Raul Jimenez, Carlos Salcido

Mexico down to four as América, León, Santos, Toluca advance in playoffs

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Regular season champions Club América came into the Mexico’s Liguilla as favorites to win a second straight title, and after taking a 2-2 result out of Nuevo León last week, Miguel Herrera’s team was on track to make another semifinal. All they needed to do was hold serve today at Estadio Azteca, so when Mexican international Raul Jimenez’s diving header gave the Aguilas a lead in Sunday’s second half, everything was playing out as expected – even more so when Tigres’ defender Hugo Ayala was dismissed three minutes in the 55th minute. Up a man and a goal with just over half an hour to go, the team that cruised to the tournament’s top seed seemed destined to ease through the playoff’s quarterfinal round.

Yet three minutes after going down a man, Tigres were back in the match, a lightning counter attack down their left leaving Alan Pulido to beat Moises Muñóz from near the spot, making it 3-3. América’s better seed meant they had the tiebreaker, but with 32 minutes to play, Tigres had hope. One more counter, a set piece, or just randomness would see them past the superliders.

But just as often as we see goals like Pulido’s build momentum, we see then serve as wakeup calls. On Sunday, having been draw back into a tie with Tigres, the Aguilas  woke up and eventually killed off the bulk of the mach’s final 32 minutes. Still, 10 minutes from time, the favorites were still nearly seen out of the tournament, with Emmanuel Villa’s potential winner nailing the bottom of Muñóz’s post before staying out.

América should have put the match away long before. In the first half, they had their chances to go up through Rubens Sambueza and Jimenez and couldn’t convert. Before Villa threatened to snatch the tie from them, they could have restored their lead yet took the 3-3 scoreline into the final minutes, and beyond the chances, they are just a much better team. Few would have predicted the defending champions would come this close to a quarterfinal exit.

In the semifinals, the competition won’t be as forgiving, but just as Pulido’s goal may have served as a wakeup call, this tie may have opened the Aguilas’ eyes to what lies ahead. With only Muñóz’s woodwork saving them from an unlikely elimination, América may now realize how hard it will be to win back-to-back titles.

Elsewhere

Santos Laguna 3 (6), Querétaro 1 (3)

The Guerreros were given reason to fear last week when two late Isaac Romo goals reduced their three-goal lead to one, but although Romo would add a third in the second half in Torreon, Querétaro would never get back to even footing with second seed. Carlos Darwin Quintero, who scored twice in leg one, added late brace on Sunday, with Oribe Peralta’s opener ensuring Santos held the lead throughout Sunday’s second leg.

León 4 (7), Morelia 0 (3)

The drama Monarcas restored with two late goals in leg one had dissipated by the middle of Saturday’s second half, with three goals in a 13-minute span building on Hernan Burbano’s first half opener to give León the four-goal lead they’d carry until the final whistle.

Whereas León’s defense had been crucial throughout the team’s qualification stage, their goals allowed (14) second to only América’s, Gustavo Matosas’s team found goalscoring depth they never saw in the regular season. While Mauro Boselli’s two goals added to the 13 he found before the playoffs, Léon also got goals from Luis Montes, Elias Hernández (both last Saturday), Burbano, Matías Britos, and José Vázquez.

Set to face Santos in the semifinals, those scoring options will come in handy, should their defense prove as generous as it was in leg one against Morelia.

Toluca 3 (4), Cruz Azul 1 (1)

The lower (fifth) seed, Toluca all but sealed their victory last week, going up 3-0 in leg one. On Saturday, Christian Giménez’s 33rd minute penalty conversion brought La Machina within two, but Guillermo Vazquez’s team never got any closer. Despite finishing the season with four straight looses, Toluca eased into the semifinals, Pablo Velazquez’s 78th minute goal eliminating any doubt the Diablos Rojos would be caught late.

Now the league’s best regular season attack (33 goals ) meets the league’s best defense, though América’s defense will have to return to form if they’re to keep their hopes of repeating alive.

Report: NASL’s New York Cosmos terminate all player contracts

SO KON PO, HONG KONG SAR - FEBRUARY 19:  Daniel Szetela (R) of New York Cosmos and Siu Kwan Chan of South China in action during the 2015 Lunar New Year Cup match between South China and the New York Cosmos at Hong Kong Stadium on February 19, 2015 in So Kon Po, Hong Kong.  (Photo by Victor Fraile/Getty Images)
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As we await the future of both the North American Soccer League and its champion New York Cosmos, another dark cloud arrived regarding both.

Empire of Soccer reports that the Cosmos have terminated all of its player contracts, putting a 2017 season into the neighborhood of improbability.

[ MORE: Atlanta signs second DP ]

New York’s staff is on furlough, and the club has been “on the brink of collapse” for weeks (if not longer).

The USL avoided having its champion collapse by finding new owners for the Rochester Rhinos in the offseason. Will New York be able to do the same?

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U.S. Soccer announces Players of the Year nominees

HARRISON, NJ - JUNE 01:  John Brooks #6 of United States and teammates Clint Dempsey #8,Michael Bradley #4,Geoff Cameron #20 and Julian Green #16 wait for the corner kick in the second half against Turkey during an international friendly match at Red Bull Arena on June 1, 2014 in Harrison, New Jersey.The United States defeated Turkey 2-1.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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U.S. Soccer unveiled the finalists for its top 2016 Male, Female, and youth awards on Monday.

MLS stars Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, and Clint Dempsey are joined by Geoff Cameron and Bobby Wood as top men’s player nominees. The winner will be announced on the eve of Saturday’s MLS Cup Final.

[ MLS: Best XI has historic American low ]

Stoke City’s Cameron and Hamburg’s Wood are the European-based players on the list, while Fabian Johnson did not make the cut. Dempsey has been limited by heart problems, but still found a way to the list.

John Brooks and Christian Pulisic are also notable exceptions, though the latter is a finalist for the younger award.

The five-woman list for Female Player of the Year sees Crystal Dunn, Alex Morgan, Tobin Heath, and Becky Sauerbrunn vying to finish second behind Carli Lloyd (Sorry, we couldn’t resist even with Heath’s incredible season).

The Young Male award promises to be a showdown between Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund) and Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders), though it’s difficult to see the latter edging the former. Also in the frame are Spurs back Cameron Carter-Vickers, Atlanta United teenager Andrew Carleton and U.S. U-17 star Josh Sargent.

The Young Female nominees are midfielders Emily Ogle and Andi Sullivan, defenders Kaleigh Riehl and Karina Rodriguez and forward Ashley Sanchez.

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MLS Best XI has just two Americans (and that’s fine)

FC Dallas defender Matt Hedges, center, heads the ball near Seattle Sounders defender Zach Scott, second from left, in the second half of an MLS soccer playoff match, Sunday, Oct. 30, 2016, in Seattle. The Sounders beat FC Dallas 3-0. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
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MLS released its season’s Best XI on Monday, and it’s the least American bunch in the history of the award.

Some have asked whether this be a concern. The short answer is: As long as you’re not a xenophobe, probably not.

There’s no question the league is better than ever, so in that sense no one should worry that only Matt Hedges and Sacha Kljestan earned nods in the league’s 3-4-3.

[ MORE: Atlanta signs second DP ]

Several times the league saw five Americans in its Best XI, and once it was four, but this year’s duo marks a new low.

MLS Best XI
GK – Andre Blake (Philadelphia Union / Jamaica)
D – Matt Hedges (FC Dallas / USA)
D – Jelle van Damme (LA Galaxy / Belgium)
D – Axel Sjoberg (Colorado Rapids / Sweden)
M – Mauro Diaz (FC Dallas / Argentina)
M – Giovani Dos Santos (LA Galaxy / Mexico)
M – Sacha Kljestan (New York Red Bulls / USA)
M – Ignacio Piatti (Montreal Impact / Argentina)
F – Bradley Wright-Phillips (New York Red Bulls / England)
F – David Villa (New York City FC / Spain)
F – Sebastian Giovinco (Toronto FC / Italy)

Now of course the next question is, “Where do players 12-24 come from?” Let’s make a quick second XI (and include Nicolas Lodeiro despite his half-season status because, well, did you watch any MLS this year?):

GK – David Bingham (San Jose / USA)
D – Ronald Matarrita (New York City / Costa Rica)
D – Laurent Ciman (Montreal / Belgium)
D – Walker Zimmerman (FC Dallas / USA)
M – Osvaldo Alonso (Seattle / USA-Cuba)
M – Darlington Nagbe (Portland / USA)
M – Benny Feilhaber (Sporting KC / USA)
M – Diego Valeri (Portland / Argentina)
M – Nicolas Lodeiro (Seattle / Uruguay)
F – Dom Dwyer (Sporting KC / England)
F – Ola Kamara (Columbus / Norway)

A bit better, huh? And Dwyer could be American in under a year. Next up would probably be several Americans (Dax McCarty, Luis Robles, Michael Bradley, Jordan Morris, Drew Moor).

The idea of better players shouldn’t be about Americans racking up the top spots, rather U.S. players being improved by the level of competition.

Look at the Premier League’s Best XI, the PFA Team of the Year, which had a total of four Englishmen (five if you include English-born Jamaican back Wes Morgan). While some will argue for a cap on foreign players — which MLS has — you don’t mess with what makes it great.

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After latest loss, Hull City gets blunt: “We need help”

MIDDLESBROUGH, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 05:  Curtis Davies of Hull City jumps with Calum Chambers (25) and Victor Valdes of Middlesbrough (26) during the Premier League match between Middlesbrough and Hull City at Riverside Stadium on December 5, 2016 in Middlesbrough, England.  (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)
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Hull City players and staff are not being bashful.

Mired in the drop zone and following yet another loss, this one a relegation six-pointer at the hands of hosts Middlesbrough, Tigers were speaking out on the talent at the KC Stadium.

[ MORE: Match recap ]

Manager Mike Phelan said “hopefully” there will be action by the club in the January transfer window, as the club continues its quest to stay in the Premier League.

Phelan said the club is lacking “firepower”, and veteran defender Charlie Davies put it even more plainly.

From the BBC:

“We need help. We made signings in the summer and they have done their bit but they were all last-minute. We are thin up top and we need someone who can put the ball in the net.”

Hull went through a mess during the summer, with player acquisition problematic and manager Steve Bruce quitting the club. After a hot start led to Phelan getting the job on a permament basis it’s clear that, like Swansea boss Bob Bradley, this isn’t about who’s in the dugout.

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