, late goal.

Fagundez’s late goal gave New England a 2-1 win, but Cahill’s late, late header put a punctuation mark on a wild, wild conclusion. Jay Heaps’ Revolution may now have to win all three remaining matches, including two on the road, to make the playoffs.

New York was in control over the first 45 minutes, as New England lost the midfield and then fell behind on Fabian Espincola’s goal, one that was equal measures clinical finishing and defensive blunder.

If New England was fairly harmless in the first 45 minutes, the urgency kicked in for the second 45. By early in the second half, New England was pushing rather desperately, getting lots of numbers into the attack, well aware of what it meant to pull out of Red Bull Arena with no points.

Winning at Red Bull Arena was always a tall order; it’s something the club has not accomplished in New York since 2007. Plus, the Red Bulls were unbeaten in their previous eight at home.

Things got a lot tougher for the visitors in the 14th minute, when a careless moment from rookie Steven Caldwell, who has generally been a steady midfield presence this year, turned into the Red Bulls goal by Espindola.

The full highlight package:

.

Kevin de Bruyne questionable for injury-laden Belgium

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Belgium, already without superstar Eden Hazard for the upcoming World Cup qualifier against Greece, will now be without playmaker Kevin De Bruyne, who picked up an injury in training on Friday and will miss both the match against Greece and the subsequent friendly against Russia three days later…maybe.

The Belgian National Team official Twitter account sent out a quote from manager Roberto Martinez that confirmed De Bruyne would miss the pair of matches, but the tweet was quickly deleted.

Instead, this one was pushed out in its place, correcting his availability and also updating the type of injury:

Should De Bruyne miss out, it means Belgium would likely rely heavily on Dries Mertens and Kevin Mirallas for the playmaking duties, with midfielder Radja Nainggolan potentially taking on a more attacking role as well.

Belgium and Martinez also confirmed that right-back Thomas Meunier will miss out after failing to recover from an ankle injury, while Marouane Fellaini‘s status is unknown after he was held out of Thursday’s training session.

The injury also leaves De Bruyne’s status for Manchester City up in the air, with a pair of massive games in London in quick succession after the injury break. City visits Arsenal next Sunday, followed by a hop over to Stanford Bridge on Wednesday.

Landon Donovan retires again, this time for good

Getty Images
Leave a comment

After coming out of retirement last fall to join the LA Galaxy for one more shot at an MLS Cup, Landon Donovan has once again called time on his career, saying he’s certain he will not play again.

With a number of other ventures on his plate, the USMNT all-time leading scorer is looking forward to spending his time elsewhere.

“Yeah, I’m done,” Donovan said. “I’m done. No more playing for me. I have not [gone public with it yet]. But that is definitely the case.”

Donovan scored one goal in nine games for the LA Galaxy in his comeback bid, with the club ravaged by injuries and still gunning for the Cup. However, after the season was over with a loss to Colorado in the Conference Semifinals, the Galaxy confirmed it was nothing more than a short-term stopgap.

“With Landon, when he came back, it was always going to be a short-term thing,”team president Chris Klein said to the L.A. Times in December. “He’s enjoying what he’s doing and we see we’re comfortable in the direction that we’re headed.”

In January, reports claimed Real Salt Lake had offered Donovan a Designated Player contract, but it appears he’s turned it down, and will now have time to concentrate on his other ventures. Off the field, Donovan is an analyst on Fox’s soccer coverage, is on the advisory committee for the Los Angeles 2024 Olympics bid, and has joined the ownership group attempting to bring an expansion MLS team to San Diego.

Former Spurs midfielder Paulinho scores thunderbolt for Brazil

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Brazil topped Uruguay 4-1 to move on the verge of World Cup qualification, but there was much more to the first half of this match than meets the eye.

Uruguay went ahead 1-0 on a 9th-minute penalty won and scored by Edinson Cavani, and for a moment it seemed like the home side might find its way to pull within a point of Brazil at the top of the CONMEBOL standings. That would not last very long.

[ MORE: Full roundup of CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying action ]

Just 10 minutes later, a bad giveaway near the midfield stripe saw Neymar casually feed Paulinho a good 50 yards from goal. The former Spurs man took matters into his own hands, charging forward and unleashing a vicious strike that continued to rise until it ripped the chords in the top-right corner.

 

Not only was the goal a sight to behold, it was an important moment in the match. Brazil was back level at 1-1, and Paulinho would be on his way to an eventual hat-trick with a pair in the second half. Neymar scored once as well to complete the 4-1 final scoreline, and the three points for Brazil saw them remain perfect in the World Cup qualifying round as they march seven clear of Uruguay at the top of the standings.

For Paulinho, the hat-trick brings him to four goals in the World Cup qualifying round, adding to his score in the 3-0 win over Argentina. They also mark an important moment for the Chinese Super League, where Paulinho now plays, having moved from Spurs in July of 2015. Some national team coaches have left players on the outside of the squad for moving to leagues such as the Chinese League or Major League Soccer, but Paulinho has clearly been an asset to Brazil despite his club situation. In fact, in China, Paulinho has scored four goals in his four league matches for Guangzhou Evergrande this season plus another in the Asian Champions League, leaving him in top goalscoring form coming into this international break, something which has clearly translated directly to international play.

The 28-year-old had lost his place in the national team squad in 2014, going over two years without a single international appearance, but has been a mainstay in the Brazilian side during this World Cup qualification cycle.

Dele Alli banned three European games for straight red card

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Spurs may be out of the Europa League this season, but should they end up qualifying for the Champions League next season, they will start the campaign short-handed.

Tottenham will be without midfielder Dele Alli for the first half of the group stage after his horrifying tackle on Brecht Dejaegere of KAA Gent in their 2-2 draw which saw Spurs out of the competition on aggregate in the Round of 32.

Alli went to ground on the 39th-minute challenge, and made contact on high up on Dejaegere’s leg with both his studs, finishing with a scissior-whip motion. It was a blatant red card, and now UEFA’s disciplinary committee has handed down the three-match ban. Straight-red cards for violent conduct only carry a minimum penalty of one match in UEFA tournament play, but the disciplinary committee clearly thought a longer punishment was necessary, with the ability to sentence anyone up to five matches.

The straight red was the first of Alli’s professional career. Alli apologized to Dejaejere after the match, according to the Gent midfielder. He’s since scored in four straight matches, and when asked on Sunday if that moment was still in his mind, he said, “I’m never going to say sorry for wanting to win or trying as hard as I can but things happen and you have to learn from them.”

Spurs currently sit in second place in the Premier League table with 59 points and look to be in a strong position for Champions League qualification, with a seven-point cushion on fifth-placed Manchester United.