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

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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.

Mkhitaryan holds key in United’s deal for Sanchez

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This is getting very, very interesting. The late bid from Chelsea and Man City’s exit from the deal aside, there’s been another twist in this saga.

Manchester United’s move for Alexis Sanchez appeared to be getting closer to completion but the agent of Henrikh Mkhitaryan, the suggested makeweight in the $48 million deal between United and Arsenal, has thrown a spanner in the works.

Mino Raiola has told The Times that United’s deal for Sanchez won’t go through unless his client agrees to join Arsenal.

“Manchester United is not going to sign Sanchez unless Mkhi agrees to join Arsenal.”Raiola said. “Sanchez is part of the Mkhi deal, not the other way around.”

Wow. Okay. He’s really doing this. Now, Mkhitaryan is a good player. You aren’t named the best player in the Bundesliga and signed by Man United if you’re not. But we all know the Armenian playmaker has struggled this season and for the opening half of the 2016-17 campaign after arriving from Borussia Dortmund.

His agent suggesting that Mkhitaryan is the main prize in this deal is obvious from his point of view as he protects the interest of his client, but the rest of the world knows Alexis is the man everyone wants in January.

It is said that Mkhitaryan (who was left out of United’s squad for the 3-0 win against Stoke on Monday due to the uncertainty around his future) would prefer a return to Dortmund but the Bundesliga giants aren’t said to be willing to pay his wages.

Arsenal were interested in Mkhitaryan in the summer of 2016 but he decided to join United instead, but it would appear that getting $48 million and Mkhitaryan for Sanchez, a player who has less than six months to run on his current contract, is a good deal for the Gunners.

Mkhitaryan holds the key to United’s Sanchez deal and it doesn’t seem like he’s in any rush to sort out his future. Could his delay hand Chelsea some time to try and sew up their own deal for Sanchez?

The transfer window shuts in just over two weeks. Tick-tock indeed.

Donovan joins Leon, ready to “win championships” in Mexico

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MEXICO CITY (AP) Landon Donovan, the most accomplished player in American soccer history, is talking about winning championships with his new team in Mexico.

Donovan is returning from retirement for the second time in three years, this time with Club Leon. He was cheered loudly by hundreds of fans during a brief ceremony Monday, an unusual site not seen for Leon since Mexican great Rafael Marquez signed with Leon in 2014.

“I’m very excited, I did not expect that, it was amazing, now I just want to play and be on the field,” Donovan said in Spanish at a news conference. “It is Monday and very late and people are here. Now I need to talk to the coach to set a plan because it’s been over a year since my last professional game and I will need time, but I’m motivated, I want to win championships.”

The 35-year-old Donovan arrived in Mexico last week while rumors swirled about a possible comeback. He announced Friday night he was coming out of retirement to play in Mexico for the first time in his career.

“I don’t believe in walls, I always wanted to play in Mexico because I grew up in California playing with Mexicans since I was like 8 or 9 years old,” said Donovan, who’s the career scoring leader for the U.S. team and in the MLS.

Former U.S. players Marcelo Balboa and Eric Wynalda have played for Leon. Currently, William Yarbrough is the starting goalkeeper for a Leon team that has won seven league titles.

“I spoke with Marcelo Balboa about the city and also with Omar Gonzales (who plays for Pachuca) to know more about the country,” Donovan said. “I also spoke a lot with (former Puebla player) DaMarcus Beasley because I wanted to know as much as possible. I know that the league is different to the U.S. and to England, I think the style of play suits me, I used to play with Mexicans so my style is more Latino and I think I can be successful. That’s important for me”.

Leon reached the quarterfinals last season and will be a stronger side for the Clausura tournament after signing Giles Barnes (Orlando City), Emanuel Cecchini (Malaga) and now Donovan.

Despite not playing for nearly two years, Donovan has created a lot of expectation. The main sports networks in Mexico devoted plenty of air time to the move, and Donovan’s jersey sold out at the stadium before a game against Toluca on Saturday.

“I think it’s a good move, he’s a very skilled player, just remember how he used to made life difficult for us when he played for the U.S. team against Mexico,” said Tigres coach Ricardo Ferretti, who briefly managed the Mexican team before the arrival of Juan Carlos Osorio.

Donovan returned to the LA Galaxy of MLS in September of 2016 following a 21-month retirement and appeared in nine games. He hasn’t played professionally since Nov. 6, 2016.

Donovan played in three World Cups: South Korea and Japan 2002, Germany 2006 and South Africa 2010. He also played in six Gold Cups and won four titles. He scored 57 goals playing for the U.S. team and 145 in the MLS.

Donovan has done broadcast work since retiring and was rumored to be considering a run for U.S. Soccer Federation president. Donovan announced in November that he would not seek the position.

Landon Donovan unveiled by Club Leon

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Landon Donovan was unveiled to Club Leon fans at Estadio Leon on Monday night.

The former USMNT star and longtime LA Galaxy forward came out of retirement for the second time to sign with the Liga MX side this past weekend. Leon finished 7th in the Apertura table, losing to Tigres in the first round of the playoffs. They currently have a perfect six points through the first two Clausura matches, sitting second in the table with a +3 goal differential.

Fans were allowed into the stadium for free, and they packed the lower stand on one end, waving USA flags and holding large “L” and “D” cutouts, and the fans faced a massive board on the field that read “I DON’T BELIEVE IN WALLS.” Chants of “U-S-A” rang out through the stadium before the unveiling.

ESPN reporter Tom Marshall pointed out that the last time the club had such a large event to welcome a player, it was in January of 2013 when the club brought Mexico captain Rafa Marquez in from the New York Red Bulls.

Donovan will don the number 20 for Club Leon.

Report: Rimando to return to RSL

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USMNT veteran and current MLS free agent Nick Rimando will reportedly return to Real Salt Lake for a 12th season with the club, according to a report by Goal.com’s Ives Galarcep.

The report states he received interest on the free agent market from both Los Angeles clubs, but the 38-year-old will return to the club he has made 350 appearances for.

Rimando came to Real Salt Lake from D.C. United in 2006, and has made at least 24 league appearances in every single season since. He has also made 22 playoff appearances for the club across eight playoff campaigns.

He last received a USMNT cap in January of 2017 in a friendly against Serbia, but was part of the 2018 World Cup qualification squad throughout 2017 backing up Tim Howard. Overall, Rimando has played 22 times for the US national team, with 14 goals conceded and nine clean sheets.

The report also states that Kyle Beckerman will return to Rio Tinto Stadium, with the veteran also testing the free agent waters but deciding to re-sign. The pair will be two of just four players left on the roster from the 2009 MLS Cup winning team.