Goalkeeping drama leaves hometown hero between pipes for rivalry match

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SEATTLE — One man’s momentary lapse of judgment is another man’s window of opportunity.

Seattle Sounders goalkeeper Michael Gspurning inexplicably handled the ball outside his penalty area and saw a red card in the 85th minute of his team’s 2-0 win over the Colorado Rapids on Wednesday. Seattle native and English Premier League returnee Marcus Hahnemann entered the match, sealing advancement from the Western Conference play-in game.

“I think I knocked someone’s hot dog and beer out of their hands [on the first goal kick], but other than that, it was OK,” Hahnemann said after the game.

Nobody disputed referee Silviu Petrescu’s decision to show Gspurning a straight red card. The 6-foot, 5-inch Austrian goalkeeper said he misplayed the bounce on the long ball toward Edson Buddle, and he thought he was inside the penalty area when he caught the ball.

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Colorado’s Clint Irwin could have met the same fate earlier in the game, when he charged out of his penalty area and collided with Clint Dempsey on a breakaway. In his case, though, defender Drew Moor provided cover to reduce the likelihood that Dempsey would have scored if he were not impeded. Dempsey’s heavy touch — away from the open goal — also played a part in Irwin only receiving a yellow card.

Gspurning wasn’t as lucky, as Buddle streaked toward him alone, with no defender in sight.

“Marcus will be ready, and that’s all that matters,” Gspurning said. He didn’t shy away from questions, taking two rounds of interviews in the locker room on the incident. “Soccer is a team sport, not just from 11 guys. It’s more or less the whole squad.”

He and Hahnemann fought for playing time down the stretch, with head coach Sigi Schmid deciding to make a change from the usual No. 1, Gspurning, after consecutive massive losses to the Rapids, 5-1, and the Vancouver Whitecaps, 4-1, toward the end of the regular season.

The two games Hahnemann played left him feeling sharp and fit for his newfound opportunity in the playoffs.

“Hahnemann is an experienced goalkeeper,” Schmid said. “I feel very confident — always have — that we have two of the better goalkeepers in the league, so we don’t lose anything.”

Gspurning’s automatic one-game suspension means the 41-year-old who last started an MLS playoff match in 1998 will start on Saturday, when the Sounders host the Portland Timbers in the first leg of the conference semifinals. Barring a catastrophic performance, Schmid could stick with Hahnemann in goal for the rest of the playoffs.

“It’s everything,” Hahnemann said, reflecting on what the opportunity means to him. “This is my hometown, and a chance to play in the playoffs is amazing. Last year in August, when I came back, I never thought I’d have a chance to play for the Sounders again. Next thing you know, I’ve got a playoff game this year.”

Hahnemann brings nearly two decades’ worth of professional experience into the match, including two World Cup squad appearances and more than 300 games in the Premier League. Having that caliber of player ready to step in makes the transition between players much easier.

“Marcus is a quality goalkeeper,” Schmid said. “It’s not going to be an issue.”

Jonas nets 2 late goals to keep Benfica in title hunt

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LISBON, Portugal (AP) Jonas scored two late goals to lead Benfica’s 3-1 comeback win at Pacos Ferreira on Saturday, keeping it close to Portuguese league leader FC Porto.

Jonas equalized in the 72nd minute and gave the defending champion the lead in the 88th.

[ MORE: Man United-Chelsea meet in giant Sunday PL clash ]

Rafa Silva added a third goal after the host was reduced to 10 men in stoppage time when Gian dos Santos was shown a direct red card.

Luiz Phellype gave Pacos Ferreira the lead in the ninth.

The double increased Jonas’ league-leading tally to 27 goals.

Benfica moved to within two points of Porto before the pacesetter visits Portimonense on Sunday.

Sporting Lisbon is third at five points behind Porto. It hosts Moreirense on Monday.

Orlando City trades defender Jose Aja to Whitecaps for allocation money

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The Vancouver Whitecaps have struck a deal with an Eastern Conference side to help solidify their back line.

[ MORE: USMNT’s Johannsson leads Werder Bremen to win ]

On Saturday, the Cascadia club finalized a deal to acquire Orlando City defender Jose Aja in exchange for $125,000 in Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) for 2019.

Additionally, Orlando could receive another $100,000 in TAM if Aja remains on the Whitecaps roster next season and a 2021 second-round MLS SuperDraft pick if Aja is in Canada for the 2020 campaign.

Aja has made 25 appearances for Orlando since coming to MLS in 2016 from his native Uruguay.

The timing of the deal is intriguing, given Tim Parker’s willingness to exit the Whitecaps ahead of the 2018 MLS season.

PST reported on Thursday that Parker is seeking a move back to the East Coast, and the New York-native is being tracked by several Eastern Conference sides, including the New York Red Bulls, D.C. United and the Montreal Impact.

Parker is considered one of the top American defenders in MLS, and is actively seeking a massive pay raise ahead of the new season, after making just under $100,000 in 2017.

PL Sunday preview: Red Devils battle Chelsea at Old Trafford

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It will surely be one of the biggest fixtures of the season when Manchester United and Chelsea get together on Sunday, and for both clubs a victory could be vital in projecting their form for the rest of the 2017/18 campaign.

Meanwhile, a crucial meeting at Selhurst Park pits teams on opposite ends of the table against one another. Crystal Palace enters the weekend levels on points with 18th-place Swansea, while Tottenham could leap Chelsea for fourth if results go in favor of Spurs.

[ MORE: Liverpool continues to score at lightning pace against West Ham ]

Crystal Palace vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 7 a.m. ET on NBCSN

The injury bug has hit Palace hard as of late, with a total of 12 senior team players being left out of Roy Hodgson‘s squad. The list includes Wilfried Zaha, Yohan Cabaye and Mamadou Sakho, which won’t make things easy against a talented Spurs side.

Tottenham have had a ton of success in this fixture recently, winning the last five encounters and only allowing one goal in the process.

Mauricio Pochettino‘s men have hit the ground running in the second half of the season thus far, picking up a league-high 15 points in the Premier League since the start of 2018.

If there is a saving grace for the Eagles though, it is that Palace has been solid at home this season, and gone unbeaten in nine of its last 10 fixtures at Selhurst.

Manchester United vs. Chelsea — 9:05 a.m. ET on NBCSN

After a pair of draws from the PL sides kicked off their Champions League Round of 16 campaigns midweek, United and Chelsea can now focus their attention back to England; at least for the time being.

Jose Mourinho’s team came away from Seville with a crucial scoreless draw after the hosts tested goalkeeper David De Gea on numerous occasions, while Chelsea were close to pulling out a victory against Barcelona had it not been for a big-time mistake from Andreas Christensen late in the match.

Nonetheless, this is a fixture that always garners significant attention, especially from the Blues, who tend to have a better go of it. United has won just once against Chelsea in their last 14 fixtures, with the lone victory coming last season.

That said, Antonio Conte and his side have failed to exemplify consistency this year, and that includes road matches. The Blues have just two road wins in their last nine attempts across all competitions, which bodes well for the Red Devils.

The good news for Chelsea is the recent form of attacking duo Willian and Eden Hazard. The Brazilian was constantly in dangerous positions up the pitch against the Blaugrana in their recent UCL encounter, nabbing the lone goal for the Blues, while Hazard has scored six times in his last six PL matches.

The 2 Robbies: Unstoppable Liverpool, Man United-Chelsea and more

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In today’s episode, Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe discuss Liverpool’s emphatic win over West Ham (0:17), breakdown an extremely complicated relegation situation where nearly half of the league is in jeopardy of going down (10:05), before closing the show with a preview of tomorrow’s Man United v. Chelsea match (28:10).

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

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