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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.)

WATCH: Walcott compares Wenger speech to Pacino

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What if Tony D’Amato of American football was Antoine Dumond of the world’s game?

Theo Walcott says Arsene Wenger inspired him to make that comparison after a recent pregame speech, a fiery number that convinced the Arsenal attacker how badly his manager wanted to win the Premier League.

[ MORE: Chinese Super League for Giovinco? ]

Speaking to Arsenal TV for a series of questions on former and current teammates — and Wenger — Walcott shared a pretty funny tidbit:

“The manager did a speech the other day. I won’t be able to do the speech because it was that good.”

“It genuinely reminded me of the film ‘Any Given Sunday’. I actually said that to him, and I was little bit embarrassed.’ You remind me of that film, that speech,’ I didn’t know if he had seen the film.

“Just showing the passion and how hard, and how long it’s been as well. He really wants it, like all of his players.”

Here’s the thing, though: Walcott doesn’t give us the answer as to whether Wenger has seen “Any Given Sunday”. And how about you, Theo, do you see yourself in Willie Beamon or Cap Rooney?

CAS rejects Serbia’s challenge to Kosovo joining UEFA

Supporters of Kosovo's national soccer team raise Kosovo flag during their international friendly soccer match at Adem Jashari Stadium in Mitrovica, Kosovo on Wednesday, May 21, 2014. Kosovo host Turkey for their second friendly match of the country's national football team. Turkey won the match 6-1. (AP Photo/Visar Kryeziu)
AP Photo/Visar Kryeziu
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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) The Serbian soccer federation’s appeal against Kosovo joining UEFA has been rejected by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

The court ruled that Kosovo met the standard of UEFA entry rules because it is “recognized by the majority of the United Nations member states as an `independent state.”‘

[ MORE: Chinese Super League for Giovinco? ]

Serbia argued that Kosovo, which joined European soccer’s governing body last May despite not being a U.N. member, should be blocked.

CAS decided that because “there is no formal recognition of countries by the U.N.,” then acceptance of Kosovo’s statehood by most countries was valid for the soccer application.

European soccer federations voted 28-24 in favor of Kosovo’s entry to UEFA after Serbia led opposition to its former province.

Serbia and its allies, including Russia, have not recognized Kosovo since the Balkan republic declared independence in 2008.

UEFA’s decision led to Kosovo joining FIFA one week later, and being fast-tracked into a 2018 World Cup qualifying group.

Still, Ukraine hosted Kosovo in neutral Poland in October, because its government also does not recognize Kosovo’s statehood.

Dempsey returns to training after second heart procedure

SAN JOSE, CA - JULY 28:  Clint Dempsey #2 of MLS All-Stars chases after the ball up field against the Arsenal FC during the second half of the AT&T MLS All-Star Game at Avaya Stadium on July 28, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
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Many were concerned about USMNT and Seattle Sounders attacker Clint Dempsey‘s future when he underwent a pair of heart procedures in 2016.

The 33-year-old Dempsey took another step to allay those fears when he hit the pitch for Seattle’s first day of preseason camp.

[ MORE: How will U.S. line up vs. Serbia? ]

The Sounders won the 2016 MLS Cup despite the absence of Dempsey, and his return would further strengthen the side. General manager Garth Lagerwey said Dempsey won’t be rushed, but could be nearing a return.

EFL Cup second legs preview: Liverpool, Hull City aim for comebacks

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 11:  Divock Origi of Liverpool battles with Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg (L) and Ryan Bertrand of Southampton during the EFL Cup semi-final first leg match between Southampton and Liverpool at St Mary's Stadium on January 11, 2017 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images
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Manchester United and Southampton are 90 minutes from Wembley Stadium.

Hull City and Liverpool would prefer to change that.

After first legs a fortnight ago, the EFL Cup semifinals play out on Wednesday and Thursday ahead of Feb. 26’s final at Wembley.

[ MORE: How will U.S. line up vs. Serbia? ]

First up is Southampton‘s trip to Liverpool, with the Saints nursing a 1-0 lead from the first leg at St. Mary’s. The Wednesday kickoff sees Saints hoping the Reds’ poor run of form will continue at Anfield. Liverpool has one win 2017, and that was an FA Cup replay victory over Plymouth Argyle.

Southampton boss Claude Puel knows the Reds will be ornery:

“We know Liverpool. They lost against Swansea at home, and I am sure they will want to react against us, but it’s important to keep all of our focus about our play.

“We know they are fantastic, a great team, with great players, but you saw in the first leg we have the ability to produce a strong game against them. It will be important to make a strong game – a perfect game – I think.”

Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United got a terrific result in the first leg at Old Trafford, scoring twice and holding Hull City from scooping up a valuable road goal. Juan Mata and Marouane Fellaini scored the goals in the 2-0 win, but the KC Stadium will be rocking on Thursday as the Tigers look to reverse the result.

United midfielder Michael Carrick says the Red Devils will play as if they are starting from scratch:

“It’s definitely not over, we all know that. We are telling ourselves that. I think we’ll be pretty much full strength and will approach the game like it’s a 0-0 and starting from scratch.

“It’s dangerous when you go in there defending a lead to tell yourself this result will do or that result will do, or we can afford to do this or that.”