Houston averaged over 21,000 fans for their two 2012 playoff games. On Thursday, they drew less than 11,000 for their playoff opener. (Photo: AP Photo.)

Not-so-wayback machine: Remembering the 2013 MLS preseason – Eastern Conference version

Leave a comment

We’re three weeks from Major League Soccer’s opening weekend, so expect the preseason hype machine to go into overdrive soon. Particularly as teams return home from their “spring training” locations, the coverage is going to start gathering momentum. As those last spots in squads and lineups are finally nailed down, anticipation for March 8 will build. Before we know it, Seattle and Sporting Kansas City will be kicking off at CenturyLink Field.

Along the way, just remember: A lot of what you’ll hear over the next three weeks will end up wrong. The outlook we have on the 2014 season will quickly change once teams start playing games that force them to adjustments. Once club make their big moves in the summer, squads may barely resemble their March selves.

Those moves, as well as the results, will put a quick end to February’s narratives, not that can’t a little fun looking back on how wrong we were. We’ll get to the Western Conference in a few hours, but for now, let’s just think back on some of the story lines we were focused on last preseason:

[MORE: Not-so-wayback machine: Remembering the 2013 MLS preseason – Western Conference version]

1. Houston Dynamo was an Eastern Conference favorite – Not only was Dominic Kinnear’s team coming off their second straight MLS Cup appearance, but they were about to get full season from Boniek Garcia and Ricardo Clark. What happened: Although the team made the playoffs, they never quite met expectations. The team struggled in the summer, had to deal with both scoring droughts (from Will Bruin, mostly) and defensive problems, and finished fourth in the conference. Sporting Kansas City saw them out of the playoffs in the conference finals.

2. D.C. United was ready to push on – A rebounding team with a young core had a year’s experience under their belts. With Perry Kitchen, Bill Hamid, and Nick DeLeon a year better, United were ready to build upon their second place finish. What happened: Ben Olson’s squad set a record for fewest wins in an MLS regular season (three) while claiming the U.S. Open Cup – a strange, dispiriting season.

3. Could Sporting Kansas City replace Roger Espinoza? – And Kei Kamara (though he briefly returned), and Julio Cesar. Coming off a first place finish in the East’s regular season, Sporting was forced into an offseason restructuring, one that saw Benny Feilhaber, Claudio Beiler, and Oriel Rosell move into the starting XI. Hopes were still high, but Houston loomed. What happened: Sporting dropped a place in the East, finishing second, but the team proved stronger in the postseason. Peter Vermes led Sporting to their second MLS Cup.

4. Toronto still looked like a train wreck – This time last year, Toronto’s biggest additions looked like Kyle Bekker and the midfield version of Julio Cesar. Robert Earnshaw would provide some early-season hope, but a team dig face-plant under Aron Winter couldn’t improve in their first offseason under Kevin Payne. With Danny Koevermans’ return uncertain, Toronto looked destined to take up residence at the bottom of the standings. What happened: They weren’t the worst team in the conference, but it took a historic season from D.C. United to save them from last place. Preseason doubts about TFC’s direction proved well-founded.

5. Nobody knew what was going on in New England- A team that finished ninth in the Eastern Conference in 2012 failed to make significant offseason additions. Jay Heaps was back. Saer Sene would start the season on the sidelines. It looked like the Revolution were stepping back into the box with the same broken bat. There’s no way number one pick Andrew Farrell was going to be that influential. What happened: New England survived the season’s early months with a surprisingly strong defense – the José Goncalves effect. Once the attack gelled around Lee Nguyen, Kelyn Rowe, a surging Diego Fagúndez, and the rental of Juan Agudelo, the Revolution had a team capable of finishing third, forcing Kansas City into extra time before bowing out in the East’s semifinals.

New York ended up surprising, and Montréal spend half the season looking like the conference’s best team, but the narratives around those teams weren’t there. Chicago, Columbus, and Philadelphia? Mid-conference predictions functioned as a wait-and-see approach.

For Houston, D.C., Sporting, Toronto and New England, the consensus had a pretty good idea of what to expect in 2013. In most cases, that consensus was wrong.

Gareth Bale after winning second UCL title with Real: “We deserve it”

MILAN, ITALY - MAY 28: Gareth Bale of Real Madrid in action  during the UEFA Champions League Final match between Real Madrid and Club Atletico de Madrid at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on May 28, 2016 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)
Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images
Leave a comment

It took 120 minutes and penalty kicks, but Real Madrid outlasted Atletico Madrid for the second time in three seasons to win its 11th UEFA Champions League final on Saturday in Milan.

[ MORE: Match recap ]

Welsh star Gareth Bale made his spot kick before Cristiano Ronaldo took advantage of Juanfran hitting the post on his attempt, and Real won 1-1 (5-4) on the night.

Bale was thrilled.

From the Fox Sports broadcast:

“What an amazing feeling. In extra time a lot of people became cramped but we showed resilience, what we’re made of and we won the 11th.

“They gave it a great game. We feel a little bit sorry for them but you have to win a final.”

Afterwards, Bale said Wales would try to win the Euro 2016 because, “Why not?”

Why not, Gareth? Why not?

Ronaldo scores clincher as Real Madrid wins the UEFA Champions League in penalty kicks

MILAN, ITALY - MAY 28:  Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid reacts during the UEFA Champions League Final match between Real Madrid and Club Atletico de Madrid at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on May 28, 2016 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)
Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images
Leave a comment
  • Real snares 11th European Cup
  • Second in three years
  • Ramos nabs controversial early goal

Cristiano Ronaldo scored the match-clinching penalty kick after 120 minutes couldn’t separate Real and Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Champions League final on Saturday in Milan.

Sergio Ramos scored an early goal before Yannick Carrasco equalized late, and it took penalty kicks to separate Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid.

(Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Antoine Griezmann missed a penalty kick early in the second half, and Juanfran was the only player to miss in kicks.

Here’s how kicks played out:

Real Madrid — Lucas Vasquez scores
Atletico Madrid — Griezmann scores
RM — Marcelo scores
AM — Gabi scores
RM — Gareth Bale scores
AM — Saul scores
RM — Ramos scores
AM — Juanfran hits the post
RM — Ronaldo scores

[ WATCH: Griezmann misses PK | Carrasco equalizes, makes out ]

Chippy was the name of the game early, and Atleti clearly wanted to do whatever it took to perturb and even wound Real.

Jan Oblak made a fantastic instinctive save on a sixth minute free kick from Gareth Bale that Casemiro redirected on frame.

Real’s Dani Carvajal picked up an 11th minute yellow card for a late slide tackle on Antoine Griezmann.

The opener came in the 15th minute, as Gareth Bale flicked Toni Kroos’ header onto the doorstep and Ramos ever-so-slightly redirected the chance across the line. He may have also been offside, but the goal counts.

[ MORE: Tottenham to play CL matches at Wembley next season ]

The 33rd minute found Griezmann trying his luck on goal, as Keylor Navas caught the ball for his first real save of the day. Griezmann was firing at will, though the majority of his chances were off frame.

It stayed 1-0 into the break, but changed soon afterwards.

Combustible defender Pepe stamped on Fernando Torres’ ankle in the box, but Griezmann cranked the ensuing penalty attempt off the cross bar.

[ MORE: Lewandowski headed to Real? ]

MILAN, ITALY - MAY 28: Sergio Ramos of Real Madrid celebrates after scoring the opening goal during the UEFA Champions League Final match between Real Madrid and Club Atletico de Madrid at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on May 28, 2016 in Milan, Italy. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
(Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Savic just missed being the toe to Diego Godin and Griezmann’s tic-tac when his left-footed tap went wide of the frame in the 55th minute.

Saul knifed a shot wide from the center of the box with a fantastic athletic shot, as Atleti kept control of the play but not the scoreboard.

Real countered with a rare chance in the 70th minute, but Oblak stopped an onrushing Benzema point blank to keep the deficit 1-0.

Cristiano Ronaldo was fairly anonymous for most of the match, and saw Oblak stop his first real shot in the 78th minute. Gareth Bale then tried a cheeky finish that failed when perhaps an easy shot would’ve done the trick. Would it haunt them?

Sure enough, Atleti dialed up an equalized moments later when Carrasco slid onto the end of Juanfran’s cross to make it 1-1 in the 80th.

[ MORE: Latest on Messi injury ]

We headed to extra time, where an advantage was distinctly in Atletico Madrid’s hands. Diego Simeone had used just one substitution to Real’s three, as Zinedine Zidane exhausted his options in trying to close out his rivals.

The first 15 minutes saw Atleti have some success working down the right side, but Real had the better of the dangerous chances aside from Griezmann flashing an overhead kick high off a corner, the last act of the frame.

The second segment was just as Real-framed, and several chances fell to a trigger shy Lucas. Aside from more silliness from Pepe, the only conclusion was penalty kicks.

WATCH: Carrasco levels Champions League final, finds partner for long kiss

MILAN, ITALY - MAY 28:  Yannick Carrasco of Atletico Madrid celebrates afte scorig the equalizing goal during the UEFA Champions League Final match between Real Madrid and Club Atletico de Madrid at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on May 28, 2016 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Milan on a starry night sounds romantic. Add in a massive match-tying goal, and it was all too much for Yannick Carrasco.

The 22-year-old Belgian attacker got on the end of Juanfran‘s cross and beat Keylor Navas at the near post.

[ MORE: Griezmann’s PK miss ]

In celebration, Carrasco raced toward a pitch side suite and into the arms and lips of what we presume is his partner for a gift that must count as much as a few dozen roses (but probably smelled much worse).

WATCH: Griezmann misses Torres-won PK in huge Champions League moment

MILAN, ITALY - MAY 28: Antoine Griezmann of Atletico Madrid speaks to head coach Diego Simeone during the UEFA Champions League Final match between Real Madrid and Club Atletico de Madrid at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on May 28, 2016 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Frankly, Antoine Griezmann embodied the Atletico Madrid attack in the first half, so it was no surprise when he stepped up to the penalty spot early in the second half.

Fernando Torres had won a penalty kick from Pepe after the Portuguese back stamped on his ankle in the 46th minute, and Greizmann got Real goalkeeper Keylor Navas going the wrong direction before cranking the ball off the bar.

[ MORE: Hull City snares last PL spot for 2016-17 ]

The miss looms large.