Omar Cummings, Andrew Driver

Huge MLS playoff upset: Houston Dynamo stuns New York, advances into the Eastern Conference finals

6 Comments

The New York Red Bulls, so traditionally blessed with world class talent, will have to wait yet another year for its first championship. And they will have one more year to considering another opportunity squandered … more or less a club hallmark.  

What looked like the high profile club’s best hope in years went all wrong Wednesday at Red Bull Arena, where the small budget, never-say-die Houston Dynamo did what it has always been so good at doing: managing the playoffs with a steely confidence and finding their way through against the odds.

The teams were level at 1-1 after 90 minutes Wednesday; the highly unlikely Dynamo’s series-winner came from Omar Cummings 14 minutes into extra time, as the visitors prevailed in the Eastern Conference semifinal total goals series, 4-3.

Houston will meet the Sporting Kansas City in the conference finals, with a trip to MLS Cup 2013 on the line. Houston has eliminated Sporting KC from the playoffs in the last two seasons, including the 2011 Eastern Conference finals.

New York’s Red Bull Arena, now four years old, has yet to host a playoff win. In fact, the Red Bulls have not won a playoff game at home (in any venue) since 2005.

Houston, the Eastern Conference’s fifth seed, was a big underdog in the series, with a total roster salary of roughly a third of the Red Bulls’ payroll.

(MORE: Houston Man of the Match, Omar Cummings)

Boniek Garcia, a Honduran international and Houston’s most creative attacker, started the sequence with a fabulous pass that put Kofi Sarkodie through on the right side. Cam Weaver headed Sarkodie’s cross back across the goal mouth, where Cummings was in position to poke home from close range. Luis Robles got over to the ball, but knocked it out just after it had crossed the line.

New York’s Brandon Barklage had slipped at the far post, allowing Weaver an unchallenged header.

The first half was all Red Bulls, but the moments that mattered were an exchange of blunders.

New York was certainly closer to scoring all along. Henry put Bradley Wright-Phillips through for the game’s first big chance, but his little shot in the 12th minute past Tally Hall lacked the pace and Corey Ashe was there to clean up before the ball could roll into goal.

Wright-Phillips was off target again in the 19th when Eric Brunner slipped, leaving the Englishman with a free header off David Carney’s cross. Then came the game’s first blunder.

Of all the reasons Houston cold have gone behind – something special from Thierry Henry, fatigue from 5th game in 14 days, etc. – what happened Wednesday was surely a toughie. Hall, who wasn’t at his best on the two goals conceded Sunday in Houston, fumbled a benign cross from the right side; Wright-Phillips cleaned it up easily for a 1-0 lead in the 23rd minute.

The blunder at the other end arrived off the right foot of Red Bulls center back Ibrahim Sekagya, who was laboring with an apparent hamstring issue. He won a ball near the top of the penalty area but made the jayvee mistake of playing a flat ball across his own goal. Davis picked off the pass and calmly slotted past Luis Robles.

It was Davis’ third playoff goal, but his first in the post-season since 2007 (which happens to be the last time Houston won MLS Cup).

(MORE: Tally Hall rallies from early blunder to save Dynamo night)

Caution ruled much of the second half, with Houston clearly more interested in taking the game. What chances that were all came at the Red Bulls attacking end. Henry’s twisting header in the 65th caressed the crossbar. Eric Alexander came in to create some trouble. Henry very nearly won it a minute into stoppage time with an audacious overhead kick, which deflected out for a corner kick.

Houston wanted to play counter-attack soccer (the way New York did so well Sunday in Texas) but just isn’t as good at that game as the Red Bulls. So Robles was rarely bothered in the home team’s goal – not until the telling moment, that is.

Solo: USWNT finding new identity ahead of Olympic qualifying opener

Leave a comment

With the U.S. women’s national team set to kick off their CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying tournament on Wednesday (Watch live, 8:30 p.m. ET online via Live Extra) against Costa Rica in Frisco, Texas, goalkeeper Hope Solo knows the reigning World Cup and Olympic champs will have to reinvent themselves.

She’s been here before.

[ STREAM: Olympic qualifying live ]

Following the retirement of several key players — Abby Wambach, Shannon Boxx, Lauren Holiday and Lori Chalupny among them — after their 2015 World Cup win in Canada, Jill Ellis’ team has been trying to create a new identity over the past few months.

It’s something that’s easy to say but a lot tougher to do.

“It’s really interesting. I’ve been on this team for quite some time and I’ve heard many times ‘let’s create a new identity. We have to find our own identity, this team moving forward,” Solo said. “It’s something I’ve heard quite a bit but it’s never easy to do. We’ve lost some big name players, a lot of players have retired. We have young players coming in and the Olympics are right around the corner. We have to find a way to play to the best of our ability with some older players, brand new players and everybody in-between. It’s not easy but it is not foreign to us.”

Despite all the upheaval the USWNT are still the favorites to win their fourth Olympic gold on the spin at Rio 2016 this summer.

Placed in Group A for CONCACAF qualifying for the 2016 Olympics — the top two teams from the eight-team tournament advance — alongside Costa Rica, Puerto Rico and Mexico, the U.S. should breeze into the knockout rounds where they will likely face old foes Canada in the final.

Remember, over the next 11 days you can stream all 15 games live online via NBC Sports Live Extra with up to four games also shown on NBCSN.

Here’s the full schedule as Solo and Co. aim to seal their spot in the 2016 Olympics with minimum fuss.

Leicester fan will win $50,000 from $10 bet if Foxes win Premier League

Leicester’s Jamie Vardy celebrates after scoring against Manchester United, his eleventh consecutive goal in the Premier League, during the English Premier League soccer match between Leicester City and Manchester United at the King Power Stadium, Leicester, England, Saturday, Nov. 28, 2015. Vardy becomes the first man to score in 11 consecutive English Premier League soccer matches after finding the back of the net against Manchester United today.(AP Photo/Rui Vieira)
AP Photo
Leave a comment

As their odds of winning the Premier League title continue to be slashed, tales of Leicester City fans set to win an incredible amount of cash continue.

The latest story is a beauty.

[ VIDEO: Ferrell – “I got Mourinho fired” ]

On the eve of the 2015-16 Premier League season one Leicester City fan, Chloe Cope, decided to put $10 on her side to win the title. The odds were 5,000 -1. So, with the Foxes five points clear at the top of the table with just 13 games to go, the first league title in Leicester’s 132 year history would not only bring unbeliavable amounts of jubilation to the East Midlands city but also plenty of cash for its fans. $50,000 for this Miss Cope, in fact.

The story gets even better. Check this out.

[ MORE: Report – Mourinho tells friend he will take over at United

Miss Cope’s flutter on her beloved Foxes was actually her first-ever bet. She opened up an online betting account last summer in the UK with Sky Bet and was rewarded a free $30 bet which she used to make a bet that Leicester would finish in the top six this season. That’s virtually assured so she will win another $637.

The two bets she made back on August 7 2015 are shown in the Tweet below via Jacqui Oatley.

A few other Leicester fans are also in line to win plenty of cash, but this one seems to have the most riding on it.

Will big changes in Europe threaten UEFA Champions League’s future?

FC Barcelona, 2014-15 UEFA Champions League winners
AP Photo
Leave a comment

With talk of the UEFA Champions League being threatened by a “super league” of some sort, that notion has been undermined by some of Europe’s top teams.

For now.

[ MORE: What is USMNT’s best XI?

On Wednesday in Paris the European Clubs’ Association (ECA) met at its 16th annual congress and confirmed it will seek to change the way the UEFA Champions League and Europa League is run when the current term of agreement cycle expires at the end of the 2017-18 season.

With over 200 member clubs the ECA represents many of the biggest teams on the planet with Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United, Juventus, Bayern Munich and Chelsea all included.

In the past there has been a growing notion for a European “super league” to replace the Champions League and that perennial European giants should not have to rely on qualifying for Europe via their domestic competitions.

That is one of the factors currently being discussed by the ECA, as they released the following statement after the congress in France this week.

“In light of the upcoming 2018-21 UEFA Club Competition Cycle, the clubs are currently discussing the future of UEFA’s main club competitions, namely the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Europa League. As in the past, the clubs are in constant dialogue with UEFA to further develop and improve both competitions. All ECA Member Clubs have gathered in informal working groups to exchange initial thoughts and ideas.”

[ MORE: Reports claim Mourinho to United is “done deal”

The current ECA chairman and chairman of Bayern Munich, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, also spoke about the need to revamp both club competitions.

“I believe both ECA and UEFA are interested in an evolution of the competitions. Stagnation means regression,” Rummenigge said. “We have always jointly looked into ways to further develop and improve the competitions. It is important to find a good and balanced solution for everyone involved.”

So, overall, it seems that for now both ECA and UEFA is willing to work together to improve the current format of the UCL rather than go their separate ways and the ECA member clubs beginning their own competition, as had been mooted by Rummenigge and other high-ranking officials in the past.

What changes could be discussed for the 2018-21 UEFA Club Competition Cycle?

For me, it seems like it would be a good idea to somehow reduce the number of UCL teams who enter the group stage. That would help it preserve its elite status and potential shave two matchdays off the schedule to lessen the pressure on teams. Currently 32 teams qualify in eight groups of four teams and a total of 78 teams from across UEFA’s 54 member nations qualify for the UCL each season. 46 fall by the wayside in the qualifying rounds and many of those teams are too small to ever dream about getting anywhere near the group stages.

[ PHOTOS: New PL logo released

Perhaps just having one playoff round to make the UCL and limiting the number of spots for nations with lower UEFA coefficients is the way to go. That way those nations would back their teams competing in the Europa League and that competition will gain more prestige as a direct correlation between teams performing well in the Europa League will lead to certain nations being granted places in the UEFA Champions League. That’s the case now, but adding extra emphasis to the Europa League should be a big part of the next cycle.

The biggest situation the ECA seem to want to sort out here is how some of Europe’s biggest teams did not qualify for the UCL. The overriding notion seems to be that the ECA wants them to qualify each year. Even though the likes of past UCL winners Liverpool, AC Milan, Inter Milan and Borussia Dortmund weren’t involved in Europe’s elite competition this season, did the tournament really suffer because of it? In terms of gate revenue, perhaps, but it seems that the ECA is conflicted about the best way to get as many of its member teams involved in the elite competition as possible.

Another idea I’m just throwing out there could be to hand teams a spot in the UCL based on their current coefficient which takes into account their previous performances in UEFA Club Competitions. Perhaps four spots per season could be reserved for teams who don’t qualify for the UCL domestically, but have the highest coefficient of the non qualifiers. Just a thought.

There’s clearly plenty to sort out but it seems like — for now, at least — we haven’t seen the end of the UEFA Champions League. But tweaks will need to be made to stop it regressing.

VIDEO: Will Ferrell is feeling guilty – “I got Jose Mourinho fired”

Leave a comment

Sometimes there’s just something you have to admit.

[ MORE: Mourinho to United “done deal”

It sounds better if you say it out loud and get it off your chest. This is one of those moments for comedian, actor and now part-owner of a Major League Soccer franchise, Los Angeles FC, Will Ferrell.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Joining the Men In Blazers this week the self-proclaimed soccer nut joked that he was the one who actually got Jose Mourinho fired by Chelsea.

For real. Watch the video above to see Ferrell’s admission as he explains exactly what happened.

[ MORE: Arsenal, Spurs to fight for the PL title? ]

Just seven months after leading Chelsea to the Premier League title, Mourinho was dismissed by the west London club in December.

NOTE: Severe tongue-in-cheek mode activated.