Real Salt Lake earns place in MLS Cup final, downs Portland 1-0 to win Western Conference

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PORTLAND, Ore. — For the second time in team history, Real Salt Lake is into the MLS Cup final, their fourth win of the year over Western Conference top-seed Portland putting the Claret and Coblet into their first championship game since 2009. With a 29th minute goal from Robbie Findley, RSL earned a 1-0 win at JELD-WEN Field, finishing their 5-2 aggregate victory over the Timbers.

Real Salt Lake, the West’s second seed, will now face the Eastern Conference’s runners up on Dec. 7, Sporting Kansas City set to host MLS Cup after their 2-1 win Saturday over the Houston Dynamo.

RSL came into the final leg of the team’s two-legged playoff with a two-goal edge won Nov. 17 in Utah. Then, goals from Chris Schuler, Findley, Devon Sandoval and Javier Morales had RSL up 4-1 before a stoppage time header from Portland’s Frederic Piquionne built on Will Johnson opening goal, cutting the Timber’s deficit to two after of the ahead of Sunday’s match at JELD-WEN.

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Real Salt Lake’s Kyle Beckerman celebrates his team’s 1-0 victory, clinching the Western Conference title and a place in the 2013 MLS Cup final. (Photo: Getty Images.)

An opening half that saw Real Salt Lake generate the first good chance (a Devon Sandoval header hit down and over the bar) left Portland finding net first, though Mamadou ‘Futty’ Danso’s goal was waved off when Rodney Wallace was called for a foul while playing Will Johnson’s corner kick. For nearly 30 minutes, the teams alternated control of the match, Portland holding more of the ball while both teams put three shots toward goal.

(MORE: RSL Man of the Match, center back Nat Borchers)

The back-and-forth half broke Real Salt Lake’s way in the 29th minute thanks for a failed clearance by Pa Modou Kah after a Nick Rimando goal kick. A ball that bounced to the edge of the Timbers penalty area was headed straight to Javier Morales, whose touch pass to Luis Gil sent the 20-year-old toward goal. The midfielder’s 20-yard strike was parried by Donovan Ricketts but left in front of the right post. There, Findley beat Kah and Michael Harrington to the rebound for the game’s opening score.

Four minutes later, Portland appeared to have equalized only for another Futty Danso goal to be waved off. Cleaning up a Diego Valeri shot from the middle of the box, Danso slid the rebound under a sprawling Nick Rimando only to see the assistant referee’s flag was raised, the Timbers’ defender offside ahead of this teammate’s shot.

Down one at halftime, the Timbers opened the second half on the front foot, earning a number of haf-chances and fouls deep in Real Salt Lake’s end. But after 20 minutes, RSL had weathered the storm, and Portland’s chances became more isolated as their guests started to see more of the ball.

(MORE: What we learned from Real Salt Lake’s Sunday win in Portland)

Come the 75th minute, Real Salt Lake was holding out, collapsing deep into their own half, leaving Portland to try their luck beating Nat Borchers and Chris Schuler on crosses. Rarely tested as the clock ran out, Rimando kept second consecutive clean sheet in Portland, his team’s first win of the year at JELD-WEN putting the 2009 champions back in the MLS Cup final.

It was RSL’s fourth win overall over the Timbers in 2013, who went winless in six games against Salt Lake this year. Now Jason Kreis’s team moves on to face Sporting Kansas City, a team they’ve had far less success against. In the team’s only meeting Ike Opara scored in the 97th minute at Rio Tinto Stadium, giving Sporting a 2-1 win.

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.

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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.”