MLS Cup: What were the three best finals in history?

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All aboard!

The week of the MLS Cup final is here folks, Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake square off at Sporting Park this Saturday for the 2013 crown.

Can you believe it?

Both sides have had a tremendous campaign this year and many expect Sporting KC and RSL to put on a real show of attacking soccer in front of a sold-out home crowd in KC on Saturday afternoon. With the potential for a monumental showdown on the menu, we thought it was certainly worth taking a trip down memory lane to remind ourselves of the best MLS Cups over the past 18 years.

Here’s my top three MLS Cups since it all began in 1996, do you agree?

  • MLS Cup ’96 – D.C. United 3-2 LA Galaxy (OT) – Has there been a better final than the rain-soaked occasion at Foxboro in October? That’s a debate for another day, but this game certainly had it all as D.C. United took home the first-ever MLS Cup by dashing the Galaxy’s dream as the Californian club raced into a 2-0 as Eduardo Hurtado and Chris Armas put them in a commanding position just after half time. But two tallies in the final 19 minutes from Tony Sanneh and Shawn Medved took the game to extra-time as over 34,000 fans cheered on both teams in the wind and rain. Bruce Arena’s D.C. side then won the game in overtime as USMNT defender Eddie Pope etched his name into MLS history. What a game to start it all off.
  • MLS Cup ’03 – San Jose Earthquakes 4-2 Chicago Fire – Under the beaming sun in Carson, California, the San Jose Earthquakes won their second MLS Cup in three years as they downed the Fire with an offensive explosion. A certain Landon Donovan stole the show with MVP honors for his two goals, yet this game wasn’t a forgone conclusion as it ebbed and flowed between the two stacked sides. San Jose went 2-0 up early as Ronnie Ekelund and Donovan struck but Chicago came back into the game after half time as DaMarcus Beasley made it 2-1. Richard Mulrooney regained San Jose’s two-goal advantage but four minute later Chris Roner put through his own net to make it 3-2 as the Fire felt a second MLS Cup was waiting in the wings. They had the perfect chance to draw level but Pat Onstad saved Ante Razov’s penalty kick and Donovan sealed the 4-2 victory for the ‘Quakes late on.
  • MLS Cup ’09 – LA Galaxy 1-1 Real Salt Lake (RSL won 5-4 on PKs) – There weren’t as many goals in this game as the other memorable MLS Cup finals I’ve mentioned but there was shed loads of drama. David Beckham, Landon Donovan and co. were all set to waltz right into Qwest Field and wipe the floor with Jason Kreis’ RSL side… it didn’t pan out that way at all. The two Western Conference foes locked horns and an intense battle played out in Seattle. LA struck first just before the break through Mike Magee but with 25 minutes left Robbie Findley equalized for RSL to take the game to overtime. No goals were  scored in OT and for the second time in MLS Cup history, the winner was decided by penalty shootout. Nick Rimando emerged as the hero for RSL as he saved three LA spot kicks and after Edson Buddle’s missed, veteran Robbie Russel stepped up to score the winner and give Salt Lake their first-ever MLS Cup in just their fifth year of existence.

Herrera: Ibrahimovic competitive drive insatiable in everything

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Ander Herrera is dishing the goods on his Manchester United teammates while on Spain duty this week, and was asked about Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

The Swede is a fierce competitor on and off the pitch, which Herrera jokes is an ever-present challenge to personal patience.

[ MORE: Deulofeu laments early Messi talk ]

It almost seems like there’s a bit of envy that Ibrahimovic can charge into public comments the way Herrera goes into tackles.

From Marca:

“[Ibrahimovic] is a genius, he’s very intense because he wants to win everything, even football-tennis,” Herrera said to Radio MARCA.

“He assumes this role of doing or saying what he likes in front of the media because he does not care, he can say that he’ll score 30 goals or is the best because he can afford to.”

There’s certainly something to stature when it comes to saying what you feel (though on the other hand, being egotistical is rarely controversial. It’s not like Ibrahimovic is often railing on controversial soccer or social issues).

We’re sure there are plenty of players across all sports, casual and professional, who don’t understand hyper-competitive teammates, but we love a guy who doesn’t turn it down when it comes to on-the-field activities. Hopefully Ibrahimovic is the Jaromir Jagr of soccer.

Gerard Deulofeu calls early Messi comparisons “detrimental”

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Players often like to brush off speculation or criticism in the moment by claiming they don’t read stories written about themselves, but we all know better.

Former Everton winger Gerard Deulofeu confirmed that sentiment by citing specific comparisons he remembers as a youth with Barcelona, citing stories that compared him to Lionel Messi. Now 23 years old, Deulofeu reflects on those early comparisons and wishes the media wasn’t so quick to jump to conclusions about his career.

“In the end, [the comparisons] were more detrimental than beneficial,” he told weekly magazine Forza Milan. “Normally I don’t read newspapers, but that headline I remember well. It created too much expectation among Barcelona fans. There’s only one Messi.”

With expectations high, Deulofeu made just six senior team appearances without a goal or assist before loan spells at Sevilla and Everton saw him out of the club permanently. His time at Goodison Park was up and down as well, with his ability to dazzle a crowd punctuated by long spells of invisibility, failing to earn himself a consistent starting role.

Deulofeu is now on loan from Everton at AC Milan, looking to revitalize his career. He has started every league game since arriving, and has picked up a goal and three assists in 11 matches. There is speculation he could end up in Milan on a permanent basis this summer, but he’s not focused on that right now.

“My future? It’ll be seen to,” Deulofeu said. “My sights are in the present, from experience I know it’s best to leave the past behind and focus on the present. We’ll see what happens in the future. For now, I just want to enjoy the good time that I‘m having at Milan.”

Barcelona plan Cruyff tribute at club’s training center

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) One year after his death, Barcelona says it will name the future stadium at its training center after Dutch great Johan Cruyff.

The new stadium at Barcelona’s training center just outside the Catalan city will be called “Johan Cruyff Stadium” in honor of the club’s former player and coach.

Barcelona says in a statement that “the most emblematic building in the facility where future Barca players are coached is to be named after somebody who played such a central role in fostering youth talent at the club.”

Barcelona also says it will commission a “commemorative sculpture” of Cruyff, who died of lung cancer on March 24 last year at age 68. The statue will be placed at Barcelona’s main Camp Nou stadium.

Cruyff is largely credited with launching Barcelona’s era of trophy success, both as a player and a coach.

As a player, Cruyff joined Barcelona midseason in 1973 and led the middle-of-the-table team to its first national title in a decade.

He later returned as a coach and guided Barcelona to four consecutive Spanish leagues from 1991-94 and the club’s first European Cup in 1992.

“I think the tributes are very warming,” said Cruyff’s son, Jordi Cruyff. “It sort of changes the sadness that we might feel as family to lose a father, a husband and a grandfather. It changes to a certain kind of pride to understand that he left something behind.”

MLS Snapshot: Defense optional — Crew SC outlast Timbers, 3-2

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The game in 100 words (or less): As far as teams who get out in the open field and score the lion’s share of their goals on the counter-attacking, there aren’t many MLS teams better than Columbus Crew SC and the Portland Timbers. The two sides met Saturday night at MAPFRE Stadium, site of their MLS Cup 2015 clash, and lived up to their reputations. Of the five goals scored, two were notched on flat-out counters and two more came to pass through quick transitional movements. Portland (9 points) dropped their first points of the season, falling 3-2 to goals scored by Justin Meram, Ola Kamara and Niko Hansen, while Crew SC have back-to-back wins and find themselves level on points (7) with the New York Red Bulls with each side having played four games.

[ MORE: Saturday’s MLS (afternoon) roundup ]

Three Four Five moments that mattered

4′ — Asprilla opens the scoring early on — 2017 Crew SC defending, same as 2016 Crew SC defending.

11′ — Meram fires home the rebound for 1-1 — One of Portland’s biggest weaknesses last season was their set-piece defending. Looks like not much has changed.

19′ — Higuain feeds Kamara for a 2-1 lead — The question mark that Portland will eventually have to answer is this: How much, if at all, have they improved defensively in the open field? Based on this Crew SC counter-attack, the answer might be “not much.”

45+3′ — Adi recovers to make it 2-2 — Everything Adi does these days (even the bad things, like this first touch) ends up being good.

84′ — Hansen cleans up at the back post for 3-2 — Jake Gleeson made a spectacular reaction save to deny Kamara his second goal of the game, but the rookie, making his MLS debut, was in the right place at the right time.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Men of the match: Wil Trapp

Goalscorers: Asprilla (4′), Meram (11′), Kamara (19′), Adi (45+3′), Hansen (84′)