Day: October 22, 2013

Los Angeles Galaxy v Sporting Kansas City

Round 35 in MLS begins tomorrow; what’s happening mid-week in league and Champions League play

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Every team in Major League Soccer plays a 34-game regular season schedule … so “Round 35” is something like the 7th-and-a-half floor from Being John Malkovich. It’s just weird.

But let’s push past it. Because it will be fascinating, with lots of moving parts.

It all starts Wednesday as Chivas USA begins wrapping up its latest campaign to forget in Utah, up against Real Salt Lake, a club still hoping for a Western Conference Crown. Jason Kreis’ club won’t get it without at least a tie, as a single point will move the men from Rio Tinto alongside Portland for top spot in the West.

A win Wednesday in suburban Sandy will put pressure on Portland when the Timbers visit this same Chivas USA club to wrap up the regular season.

Here’s a little more on the Goats visit to Real Salt Lake.

The bulk of Major League Soccer’s, ahem, 35th round, happens Saturday (four games) and Sunday (five games). The full schedule is here.

(MORE: ProSoccerTalk’s MLS Weekly rankings) 

Four MLS clubs are also involved in CONCACAF Champions League … and it really comes at the worst possible time.

For instance, Houston Dynamo manager Dominic Kinnear has some tough personnel decisions to make. His club travels to Panama to face Árabe Unido on Thursday with a tournament quarterfinal at stake. A draw will do for Houston, but it’s hard to imagine Kinnear running out bunch of first-choice selections. Not when his team will at RFK Stadium three nights later, and the Dynamo need a draw and probably even a win just to make the playoffs.


Before that, Sporting Kansas City takes on Olimpia of Honduras, also with a Champions League quarterfinal berth on the line. A draw at Sporting Park will also suffice for Peter Vermes (pictured) and his team team, which will get a day to recover before flying East for a match Saturday at PPL Park against Philadelphia. Sporting Kansas City has the best chance of nicking the Red Bulls for Supporters Shield if New York slips up against Chicago, but it would take an SKC win in suburban Chester.

(MORE: The MLS coaching carousel is about to get crazy!)

About the time that one is ending Wednesday, San Jose will kick off against CD Heredia. Interim manager Mark Watson and his team have one more MLS match, but they are out of the playoffs. So, all Buck Shaw eggs will be in the CONCACAF basket; a win will put the Earthquakes into next year’s tournament quarterfinals, helping to salvage something from a 2013 campaign that went oddly sideways.

San Jose was the fifth MLS Supporters Shield winner to miss the playoffs the following season.

Finally, the LA Galaxy travel to El Salvador to face Metapan. Thanks to big results early in group stage, Bruce Arena’s team can roll out all the reserves, safely through to the quarters. All things considered, Robbie Rogers, Landon Donovan, Omar Gonzalez and other Galaxy starters won’t get any closer to El Salvador than the nearest Salvadoran restaurant. (Although one fairly prominent reserve, Robbie Rogers, coming off a 22-minute shift Sunday against San Jose, is apparently on the team charter.)

By the way, the Galaxy still has plenty to play for in that season finale against Seattle, as we already know.

MLS Disciplinary Committee has a big decision ahead regarding Seattle’s Clint Dempsey

Clint Dempsey

Major League Soccer’s disciplinary committee is in a bit of a pickle. It’s about Clint Dempsey and an incident in Saturday’s match against FC Dallas, one televised nationally on NBC.

Watch the first-half incident (below), where Dallas’ Peter Luccin earns a yellow card for tripping Dempsey. But then watch as the Sounders’ U.S. international kicks his opponent from the ground.’s Simon Borg, on his excellent, weekly review of the iffy, the dodgy and the controversial among MLS refereeing decisions, said it deserved a straight red. I’m not quite as certain, but it’s certainly worth talking about.

When it comes to retaliatory kick-outs just like this one, I always go back to the most famous of reds. David Beckham (back when he was just David Beckham, and not “global soccer icon David Beckham) was famously thrown out against Argentina. In a World Cup elimination match, no less, at World Cup France ’98. And his kick-out packed less menace than Dempsey’s.

Here’s that one, in case you haven’t seen it.



Back to Major League Soccer’s Disciplinary Committee, and to its impending pickle:

For me, this probably isn’t enough to issue a retroactive red. But there is something there, enough to be considered. And the DC appears to be in a “can’t-win” situation on this one.

If they suspend Dempsey, mark that down as “huge blow” to Seattle in a match they are desperate to win, preferring not to go hang-dogged into the playoffs on a seven-game winless skid. Plus, as we talked about yesterday, teams are fairly desperate to avoid those fourth- and fifth-place positions.

(MORE: Why teams are desperate to dodge fourth- and fifth-place)

Seattle already has depleted attacking forces, and Dempsey’s absence would pour more injury woe into CenturyLink Field.

On the other hand, if the DC passes on issuing action here, there will surely be cries of favoritism, an “unseemly lean toward the one of the league’s favored sons and toward the league’s highest-paid man,” that kind of stuff. It’s a tough one.

Here’s the moment in question:


Why Supporters Shield is so important to the Red Bulls

Red Bull Arena 2

Everyone wants to win Supporters Shield. Some prominent voices in the game have suggested the honor (for best regular season record in MLS) should be held in higher regard than MLS Cup.

But it would mean even more to the New York Red Bulls, who have one little hoof on that bad boy going into the final weekend.

Simply put – and outrageous as it sounds – New York has won so precious little in its time with Major League Soccer.  Hard to believe, but this would be the organization’s first – Its one and only! – significant trophy in 18 years of existence.

Honors, such that they are? There was the MLS Cup runner-up medal in 2008, when Sigi Schmid’s Columbus Crew took down a New York team that made its way rather surprisingly into the league final. And then there was … well, no, that’s about it.

U.S. Open Cup crowns? Nope. (But the team was an Open Cup runner-up back in 2003.)

As for the Atlantic Cup, the trophy awarded to regular season series winner between New York and D.C. United? No … let’s not even go there. It’s a swell rivalry, but that’s not a major trophy.

There were two regular season conference crowns, but that’s barely recognizable as an MLS “achievement,” particularly considering that for one of those seasons (the 2000 campaign), New York only had to finish better than three other clubs.

Let’s hope they didn’t have a banner raising ceremony for that one.

So there has been a remarkable and embarrassing lack of hardware for a club that exists in the nation’s largest media market – and one afforded a shady leg up by the league office whenever possible in those early years. By the way, while awaiting its first major trophy, the organization has gone through 13 coaches, more than a dozen legitimately high profile stars, nine general managers and three owners. How are those for contrasting numbers – 0 major trophies versus 25 coaches, GMs and owners?

Now New York is the only club that controls its Supporters Shield fate. Mike Petke and crew will raise the trophy with a win over Chicago this Sunday on national TV (Spanish-language UniMas). A tie might even be enough, or possibly even a loss (although that seems unlikely).

The entire run-down of playoff-clinching scenarios along with the Supporters Shield scenarios are here from

UEFA Champions League roundup: Atlético still perfect; Dortmund still elite; Chelsea exerts control (video)

Diego Costa, Heinz Lindner
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After three rounds in Champions League’s groups E through H, only one perfect team remains. Arsenal, Barcelona, and Schalke all came into the day’s games without a blemish, but each dropped points, Arsenal and Schalke doing so at home.

Atlético Madrid, however, is the competition’s first team to reach nine points, and given they’ve played two of their three games on the road, they’re in a particularly strong position on top of Group G. After their 3-0 win today in Vienna against Austria Wein, Diego Simeone’s team has a five-point lead over second place Zenit St. Petersburg, with their home match against Austria in two weeks giving the Colchoneros a chance to punch their ticket in the knockout round.

It was also a big day for former champions Chelsea and Borussia Dortmund, both of whom climbed back to the top of their groups. With their 3-0 win over Schalke, Chelsea are in back in control of Group E, while Borussia Dortmund’s 2-1 win in North London not only pulled them even with Arsenal, it reminded everybody that a small downturn in form isn’t enough to leave BVB vulnerable to most of Europe. Even in fourth gear, Dortmund were able to beat England’s leaders.

Here’s what else happened Tuesday in UEFA Champions League.

[MORE: Full-time snapshots – the numbers from today’s UCL action.]

Group E: Schalke (Germany) 0-3 Chelsea (England) [REACTION]

What happened: Fernando Torres’s fifth minute goal proved the game winner, even if Schalke spent a half looking set to pull it back. After intermission, however, Chelsea got a second from Torres and a match-sealing goal from Eden Hazard, giving the visitors a relatively easy three points.

Hows, Whys, and Whatfors: In hindsight, we had no reason to believe this would go any other way, given the form the two teams carried into this match. Chelsea was thriving, having gone 5-0-1 in their last six, while Schalke had entered another minor swoon. Perhaps Chelsea’s loss to Basel left lingering questions, but after today’s performance, there’s no doubt the team has moved forward. They’re clearly this group’s best side.

Group E: Steaua Bucharest (Romania) 1-1 Basel (Switzerland)

What happened: If it wasn’t for an Iasmin Latovlevici error, Steaua may have claimed their first win of the tournament, the left back’s errant pass setting up Marco Streller for Basel’s only score. A late goal from substitute Leandro Tatu, however, gave the hosts a well-deserved point, dealing Basel their second straight setback.

Hows, Whys, and Whatfors: In the big picture, this is a good result for Basel, who got a point on the road at the champions of Romania. Within Group E’s dynamics, however, this is a setback, dropping points to a team that may end up swept by Chelsea and Schalke. That’s the tough life Steaua were drawn into, but it’s also the unfortunate reality of Basel’s knockout stage hopes.

Group F: Arsenal (England) 1-2 Borussia Dortmund (Germany) [REACTION]

What happened: From minutes 30 to 80, Arsenal were the better side, equalizing through Olivier Giroud and nearly going up through Santi Cazorla. At each end of the game, however, Dortmund found goals, taking advantage of Arsenal errors with scores from Henrikh Mkhitaryan (16′) and Robert Lewandowski (82′). Dortmund claims three huge points on the road.

Hows, Whys, and Whatfors: If Arsenal were a younger team, you’d chalk this up as a learning experience, but not only have these players accumulated a wealth of Champions League knowledge, they played Dortmund two years ago. Instead, this was a measuring stick for England’s leaders and perhaps another reminder to us. Being one of the Premier League’s best hasn’t told us much about Manchester United, Manchester City, and Arsenal’s abilities to threaten in Europe.

Group F: Marseille (France) 1-2 Napoli (Italy)

What happened: A convincing if controlled performance from the visitors saw José Callejon break through before half, Duván Zapata finishing the job early in the second. André Ayew found consolation late, but without a point through three rounds, l’OM have little hope of being anything more than spoilers in this group.

Hows, Whys, and Whatfors: Coming off their first league loss of the season, Napoli gave an encouraging, confident performance. Though it took them 42 minutes to go up, they looked the better team throughout. For Marseille, the loss was their fourth straight, the team winless since defeating Lorient on Sept. 28. Still fifth in France, the team would be wise to shift full attention to their league campaign.

Group G: Porto (Portugal) 0-1 Zenit St. Petersburg (Russia)

What happened: Porto midfielder Hector Herrera was carded in the fifth and sixth minutes, leaving the hosts down a man for the game’s final 84 minutes. For 79 of those, they not only survived but threatened, recording 22 shots. Five minutes from survival, however, a cross from former Porto star Hulk found substitute Alexander Kerzhakov for the game’s only goal, handing the Dragons their second home loss of the campaign.

Hows, Whys, and Whatfors: Any match played 11-on-10 for 84 minutes is an aberration, but the consequences remain the same. Zenit, who failed to take advantage of a 10-man Austria Wein in round two, get three points that revitalize their knockout stage hopes. Porto, on the other hand, sit third in their group having yet to visit Madrid or St. Petersburg.

Group G: Austria Wein (Austria) 0-3 Atlético Madrid (Spain)

What happened: The day’s most lopsided match saw the Colchoneros go up early through Raul Garcia. Diego Costa, making his first appearance in this year’s tournament, added the other two goals, leaving Atlético perfect through three rounds.

Hows, Whys, and Whatfors: Atleti are replicating last year’s performance from Málaga, where a Spanish team nobody cared about raced to an easy win in their group. After today’s results, Diego Simeone’s team is five points clear and could possibly clinch first in Group G in the next round.

Group H: Milan (Italy) 1-1 Barcelona (Spain)

What happened: A strong start from the hosts came good when Robinho beat Gerard Piqué, found Kaká before getting the ball back for the day’s first score, taking advantage of an error by Javier Mascherano. Transition off a Christian Zapata giveaway in the 24th minute led to Lionel Messi’s equalizer, the final goal of the match. Milan, who held only 28 percent of the ball, held out for the draw.

Hows, Whys, and Whatfors: A typical Barcelona game produced a not-so-surprising result, though that doesn’t mean there aren’t positives for Milan. The point helps consolidate their position as Group H’s team most likely to join Barcelona in the knockout round, while the performance was one of their most resilient of the season.

Group H: Celtic (Scotland) 2-1 Ajax (Netherlands)

What happened: A tough day for Ajax defender Stefano Denswil, who conceded the first half penalty that pushed Celtic in front before deflecting the Beram Kayal shot that beat Fraser Forster early in the second half. Nir Biton’s sending off and Lasse Schöne’s late consolation brought life to the match’s final moments, but Celtic still claimed the points they needed to move third.

Hows, Whys, and Whatfors: Ajax look strong enough to reverse this one in Holland (where they’ll likely be healthier than they were today), but that result will only help Milan’s hold on second place. If there’s going to be a challenger to this group’s assumed top two, Celtic need to get a result next week – something that will make their final meeting with Milan that much more important.

Full-time snapshot: Shots, possession don’t produce wins on Champions League Tuesday

AC Milan v FC Barcelona - UEFA Champions League
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UEFA Champions League continued its early trend on Tuesday, with a tournament that’s already produced an unexpectedly high number of goals providing 19 across the day’s eight matches. While that doesn’t come close to the highs we’ve seen on previous match days (with one day’s results reaching 30 goals), we finished the day without a nil-ni. Alexander Kerzakhov’s late goal in Portugal assured us of that.

The numbers behind those goals proved just as interesting:

  • Only two teams that led their game in shots won their Tuesday matches. Napoli out-shot Marseille 11-9 en route to a 2-1 win in France while Atlético out-shot Austria Wein 13-6 in Austria. Overall, the day’s leaders in shots went 2-4-2.
  • Changing the focus to shots on goal, we see a different picture, with Borussia Dortmund (out-shot overall) managing to put more attempts on target than Arsenal in their 2-1 victory. Teams that posted more shots on goal  won three times, only losing once (3-1-2).
  • As for possession, only two teams kept more of the ball and won on Tuesday: Zenit against a 10-man Porto, and Atlético against an out-gunned Austria. Overall record for the more possessive side: 2-4-2.

Here are all the major indicators from the day’s action in Champions League, where Porto recorded the most shots (22) while Barcelona were their typical ball-hogging selves. All numbers are via Opta and

Group Home-Road Score Shots Shots
on Goal
E Schalke-Chelsea 0-3 13-10 5-4 60-40
E Steaua Bucharest-Basel 1-1 18-14 6-4 43-57
F Arsenal-Borussia Dortmund 1-2 9-8 2-3 58-42
F Marseille-Napoli 0-2 9-11 2-4 52-48
G Porto-Zenit St. Petersburg 0-1 22-15 5-5 42-58
G Austria Wien-Atlético Madrid 0-3 6-13 1-6 44-56
H Milan-Barcelona 1-1 6-17 2-6 28-72
H Celtic-Ajax 2-1 10-15 4-4 31-69