Young’s blast, Evra’s insurance see Manchester United into League Cup semifinals

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Second half goals from Ashley Young and Patrice Evra completed a surprisingly easy day at the Britannia Stadium for Manchester United, the Red Devils’ 2-0 victory over Stoke City putting David Moyes’ team into the League Cup semifinals. Holding their opponents without a shot on goal, United move one step closer to their first major piece of silverware under their new boss, with the Potters providing little opposition to a team that only sits five places above them in the Premier League.

On Wednesday, however, the divide may as well have been that which existed between last year’s league winners and a relegation battler, with a slow start from the visitors giving way to a comfortable victory. Though Manchester United’s early control produced few good chances, the favorites eventually adjusted to their host’s passive if dogged play, the game’s final goal the result of the Red Devils having finally figured out Mark Hughes’s side.

As a result, Manchester United move into the League Cup semifinals, where they were drawn against Sunderland, the Black Cats having eliminated Chelsea on Tuesday. In the other half of the draw, Manchester City, 3-1 winners on Tuesday at Leicester City, will face West Ham United, who won at White Hart Lane on Wednesday.

[MORE: Late Jarvis, Maiga goals see West Ham past Tottenham, into League Cup semifinals]

[MORE: League Cup draw: Manchester rivals stay on course to meet in final]

The game started with a much-changed United team in a slightly unfamiliar formation, David Moyes choosing a three-man midfield to play behind Danny Welbeck, who was alone up top. With Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia flanking the young England international, United nearly took an early lead, Welbeck’s play wide right to Young ending with the winger’s fourth minute shot into outside netting.

Initial troubles with surprise, high pressure from Stoke devolved into United holding more of the ball as the Potters regressed into a more passive posture. But without Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie, or Shinji Kagawa in the team, the Red Devils lacked a way to unlock their hosts, a better safe than sorry save from Thomas Sørensen in the 22nd minute the closest thing United had mustered to a threat on target.

source: AP
Near the half-hour mark at the Britannia, Mark Clattenburg pulled Stoke and Manchester United players from the field as a momentary hailstorm halted the game. (Photo: AP)

As the half-hour mark approached, Stoke-on-Trent became Istanbul, with referee Mark Clattenburg pulling the teams off the field as the Brittania came under a flash hailstorm. While the storm fell short of the weather that forced the cancellation of last week’s Galatasaray-Juventus Champions League match in Turkey, visibility had begun to be impaired by the density of the falling pellets. Amid objections from a few players, including Stoke’s Jon Walters, the players retreated to their dressing room, returning five minutes later once the storm had passed.

The 15 minutes before halftime saw Manchester United resume a somewhat benign control of the ball, possession they were able to hold above the penalty area rarely bothering Sørenson. Stoke were able to create as many problems for United going back the other way, though their crosses in transition were equally tepid. Come minute 45, the players were again returning to the locker rooms scoreless, United left ruing a stoppage time misplay by Jonny Evans that should have converted a corner kick into a goal.

Seven minutes into the second half, a sudden blast off the right boot of Ashley Young cut through all of United’s middling efforts, firing the Red Devils in front. Off a restart just inside the Stoke half, Young played a long one-two with recent substitute Javier Hernández, a connection that was more a missed touch from the Mexican international than the product of clear intent. Regardless, Young was able to run onto a ball at 20 yards out just before ‘Chicharito’ had a chance to make amends, the winger’s blast giving Sørensen little chance before rocketing past the Stoke keeper into goal.

For Young, it was the culmination of one of his most active days of the year, though the shot was still a surprisingly strong one. Occasionally, soccer gives a moment that causes a collective pause – stadium, announcers, and players momentarily hesitating to consider what they’d just seen. On a play that looked broken because of Hernández’s poor touch, Young nailed that pausing-giving rocket, leaving Sorensen no time to react to a ball few imagined would head toward goal. Instead, the shot burst off the winger’s laces and into the back of the net, the large space between ball and left post rendered meaningless by the sure speed of the blast.

In the 78th minute, Evra provided insurance, though Stoke’s defending played the bigger part in Manchester United’s second goal. Circulating at the edge of their attacking third, much as they’d done throughout much of the first half, United eventually worked the ball left to Young, who carried it toward the flag, dragging two defenders with him. This gave Evra room to cut toward the penalty area, and when Young’s return pass failed to draw a defender, the France international had a surprisingly easy opportunity from the middle of the box. Twelve minutes before full time, the match was effectively over, Stoke having allowed United a 2-0 lead.

Holding the Potters without a shot on target, it was an unexpectedly easy day for the Red Devils, one that was reflected in the lack of urgency they showed throughout the match. But given the changes Moyes made to the team, one that was playing without many of their most creative players, the victory could also be seen as a confident, assured one. Although the first half was pointless and the weather threatened to end the spectators’ misery, the second half was a telling one, with Manchester United easing into the League Cup’s semifinals.

Five players LA FC should consider selecting in MLS Expansion Draft

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Los Angeles FC will take another big step towards its entry into Major League Soccer next season on Tuesday when the 2017 MLS Expansion Draft commences.

Bob Bradley and his side will have the opportunity to select up to five players during the Expansion Draft, however, the team can only choose one player per club.

[ MORE: Rimando, Pontius among MLS free agents ]

MLS sides had to select their list of 11 protected players by Sunday evening in order to put them off limits from LA FC. Any player not protected by their club is available for selection.

After exploring some of the names of those left unprotected, PST takes a look at five players LA FC should select in Tuesday’s Expansion Draft.

Maxime Chanot — (CB from New York City FC)

He’s 28 years old, and helped build one of the better central defensive partnerships in MLS last season with Alex Callens, prior to his injury. NYCFC could be banking on the fact that his injury will prevent him from getting back to his previous level, but there’s no question Chanot is the sort of player that could anchor the LA FC back line for five-plus seasons.

David Ousted — (GK from Vancouver Whitecaps)

Made 90-plus saves in four of his five seasons with the Whitecaps, and overall one of the top goalkeepers in MLS. The Denmark native has recorded 36 shutouts in his time with the Cascadia side, and helped guide the Whitecaps to the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference in 2017. With Real Salt Lake not picking up Nick Rimando’s contract, the veteran USMNT shot-stopper could also be an option for LA FC, however, Ousted is younger and arguably better at this stage of his career.

Marco Urena — (FWD from San Jose Earthquakes)

The 27-year-old may not be on many people’s radars, but the Costa Rican had five goals and three assists last season for the Quakes. Urena was tied for second on the team in goals, and provides a solid veteran player on a new LA FC side. While Carlos Vela will be the focal point up front for the newcomers, Urena is the sort of player that could player a very important supporting role.

Osvaldo Alonso — (MID from Seattle Sounders)

The Designated Player contract could scare LA FC away because Alonso is 32 years old, but this is the type of guy you want in the center of the park. For nine seasons, Alonso has anchored the Sounders midfield, and he does all the dirty work that could very well help the transition of the expansion side’s back line in 2018.

Chris Tierney — (DEF from New England Revolution

Similar to Alonso, Tierney isn’t going to be the sexiest pick, but he’s had the MLS experience, and he’s likely a player that could move on from a team where he’s spent his entire career. His versatility in the midfield and defensively allows Tierney to be a highly-coveted asset, especially as a player that is capable of delivering a quality cross from down the left flank.

Rimando, Pontius among 40 MLS players eligible for free agency

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Ahead of Tuesday’s Free Agency period, Major League Soccer released a list of 40 eligible players on Sunday.

Veterans over the age of 28 and who have played at least eight seasons in MLS qualified for the list, as well as players out-of-contract and those who didn’t have their options picked up.

[ MORE: Stanford knocks off Indiana in extra time to win third straight College Cup ]

MLS was busy earlier in the day on Sunday when several clubs announced blockbuster trades, including Kei Kamara’s move to Vancouver and expansion side Los Angeles FC’s addition of Walker Zimmerman.

A number of notable MLS veterans are included on the following list, such as Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando, Chris Pontius of the Philadelphia Union and New York Red Bulls defender Sal Zizzo.

NOTE: The MLS Expansion Draft will also take place on Tuesday at 2 p.m. ET as LA FC has the opportunity to select up to five players ahead of its inaugural MLS season in 2018.

Below is the full list of candidates for this offseason’s free agents.

Player Previous
Club
Status
Alexander, Eric HOU Out of Contract
Alston, Kevin ORL Out of Contract
Barrett, Chad RSL Option Decline
Beasley, DaMarcus HOU Out of Contract
Beitashour, Steven TOR Out of Contract
Boswell, Bobby ATL Out of Contract
Burling, Robert COL Out of Contract
Carroll, Brian PHI Retired
Clark, Ricardo HOU Option Decline
DeLaGarza, AJ HOU Option Decline
Deric, Tyler HOU Option Decline
Duka, Dilly NY Option Decline
Evans, Brad SEA Out of Contract
Francis, Shaun MTL Option Decline
Franklin, Sean DC Option Decline
Gordon, Alan COL Option Decline
Harrington, Michael CHI Option Decline
Harris, Atiba DAL Option Decline
Harvey, Jordan VAN Out of Contract
Hernandez, Jason TOR Out of Contract
Jacobson, Andrew VAN Out of Contract
Knighton, Brad NE Out of Contract
Kronberg, Eric MTL Out of Contract
Larentowicz, Jeffrey ATL Option Decline
Loyd, Zachary ATL Option Decline
Moor, Andrew TOR Out of Contract
Morales, Javier DAL Out of Contract
Neagle, Lamar SEA Out of Contract
Nyarko, Patrick DC Out of Contract
Pontius, Chris PHI Out of Contract
Reynish, Kyle ATL Out of Contract
Rimando, Nick RSL Out of Contract
Rogers, Robbie LA Retired
Rolfe, Chris DC Retired
Saunders, Joshua ORL Option Decline
Schuler, Chris RSL Option Decline
Seitz, Christopher DAL Out of Contract
Wingert, Chris RSL Out of Contract
Zemanski, Ben POR Out of Contract
Zizzo, Sal NY Option Decline

The 2 Robbies podcast: Man City steps towards the title, Merseyside recap

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Robbie Mustoe and Robbie Earle dissect Derby Day, where Man City set the Premier League single season all time consecutive winning streak against rivals Man United, Jurgen Klopp had a bad day at the office against the blue half of Merseyside and Arsenal stutter again away from home.

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

All of the The 2 Robbies content can be accessed by clicking on this link:

Click here for The 2 Robbies archive ]

Listen to the latest pod by clicking play below.

Follow them on Twitter @The2Robbies

La Liga & Serie A: Suarez, Messi pace Barca; AC Milan tops Bologna

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A roundup of Sunday’s action in Spain and Italy’s top flights…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s La Liga coverage ]

Villareal 0-2 Barcelona

The visitors struggled to break down Villareal’s back line throughout the opening 45 minutes, but the Blaugrana were aided by Raba’s second-half dismissal on Sunday. From there, Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez helped Barca pick up its 12th win of the season and restore the club’s five-point lead over Valencia.

Messi’s goal — his 525th for the club — matched Gerd Muller’s Barca record on Sunday, while the finish was his 18th in all competitions this season.

Real Betis 0-1 Atletico Madrid

Saul Niguez scored his second goal of the La Liga season to help give Atletico an important road victory against Real Betis. Atleti now sits third in Spain’s top flight, but remains six points behind league leaders Barcelona.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Real Sociedad 0-2 Malaga
Levante 1-2 Athletic Bilbao


AC Milan 2-1 Bologna

Giacomo Bonaventura scored twice on Sunday to give AC Milan a victory at the San Siro. The midfielder opened the scoring inside the opening 10 minutes, before Simone Verdi’s finish in the 23rd minute leveled the match for Bologna. Bonaventura tabbed his second goal of the day in the 76th minute to give the Rossoneri a win and keep the team inside the top seven. Milan currently sits on 24 points through 16 matches.

 

Elsewhere in Serie A

Chievo Verona 0-0 Roma
Napoli 0-0 Fiorentina
SPAL 2-2 Hellas Verona
Udinese 2-0 Benevento
Sassuolo 2-1 Crotone