UEFA Women’s Champions League roundup: Heath, PSG out; Wolfsburg sets new mark

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One way or another, prominent Americans were going home. In the home side at Charlety in Paris were Tobin Heath and Lindsay Horan, the duo hoping to see Paris Saint-Germain overcome their 2-1 deficit and make UEFA Champions League’s Round of 16. To do so, however, they would have to end the season of Christen Press, Ali Krieger, and the rest of the American contingent from Sweden’s runners up, Tyresö. One team would leave eliminated by the round’s least favorable draw.

Heath, Press, and Krieger weren’t the only prominent names visiting Paris on Wednesday. Tyresö, having aggressively targeted American signings this summer, also started U.S. internationals Whitney Engen and Meghan Klingenberg. Washington Spirit goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris was in goal, while former Women’s Professional Soccer Most Valuable Players Marta and Verónica Boquete featured in attack. A fan of the women’s professional game in the U.S. would have recognized most of Tony Gustavsson’s starting XI.

That star power was the result of a summer buildup that was questioned when the then-Damallsvenskan leaders risked their winning formula to bring in the likes of Krieger, Harris and Engen, but against a PSG side that’s spent big to bring in Heath, Horan (among others), it’d be needed. French internationals Laure Boulleau, Laura Georges, Marie-Laure Delie were also in today’s lineup, joining a foreign contingent German defender Annike Krahn and Swedish attacker Kosovare Asllani.

These teams too talented to be meeting in the first round (Round of 32), a contention undermined by the reality of Wednesday’s game. There they were, two of the more talented teams in Europe, about to see one eliminated at step one of the process. Had they been draw against other clubs, each would be threats to make the semifinals. Instead, one of them was going home three rounds earlier, that club’s big spending set to go for naught.

With those stakes, it’s no surprise the tie’s second leg played out as a cagey affair, the visiting Swedes playing as if a clean sheet was their best hope. Despite the presences of Marta, Press, and Boquete, Tyresö would only put two shots on Karima Benameur, finishing the match outshot 13-6.

It was indicative of the type of control PSG exerted, twice seriously testing whether Harris could protect Tyresö’s slim edge. One slip, and the roles would be reversed, PSG left to decide whether to defend their away goals edge of press for insurance. When the match hit intermission scoreless, it still seemed like a matter of time before PSG turned those tables.

source: AP
Ashlyn Harris, seen here playing for the U.S. Women’s National Team, had five save for Tyresö today in Paris. (Photo: AP Photo.)

Yet as the second half ticked away, Farid Bensetti’s side never found a way through. They made changes, taking off Asllani, Heath and Jessica Houara in favor of Linda Bresonik, Kenza Dali, and Horan. They forced 10 corner kicks and generally controlled the match. But unable to unlock an opponent readily sacrificing attacking verve for defensive zeal, Paris Saint-Germain were left with the what if. The 0-0 result made Tyresö 2-1 aggregate winners.

For team that’s signing players to six-figure deals, it’s a bitter pill to swallow, particularly given their control of the match. Yet PSG’s is a long-term ambition. They may have thought themselves capable of making noise in this year’s competition, but their domestic tests against superpower Lyon showed they’re still progress to be made.

Unfortunately for them, however, this result means the few tests they’ll get against OL will be the only time they face Champions League-caliber competition for the rest of this year. The biggest challenge remaining in their season isn’t progressing in Champions League; it’s preventing Juvisy or Montpellier from claiming their place in next year’s tournament.

For Tyresö, however, their investment is starting to pay off, even if the shakeup may have cost them a league title (Malmö has clinched the Damallsvenskan title). Though there’s no guarantee things will be easier for them in the Round of 16, Marta, Boquete, and the team’s contingent of Americans can move forward knowing they’re capable of knocking off teams with PSG’s firepower.

Here are the rest of the day’s results:

source: Getty Images
38-year-old Patrizia Panico, seen here playing for the Italian national team, scored as Italian champions Torres advanced on Wednesday. (Photo: Getty Images.)

Torres (Italy) 3-1 Spratzern (Austria); Torres advances, 5-3 aggregate: This one was more lopsided than it looks, with first half goals from Swiss international Sandy Mändly and 38-year-old icon Patrizia Panico putting Spratzern on the ropes early. The Austrians finally got on the board in the 84th minute through forward Lisa Makas, but by that time, they were three goals down and still hadn’t reversed Torres’s edge in away goals.

Birmingham City (England) 1-0 PK-35 (Finland); Birmingham City advances, 4-0 aggregate: The Blues start to make amends for last year’s early exit after finishing off Finland’s champions, with last week’s lopsided result in Vantaa taking the drama out of today’s second leg. Despite only getting a goal from Chelsea Weston in the 50th minute, Brum outshot their guests 21-3, preventing PK-35 from recording a shot on goal.

Zorky (Russia) 4-1 Thór/KA (Iceland); Zorky advances, 6-2 aggregate: Three goals over a 13-minute span of the first half took the life out of this one, with midfielder Elena Morozova (22′) , Ukraine’s Vira Dyatel (24′) and American Nick Astley (34′) putting Zorky up 5-1. The teams traded second half goals, with Zorky’s coming from Chicago Red Star midfielder Alyssa Mautz.

Wolfsburg (Germany) 13-0 Pärnu (Estonia); Wolfsburg advances, 27-0 aggregate: It’s a growing competition. Much like when the World Cup started expanding its field, when a couple of tournaments forced teams to take their lumps, this is short-term pain for long-term gain. This particular pain represents a new tournament record, with Washington Spirit forward Connie Pohlers adding three more goals to her personal competition high mark.

Brønby (Denmark) 2-2 Barcelona (Spain); Barcelona advances on away goals, 2-2 aggregate: After being held to a scoreless draw last week in Catalonia, Barça’s progress in the women’s game look set to be stunted, something that was affirmed when Anja Thorsen put the Danes up after 25 minutes. The second half, however, saw the Spanish champions convert on the two shots they put on Jenny Olsson. Marta Corredera’s 52nd minute equalizer gave the visitors an away goals edge, while 18-year-old Serbian international Jelena Čanković left Brønby chasing miracles after her 87th minute goal. Four minutes into stoppage time, Boye Sørensen pulled the home side even, but away goals see them out of the competition.

Fortuna (Denmark) 2-0 Tavagnacco (Italy); Fortuna advances, 4-3 aggregate: Camilla Larsen’s 32nd minute opener equalized for Fortuna, making the two goals recorded last week in Italy potentially decisive. When Romanian Laura Rus added insurance in the 81st minute, the Danes were into the Round of 16.

source: Getty Images
German international Anja Mittag, seen celebrating her country’s victory at Euro 2013, scored twice for Malmö on Wednesday. (Photo: Getty Images.)

Malmö (Sweden) 5-0 LSK (Norway); Malmö advances, 8-1 aggregate: German international Anja Mittag posted a first half double, Dutch starlet Manon Melis scored in the 21st (and 84th) minute, while Swiss star Ramona Bachmann completed the first half assault. The hosts up 4-0 (7-1) by the 34th minute.

Turbine Potsdam (Germany) 6-0 MTK (Hungary); Potsdam advances, 11-0 aggregate: Three players, three doubles, all within the match’s last half-hour:  Japanese striker Asano Nagasato scored in the 62nd and 92nd minutes; 19-year-old Macedonian midfielder Natasa Andonova added goals in the 63rd and 88th; and Swedish midfielder Antonia Göransson recorded hers in the 65th and 84th minutes. Potsdam outshot MTK 49-4.

Neulengbach (Austria) 1-1 Apollon (Cyprus); Neulengbach advances, 3-2 aggregate: FC Kansas City’s Sinead Farrelly, one of six Americans starting for Apollon, pulled the Cypriot side within one in the 77th minute, but a 58th minute goal from 22-year-old Slovakian Alexandra Bíróová held up, sending the most U.S.-friendly club out of the tournament.

Lyon (France) 6-0 Twente (Netherlands); Lyon advances, 10-0 aggregate: Lotta Schelin and Megan Rapinoe added goals from the bench, though by the time they were brought on (46′, 59′), Twente were already chasing six. Lartitia Tonazzi and Louisa Necib had the hosts up two at halftime, while Élise Bussaglia and Eugénie Le Sommer doubled their team’s lead before Schelin and Rapinoe made their contributions.

Sparta Praha (Czech Republic) 1-1 Zürich (Switzerland); Zürich advances, 3-2 aggregate: 16-year-old Mirjine Selim’s early strike not only gave Zürich valuable insurance but also pulled back the goal they conceded at home in leg one. Iva Mocová’s second half score gave the Czechs life, but the hosts were never able to mount the pressure needed to pull back the final goal.

There are four more Round of 32 deciders tomorrow:

  • Rossiyanka (Russia) return home with a 4-2 edge over Spartak Subotica (Serbia);
  • Konak Belediyesi (Turkey) try to protect their 2-1 lead against Unia Raciborz in Poland;
  • Glasgow City (Scotland) return home having earned a 2-2 draw at Standard Liege (Belgium);
  • and Arsenal (England) hold a 7-1 edge over Kazakhstan’s CSHVSM-Kairat.

The Round of 16 matchups have already been drawn, with matches to begin the second week of November, with Germany’s teams both drawing tough matchups:

  • Barcelona vs. Zürich
  • Konak/Urai vs. Neulengbach
  • Fortuna vs. Tyresö
  • Spartak/Rossiyanka vs. Torres
  • Turbine Potsdam vs. Lyon
  • Zorky vs. Birmingham City
  • Malmö vs. Wolfsburg
  • Kairat/Arsenal vs. Standard/Glasgow

Griezmann wins best player award in Spain for last season

SEVILLE, SPAIN - OCTOBER 23:  Antoine Griezmann of Club Atletico de Madrid looks on during the match between Sevilla FC vs Club Atletico de Madrid as part of La Liga at Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuanon October 23, 2016 in Seville, Spain.  (Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images)
Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images
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VALENCIA, Spain (AP) Antoine Griezmann has won the best player award in the Spanish league for last season.

The Atletico Madrid forward was announced as the winner in a ceremony organized by La Liga in Valencia on Monday. The Frenchman was not at the ceremony.

[ MORE: Ballon d’Or omissions ]

Atletico also had Diego Simeone win the best coach award, Diego Godin earn the best defender award, and Jan Oblak clinch best goalkeeper.

Barcelona’s Lionel Messi was selected as the best forward, and Real Madrid’s Luka Modric as the best midfielder.

Team captains voted for the top players in each position, while a data-analysis system generated the best player award.

Barcelona won the Spanish league last season, ahead of Real Madrid and Atletico.

Biggest omissions from the Ballon d’Or shortlist

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 24: Alexis Sanchez of Arsenal (R) is chased by N'Golo Kante of Chelsea (L)  during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Chelsea at the Emirates Stadium on September 24, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

France Football released the 30-man shortlist for the Ballon d’Or award given to the world’s best player.

As expected in a EURO year, there are several Portuguese standouts to go with the usual suspects.

There are also some odd omissions.

[ MLS: Pre-playoff power rankings ]

Alexis Sanchez was Arsenal’s second-leading scorer as the Gunners finished second in the Premier League, and the South American attacker scored three goals as Chile won its second-straight Copa America, this one on American soil. It’s baffling that he’s not on the list.

N'Golo Kante enjoyed a season as the engine of the best story in Premier League history, manning the midfield for Leicester, and followed it up by helping France reach the EURO 2016 final. Pretty good, right?

Javier Mascherano and Ivan Rakitic were key pieces in Barcelona’s run to the La Liga crown despite being limited by the transfer ban. Mascherano followed it up by captaining Argentina to the Copa America Centenario final, while Rakitic starred alongside Ivan Perisic as Croatia won a tricky EURO 2016 group before falling to eventual winners Portugal.

BARCELONA, SPAIN - JANUARY 11: Fernando Torres of Club Atletico de Madrid is surrounded by (L-R) Javier Mascherano, Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitic, Gerard Pique and Luis Suarez of FC Barcelona during the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and Club Atletico de Madrid at Camp Nou on January 11, 2015 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)
Mascherano (far left) and Rakitic (second from right) are among several Barcelona players who didn’t make the cut (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images).

Harry Kane may’ve not been a good choice to take corner for England, but he also was one of the best all-around attackers in the world as Tottenham surged into the Top Four of the Premier League.

With four goalkeepers making the cut, it shows that club success is more important than performance. David De Gea‘s season was certainly on the same plane as Buffon, though the latter won the league with Juventus and edged Spain at EURO 2016.

Marcelo, Leonardo Bonucci, and David Silva were also players who succeeded for both club and country and could’ve found their way onto the 30.

[ MORE: MLS Cup predictions ]

Finally, let’s see how I fared in projecting the 30 men back in mid-September:

— I got 24 on the nose, wrongly guessing that Kante, Kane, Alexis, Mascherano, Rakitic, and Olivier Giroud would make the cut. Giroud led Arsenal and France in scoring, but if Alexis wasn’t going to make it the coiffed Frenchman had no hope.

— Of the six I didn’t get, only one brings me great shame: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang should’ve been in the first 15 names on any list, not missing the post entirely. Paulo Dybala is a bit of a shocker from the crew, and Koke is a tricky miss. Luka Modric was our No. 31, while Rui Patricio was our 35. Diego Godin was a bad miss.

— What to learn from this: Atletico Madrid was obviously credited for its return to the UCL final, so Godin and Koke prove that carried a bit more weight than Kante and Giroud making the final with France, and Alexis thriving at the Copa America.

Whose historic hiccup was worse: Portland or Columbus?

PORTLAND, OR - MARCH 6: Kei Kamara #23 of Columbus Crew and Liam Ridgewell #24 of Portland Timbers go after a ball during the second half of the game at Providence Park on March 6, 2016 in Portland, Oregon. The Timbers won the match 2-1. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images
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It’s been less than a year since we discussed who was best suited to return to the MLS Cup Final following Portland’s 2-1 win over Columbus in the 2015 title match.

Now we’re wondering who’s fall was more shameful, the Portland Timbers and Columbus Crew each missed the playoffs, just over 11 months after contesting the final. That’s never happened before.

[ MORE: Pre-playoff power rankings ]

We asked our staff to take a stand on the matter of who flubbed worse: Gregg Berhalter’s Crew or Caleb Porter’s Timbers.

Andy Edwards

Columbus: 2016 was Gregg Berhalter’s third season in charge in Columbus, and in each of his first two years, Crew SC took a gigantic step forward — from non-playoff side to in the playoffs in 2014; from young, naive playoff team to MLS Cup hosts in 2015 — which meant 2016 was supposed to be the culmination of a truly great revolution in Columbus.

They started the season slow, with no wins in their first five games. But they had done the same thing just 12 months earlier and there they were playing for the Cup in December. The Crew looked to be slowly turning this season’s corner when the Kei Kamara/Federico Higuain thing exploded and effectively ended their season in May.

(Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

The big knock on Crew SC last year, at least for me, was that they never seemed to figure out a Plan B — if “hit it long for Kei, he’ll knock it down, and Ethan Finlay and Justin Meram will run onto it and toss the alley-oop back to him inside the six” wasn’t working, you’d already beaten them.

[ MORE: MLS Cup predictions ]

2016 exposed Berhalter, perhaps more than any player on the roster, because of the elongated nature of those struggles — literally the entire season. Finlay (6 goals, 9 assists) and Meram (5 goals, 13 assists) put up fine numbers once again, but they rang hollow for a losing team going nowhere all season long.

Wil Trapp’s age-23 season was completely wasted — he’s no longer “a young player” — and I’d take a long, hard look at Europe this winter if I were him. The defense has been an unmitigated disaster the last two season (53 and 58 goals conceded), mostly due to the all-out attacking nature of Berhalter’s game plans — hint: defending 2-on-4 against counter-attacks almost never ends well. The “other” Kamara, Ola, actually panning out was the saving grace that kept them within a mile of the playoff race.

Nick Mendola

Portland: Maybe it’s an odd year thing; Portland won the 2015 MLS Cup after claiming the West’s best record in 2013.

Or maybe, just maybe, the Timbers ran out of luck under newly-extended Caleb Porter in his fourth season on the job. This time, no one bailed them out.

Portland came out of nowhere to claim the West’s No. 1 seed in 2013, as Porter engineered an astounding 15 draws including 10 on the road. The tactics and lineup selection helped, but so did the arrivals of Diego Valeri and Will Johnson (pretty important, no?).

The Timbers missed the playoffs by a point in 2014, a 3W-1D end to the season not enough to make up for a horrible start to the season.

The next season saw the Timbers win it all, but not without needing a three-match winning streak to leap ahead of four teams and claim the third-seed (Seattle, LA, and KC all finished two points back). Six games later, they went from almost out to on top of the MLS world.

So what happened this year, with many falling all over ourselves to praise the long-term prospects of a Timbers dynasty? A giant failure. The Timbers failed to win a single road game, tossing aside their strong home field advantage (Portland was 12W-3L-2T at Providence Park).

SANDY, UT - APRIL 19: Head coach Caleb Porter of the Portland Timbers encourages his team during their game against Real Salt Lake at Rio Tinto Stadium April 19, 2014 in Sandy, Utah. (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images)
(Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images)

The Timbers scored the second-most penalties in the league this year, with five, so it’s not like fortune avoided them (The Red Bulls didn’t score one).

But, oh, this was ugly.

Portland took three of its the final 12 points available to it. The Timbers lost big in Vancouver and Houston, two non-playoff destinations. In its last 13 games, Portland lost nine and won four.

[ MORE: Yedlin on Newcastle, EFL Cup ]

The Timbers completed the fewest passes in Major League Soccer, 400 less than the closest competitor and 4,300 behind the league-leading Revs. Portland couldn’t take the ball away, either, with the second-fewest interceptions in the league.

You could even argue that losing 4-1 in Vancouver on Decision Day — a loss to a knocked-out Cascadia Cup rival — makes it worse than Columbus’ season alone. This was awful stuff, albeit schadenfreude for the anti-Porter brigade.

Oh, and they bombed out of a poor CONCACAF Champions League group without a Liga MX or MLS opponent in it.

Alright, so Andy tabbed Columbus and Nick took Portland. Let’s get a tiebreaker in here.

Matt Reed

Every champion has a target on its back but the Timbers managed to essentially bring back all of its key starters from a season ago, despite losing Maxi Urruti. The Timbers were involved in 22 games separated by one goal or less in 2016, with Caleb Porter’s side winning only seven of those contests. Had one more game gone in their favor the Timbers would likely be back in the postseason. 

The case for (and against) every Eastern Conference playoff team

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 13: Benoit Cheyrou #8 of Toronto FC defends Andrea Pirlo #21 of New York City FC free kick at Yankee Stadium on March 13, 2016 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images
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Of the six teams remaining in Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference, you could argue there are three distinct pairings.

You have red-hot traditional sides in DC United and the New York Red Bulls; There are the big-name driven, deep squads from Toronto FC and New York City FC, and finally the two relative unknowns truly deserving of “wildcard” status in the Philadelphia Union Montreal Impact.

[ MORE: Yedlin on Newcastle, EFL Cup ]

Sure the table tends to tell us who’s who in the pecking order. It’s hard to bet against the Red Bulls seeing they haven’t lost since July 3, and Frank Lampard has somehow quietly been a wrecking ball thanks to dynamite performances from captain David Villa and world-class maestro Andrea Pirlo.

But there are reasons those teams may not be the true favorite to advance to the MLS Cup final, just as there are ways to imagine Philly can punch their way through the East. We’re here to give you both.

Philadelphia Union (6)

Why they’ll win: The young unit might be too green to know it isn’t expected to knock off Toronto in Toronto, or a New York team in New York or New Jersey. Chris Pontius and Tranquillo Barnetta add veteran skill and savvy, while Andre Blake is capable of stealing some of the league’s more terrific strikes.

[ MORE: MLS Cup predictions ]

Why they won’t: Their last win was Aug. 27, and we’re supposed to expect the Union to win on the road at Toronto, RBNY, and then either NYCFC or DC. Nah, dog (though it’d be quite a story and we’d be happy to watch it).

Montreal Impact (5)

Why they’ll win: Didier Drogba may not be mentally in it, but he’s still a fierce competitor who can score with the best of them. By the way, the “best of them” definitely includes Ignacio Piatti. The Argentine has been one of the top players in the league this season, and can take over any game (Yes, even three on the bounce).

Why they won’t: The dysfunction and fall-out from Drogba’s benching permeates the room before match against red-hot DC United, and an average road team fails to meet expectations.

Montreal Impact forward Didier Drogba heads the ball in front of D.C. United midfielder Marcelo Sarvas during the second half of an MLS soccer match Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2016, in Montreal. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press via AP)
(Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press via AP)

DC United (4)

Why they’ll win: A four-match win streak earned most of DC’s starters a well-deserved rest on Decision Day, and there will be a “Why not us?” cry coming from the DC dressing room. Patrick Nyarko has been a lot of fun to watch. Luciano Acosta is legit as well. Bill Hamid is an excellent shot stopper, and the four-time champion Black-and-Red is overdue for a final, having been absent since beating KC in 2004.

[ MORE: Pre-playoff power rankings ]

Why they won’t: Let’s be honest, most arguments against DC sound quite political. “Well, they can’t win because of the other guys being so good.” DC doesn’t have the firepower of TFC, NYCFC, and RBNY; Would you bet on them beating two of the above, which they likely would have to? (Actually, kinda).

Toronto FC (3)

Why they’ll win: Frankly, this is the best defensive team in the East, with a minimum of three game attacking breakers in Sebastian Giovinco, Michael Bradley, and Jozy Altidore. Imports Drew Moor and Clint Irwin aren’t scared of the spotlight, and Will Johnson will be putting on for his city. And they’re good away from BMO Field. This could be TFC’s season, y’all.

Why they won’t: This is Toronto’s 10th season, and happens to be the first one in which it won more matches than it lost. TFC’s debut home match comes on Wednesday evening, and there’s something to be said for experience. While some of its players have plenty, the club does not possess much at all.

New York City FC (2)

Why they’ll win: One of only two teams (Toronto) to finish their road schedule with a .500 record, Patrick Vieira has been able to get the best out of the superstars and the lesser-known members of NYC’s squad. Tactically, we’re not sure there’s another coach in the East with his acumen.

Why they won’t: It’s also Vieira’s first playoffs as a manager, and the whole franchise hasn’t done that dance, either. They have one win in five combined matches against RBNY and TFC.

New York Red Bulls

Why they’ll win: Frankly, as stated above, because they don’t lose. Jesse Marsch hasn’t overseen a loss in three-and-a-half months, has two legit claimants to MVP honors in Bradley Wright-Phillips and Sacha Kljestan, and have been reinforced by one of the deepest Academy production lines in MLS.

Why they won’t: New York won just three road matches all year, even if it managed 7 draws away from Red Bull Arena. On top of that, this is year No. 20 of MLS, and founding members RBNY have zero titles and one final appearance. Those ghosts could come creeping up to the door.