MLS Week In Review (plus a quick playoff teaser)

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Covering what happened in Major League Soccer’s final round, Week 35 — then it’s time to turn our attention to the “Second season.”

The final round playoff clinchers

Big props to New England and Houston, which needed wins on the final day of regular season action to clinch playoff spots, and stamped “Mission Accomplished” on the thing.

Also wearing the flight jacket beneath the “Mission Accomplished” banner: the New York Red Bulls, whose comprehensive final-day win over Chicago was as meaningful  as it was impressive (see the next item), and also the Portland TImbers. Portland needed a win at Chivas USA to take the Western Conference’s top spot … and Caleb Porter’s team did it with a big flourish in a 5-0 result.

Supporters Shield decided

Congratulations to the New York Red Bulls, who needed just 18 years, 13 managers and hundreds of players to finally win a major trophy. So … nailed it!

Mike Petke’s team clinched the Supporters Shield (awarded to the team with best regular season record) with that mighty win (5-2) Sunday over Chicago.

Yes, that was the team’s very first major piece of silverware. (No truth to the rumor that workers were busy all night at RBNY headquarters actually building a trophy case.)

(MORE: Top story lines for the MLS playoffs)

The Golden Boot decided

With his early strike Sunday against New York, Chicago’s Mike Magee grabbed the Golden Boot — but he didn’t keep hold for long. Vancouver’s Camilo scored once before half and then twice on either side, seizing the league’s final goals leadership in high hat trick style at BC Place. (And putting a little Golden Boot bow on an otherwise humdrum season for his club.) His 22 goals trumped Magee’s total (21) and Montreal’s Marco Di Vaio’s (20).

And a potential MVP lost, too

As for Magee, his breakout season was a superb story for MLS, doing so much to rescue a season gone sideways around Toyota Park … but if may not be enough to get Magee a league MVP. Remember, only one MVP has come from a team that didn’t make the post-season (Dwayne De Rosario in 2011). And since Chicago finished sixth, one spot out of the post-season …

D.C. United’s dubious records – yuk!:

With its loss on Sunday, D.C. United sealed the statistical deal on what the eye test showed us all along: that this team was absolutely awful. Historically awful, in fact. The club set MLS all-time season records for fewest wins (just three for United this year, “beating” the old record by one) and worst goal difference (-37 this year, also setting the record by one goal). More on it here from Richard Farley.

Clint Dempsey gets one

It took him nine games, but the Sounders big summer signing (and the league’s highest wage earner) scored his debut goal for the Sounders in the league’s final regular season game. He came into the match with no goals and no assists in eight previous 2013 matches.

The goal that wasn’t — more controversy

Periodic calls for goal line technology arrive in the form of a close call along the line, between the pipes. But the one missed late Sunday in Seattle? Not. Even. Close.

Omar Gonzalez’s header off an LA Galaxy corner kick was a goal. Period. End of story. No “didn’t get a good angle” or any of that. Officials on site blew this one. More about that one here.

Weekend’s best goal

Thierry Henry has scored just three goals since July, but there can be no denying that that the Red Bulls’ fabulous Frenchman still has that “something special” about him. How else to talk about his first-half bit of awesome, chesting a ball inot the air (and away from a defender) with one touch, and then volleying splendidly into the corner with his second touch. Here it is:

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And now …. the MLS Playoffs

More on the MLS playoffs later today at ProSoccerTalk

For now, here are the matchups, with the single elimination matches set for Wednesday or Thursday:

  • East: Montreal Impact vs. Houston Dynamo

— Winner hosts New York Red Bulls this weekend in first leg conference semifinal

— New England hosts Sporting Kansas City this weekend in first leg conference semifinal

(MORE: MLS Eastern Conference playoffs are set)

  • West: Colorado Rapids at Seattle Sounders

— Winner hosts Portland Timbers this weekend in first leg conference semifinal

— Real Salt Lake hosts LA Galaxy this weekend in first leg conference semifinal

(MORE: MLS Western Conference playoffs are set)

The playoff schedule ahead:

Conference elimination matches (4th place vs. 5th place), Wednesday and Thursday

Conference Semifinals, Leg 1: Nov. 2-3 (Sat.-Sun.)

Conference Semifinals, Leg 2: Nov. 6-7 (Wed.-Thurs.)

Conference Finals, Leg 1: Nov. 9-10 (Sat.-Sun.)

Conference Finals, Leg 2: Nov. 23-24 (Sat.-Sun.)

MLS Cup: Dec. 7 (Sat.)

FIFA subjects 2026 Morocco World Cup bid to fresh scrutiny

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Morocco’s World Cup bid is facing fresh scrutiny this week with the arrival of another delegation from FIFA after an initial task force found deficiencies in the proposals for the 2026 tournament.

In a downbeat conclusion to the visit by the FIFA inspectors last week, Morocco’s bid leader acknowledged it had to improve the quality of the submission made to FIFA in March because inadequacies were identified by football’s governing body.

[ MORE: UCL semifinals predictions ]

The previously unplanned second inspection of Morocco is an indication of the more rigorous process introduced by FIFA following criticism in 2010 that World Cups were awarded to the riskiest nations in 2018 (Russia) and 2022 (Qatar).

There will also be closer scrutiny of human rights of the bidders before the vote on June 13 when Morocco is currently due to be taking on a joint challenge from the United States, Canada and Mexico.

The Associated Press revealed last week Morocco did not declare its anti-LGBT law to FIFA in the human rights risk assessment included in the bid book. The documents – along with the North American submission – will now be scrutinized for any gaps by human rights experts.

“That process involves an expert third-party assessment of the robustness of the human rights content of both bids that will directly inform the administration’s own evaluation,” Rachel Davis, who sits on FIFA’s human rights advisory board, told the AP.

“We are confident that the process will result in a fair assessment of the human rights situation in all four countries involved in the bids, and a roadmap for how to deal with any deficiencies that FIFA will then require the successful bidder to commit to.”

Davis, who is managing director of the Shift human rights organization, said an evaluation of the human rights in the bidding nations will be included in a report to the FIFA Council, which will also assess the verdict of the evaluation task force. A bid with low scores can be blocked by the council from advancing to a vote of up to 207 football nations at the FIFA Congress on June 13.

While Morocco has said it needs to spend almost $16 billion on infrastructure for the 48-team World Cup, including building or renovating all 14 stadiums, North American does not require any tournament-specific building work. Morocco bid president Moulay Hafid Elalamy said at the end of the FIFA inspection that officials “made some remarks on the conditions of some of the stadiums.”

The new batch of technical staff being deployed from FIFA HQ to Morocco did not make a similar follow-up visit to North America after the task force inspected the rival bid’s facilities this month.

“Following the visit of the 2026 bid evaluation task force to Morocco last week, it was decided to have an additional working visit this week to complement the initial analysis of the task force and clarify some aspects of the bid,” FIFA told the AP.

Rob Harris is at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

More AP World Cup coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/WorldCup

Watch Live: Everton v. Newcastle

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Everton host Newcastle United on Monday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) with the Toffees and Magpies both sitting pretty in midtable.

[ LIVE: Stream Everton-Newcastle ]

Sam Allardyce and Rafael Benitez have both been around the block a few times but at the moment Allardyce is under pressure and Benitez is working miracles with four wins on the spin as the newly-promoted Magpies have stayed solid defensively all season.

In team news Everton start Tosun, Walcott and Bolasie in attack with Wayne Rooney in midfield.

Newcastle make one change with Islam Slimani making his first start for the Magpies as he comes in for Dwight Gayle.

LINEUPS

Everton

Newcastle United

UEFA Champions League semifinal predictions

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With the semifinals of the UEFA Champions League to kick off over the next few days, let’s take a look at both games and predict which teams will make it to the final in Kiev on May 26.

[ MORE: Champions League scores

Liverpool or Roma? Real Madrid or Bayern Munich?

Here’s the lowdown as two eagerly anticipated games take center stage across Europe.


Liverpool vs. AS Roma
First leg: Apr. 24, 2:45 p.m. ET at Anfield
Second leg: May 2, 2:45 p.m. ET at Stadio Olimpico

This should be one heck of a tie with defending optional for both teams but both have very different ways of playing. Jurgen Klopp will unleash the fluid trio of Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino on an often brittle Roma defense but the Italian giants have a giant in their own up top in the shape of Edin Dzeko. How Virgil Van Dijk and Liverpool’s defense deal with the threat of Dzeko will likely decide the outcome of this game. Liverpool will look to feed off the famous Anfield atmosphere to wrack up a big first leg lead before they head to Roma for Leg 2, and I fancy Salah to blow his old team away in the first leg. Liverpool to advance 4-2 on aggregate.

Bayern Munich vs. Real Madrid
First leg: Apr. 25, 2:45 p.m. ET at Allianz Arena
Second leg: May 1, 2:45 p.m. ET at Santiago Bernabeu

A proper heavyweight clash as Bayern and Real do battle knowing that whoever wins will be the favorites in the final. Cristiano Ronaldo is in the form of his life (again) after a slow start to this season and Zinedine Zidane’s side made hard work of it against Juventus in the last round but are on course for a third-straight UCL trophy. As for Bayern, they have been in imperious form and you feel like Robert Lewandowski can get the better of Real’s center backs. Expect this to be a tight game with extremely high quality from both teams. Real being at home in the second leg is a big advantage. Real Madrid to advance 3-2 on aggregate. 

Cologne’s Hector extends contract despite likely relegation

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COLOGNE, Germany (AP) Germany defender Jonas Hector has shunned reported interest from Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund by extending his contract with Cologne – despite the club’s almost certain relegation from the Bundesliga.

Cologne, eight points from safety with three games remaining, says its 27-year-old captain has signed a two-year extension to 2023 instead of using a release clause in his contract.

Hector, who has been at the club since 2010, says, “It wouldn’t have been a problem to switch to another club after this season but it didn’t feel right for me. I belong to Cologne and want to tackle the new season with the team and the fans behind us.”

Cologne sporting director Armin Veh says Hector’s decision is, “a great signal for the team, the club and our fans.”