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US Soccer stars impress with intelligence and class at MLS Media Day


Despite the deep nipple-freeze cold and New York subway system being up to its old holiday tricks, I made it to Red Bull Arena on time (the wife would be so proud) for yesterday’s Major League Soccer Media Day.

I hadn’t been to previous Media Days so all I knew was what MLS Communications Coordinator, Susan Marschall, had emailed — that the journalists roundtable interviews would take place in a 4th floor suite and that for 15 mins apiece, the following players would swing by to chat: Michael Bradley, Landon Donovan, Diego Fagundez, Tim Cahill, Clarence Goodson, Brad Evans, Omar Gonzalez, Matt Besler, Mike Magee, Eddie Johnson, Graham Zusi, Maurice Edu, Kyle Beckerman and Thierry Henry.

Suffice to say, I was supremely stoked about the gig.

Upon walking into the suite I immediately recognized a good deal of the journalists — Ives Galarcep, Graham Parker, Brian Strauss, Kyle McCarthy, Leander Schaerlaeckens, among others.

Around 10am the players started coming in. With my I-Phone ‘Voice Notes’ down for the count, I typed furiously during most of their chats. On others, I took a break and just listened.

My top impression from listening to this group is that they all come off as being extremely well educated. As an American, this trait swells me with pride. Look, we’re (probably) not going to win the World Cup. But based on our intelligence alone, beautiful things can happen in Brazil (as they have in many a past WC).

It’s also worth noting that the players are all genuinely pumped at the direction MLS is heading — Miami, Orlando City, everything that went down in Toronto this past offseason — they’re really juiced about it. How the heck could you not be? The league is so blatantly on the up and everyone knows it.

In general, I found the players to be a bunch of classy dudes. Well-spoken. Funny. Respectful. Dudes.

Below are some more specific takeaways from each of the 14 players who attended the roundtable:

Michael Bradley: Bradley has spent the last eight years playing in four of the top leagues in Europe and now, The General is set to unleash havoc on MLS.

Landon Donovan: Hugely impressed by Donovan’s general good nature and mastery of the Spanish language but was disappointed that I couldn’t ask whether he would retire from the Stars & Strips after Brazil was out the door (national team questions were deemed ‘off-limits’).

Diego Fagundez: Love this kid, who told me he’s gonna nutmeg Cristiano Ronaldo when they meet on the pitch — dude has ‘USMNT’ written all over him!!!

Tim Cahill: I’m convinced Cahill (one of my Everton heroes) will be one of two things when he retires — an Army general or a top, top soccer manager.

Clarence Goodson: Dude is tall, skinny and managed to stump the entire room when he asked what Maryland Terrapins were drafted into MLS they year he graduated college.

Brad Evans: Despite the hideous camo pants, Evans’ stock to be the starting US right-back in Brazil sky-rocketed in my book for one reason that rarely gets mention — dude has big time leadership skills.

Omar Gonzalez: Another incredibly sharp thinker, I look forward to the day when Gonzalez doesn’t merely “think” he can be the leader at center-back but knows it, demands it and will tear up anyone who comes near it.

Matt Besler: Under-rated in every possible way Besler has huge breakout potential in Brazil, topping my list as the US player most likely to be in-demand by European clubs come July.

Mike Magee: In not-so-many words Magee admitted that his explosion in 2013 was largely due to finally getting out of the shadow of players like David Beckham, Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane.

Eddie Johnson: Noting what a “blessing and an honor” it is “to be a part of a team that’s had so much history,” it’s hard not to root for Johnson to succeed at DC United.

Graham Zusi: Appropriately described by someone inside the suite as ‘the guy you want your sister to marry,’ Zusi comes off as one of the nicest guys you could ever possibly meet.

Maurice Edu: After candidly describing his plight at Stoke City — let’s just say the man was done wrong by Mark Hughes, among others — Edu earned a soft spot in my heart and is a guy I’m gunning for to make the roster in Brazil.

Kyle Beckerman: The former Miami Fusion player couldn’t hide that he was “really excited” for David Beckham’s new franchise, noting “I don’t know if the guy has made a bad move in his life.”

Thierry Henry: Henry gets a good deal of schtick for his temperament but I came away from my first time meeting the French legend with nothing but good things to say – upon entering the room he shook every journalist’s hand, pulled his chair in close and gave a Wengerian-esque take on everything from MLS to US Soccer to Arsenal.

MLS Cup Playoffs: NY Red Bulls 1-0 (1-2 agg.) Columbus Crew SC

Tony Tchani, Michael Parkhurst

The game in 100 words (or less): Columbus Crew SC are headed to their second MLS Cup in club history (champions – 2008) after defeating the New York Red Bulls, 2-0 on aggregate, in the Western Conference finals (0-0 draw in an extremely chippy second leg on Sunday). Justin Meram and Kei Kamara scored the two-leg tie’s only goals — eight seconds and 85 minutes into the first leg, respectively — and Crew SC confidently managed the second leg by defending with numbers and wisely picking their spots to break out on the counter. RBNY held nearly 60 percent of possession in the second leg, but could muster just six shots on target over the 90 minutes. Crew SC will host the Portland Timbers in MLS Cup 2015 next Sunday (4 p.m. ET) at MAPFRE Stadium.

[ MORE: Previewing the MLS weekend ]

Three moments that mattered

38′ — Robles at full stretch to deny Kamara — What’s better: the first touch, second touch, turn and shot by Kei Kamara; or, the sprawled-out save by Luis Robles to swat away a ball clearly headed for the bottom corner? Quality on quality.

90+3′ — Abang heads home to make it nervy late — Anatole Abange rose above the crowd and headed home a recycled ball inside the penalty area after a Sal Zizzo cross was headed high into the air late into stoppage time.

90+5′ — Madness in the penalty area, RBNY hit the post — It was absolute scenes inside the Crew SC penalty area. Ball after ball pumped into the box, headed high into the air and briefly cleared. The final chance of the game fell to Bradley Wright-Phillips, who headed the ball toward the far post with Steve Clark rushing out quickly, only to see his slow dribbler bounce off the front side of the post and back into the field of play.

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

Man of the match: Wil Trapp

Goalscorers: Abang (90+3′)

MLS Cup Playoffs: FC Dallas 2-2 (3-5 agg.) Portland Timbers

Fanendo Adi, Portland Timbers FC
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The game in 100 words (or less): The Portland Timbers are headed to their first MLS Cup in club history after defeating FC Dallas, 5-3 on aggregate, in the Western Conference finals (2-2 draw in the second leg). Fanendo Adi scored in Sunday’s second leg, giving Caleb Porter’s side a 4-1 aggregate lead before Ryan Hollingshead and Blas Perez scored inside the last 25 minutes to give Oscar Pareja’s bunch a late lifeline, but Lucas Melano’s spectacular tap-in sealed the Timbers’ trip to MLS Cup. The third seed heading into the playoffs, Portland bounced Sporting Kansas City in an epic penalty shootout in the knockout round and outlasted the Vancouver Whitecaps in the conference semifinals before knocking off the West’s top seed over two legs to advance to MLS Cup 2015. No matter who advances from the East finals later on Sunday, Portland will play away in MLS Cup, to either the New York Red Bulls or Columbus Crew SC.

[ MORE: Previewing the MLS weekend ]

Three Four moments that mattered

54′ — Adi fires past Gonzalez to make if 4-1 — Oscar Pareja elected to go with Walker Zimmerman at center back on Sunday, dropping regular starter Zach Loyd to the bench. On the game’s opening goal, it was Zimmerman who wound up on the ground as Adi received the ball, turned and fired a massive away goal past Jesse Gonzalez.

68′ — Diaz’s magical ball curled home by Hollingshead — Mauro Diaz is a wonderful magician capable of playing the kill through ball from anywhere on the field — this we’ve known for quite some time. His chipped through ball to set up Hollingshead’s goal was extraordinarily brilliant, even for him.

73′ — Perez heads home the free kick to pull within one — Would you be surprised to hear that it was Diaz who set up FCD’s second goal? His free kick was Perez-finding missile and found the head of the Panamanian striker at the top of the six-yard box, where 34-year-old headed home with ease.

90+5′ — Melano rounds Gonzalez, seals MLS Cup berth — Poor Jesse Gonzalez. Absolutely schooled and posterized by Lucas Melano. What a way to sew up a place in the championship final.

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

Man of the match: Mauro Diaz

Goalscorers: Adi (54′), Hollingshead (68′), Perez (73′), Melano (90+5′)

La Liga & Serie A: Real Madrid bounce back; Juventus on the charge

Gareth Bale, Real Madrid CF
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A roundup of all of Sunday’s action in Spain and Italy’s top flights:

Eibar 0-2 Real Madrid

Real Madrid bounced back from back-to-back La Liga defeats with a 2-0 victory away to Eibar on Sunday. Gareth Bale (below video) and Cristiano Ronaldo (penalty kick) provided the goals to keep Rafa Benitez‘s bunch (27 points) third in the league, two points behind Atletico Madrid and six behind leaders Barcelona.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Getafe 2-0 Villarreal
Rayo Vallecano 0-3 Athletic Bilbao
Sevilla 1-0 Valencia

[ MORE: Saturday’s La Liga roundup ]

Roma 0-2 Atalanta

Losing at home to sides currently in a relegation battle — rarely a good idea, especially if you fancy yourselves title challengers, but that didn’t stop Roma from doing just that on Sunday. Alejandro Gomez and German Denis scored the goals to knock off a 10-man Roma side (Maicon – 81st minute) and keep Rudi Garcia’s bunch (27 points) from gaining ground on any of the three teams currently ahead of them — Inter Milan, Napoli and Fiorentina — all of whom play on Monday.

AC Milan 4-1 Sampdoria

M’Baye Niang scored twice, while Giacomo Bonaventura and Luiz Adriano (below video) added single tallies for AC Milan (23 points) to keep pace with the top-five pack in Serie A. After 14 rounds of games, the Rossoneri sit sixth, a point outside fifth (UEFA Europa League) and five points out of third (UEFA Champions League).

Palermo 0-3 Juventus

Don’t look now, but here come Juventus. Sunday’s 3-0 triumph over Palermo makes it four straight wins in the league for Massimiliano Allegri’s side — a run that pushes them all the way up to fifth in the league (24 points), just six points off the pace of leaders Inter, who play on Monday. Mario Mandzukic (below video), Stefano Sturaro and Simone Zaza scored the goals for the world’s most frightening fifth-place team.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Torino 2-0 Bologna
Chievo 2-3 Udinese
Frosinone 3-2 Hellas Verona
Genoa 1-2 Carpi
Empoli 1-0 Lazio

Monday’s Serie A schedule

Sassuolo vs. Fiorentina (1 p.m. ET)
Napoli vs. Inter Milan (3 p.m. ET)

Arsenal’s injury crisis — add Sanchez, Cazorla, Koscielny to the list

Alexis Sanchez, Arsenal FC
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From title challengers to just hoping to hold on to a top-four place while Arsene Wenger is forced to play reserves and academy players because half of his star players are currently out injured — the annual story of Arsenal.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Oct. 27, when Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain both went down with injuries in the same game, marked the unofficial start of Arsenal’s 2015-16 injury crisis, but things didn’t really get going full bore until the last seven days, when five more players — four of them full-time starters — picked up injuries that will keep them out of action for anywhere between three weeks and three months.

Added to the list last weekend: Francis Coquelin (knee – three months minimum), Mikel Arteta (calf – three weeks)

Added to the list on Sunday: Alexis Sanchez (hamstring – MORE DETAILS), Santi Cazorla (knee), Laurent Koscielny (hip)

Following Sunday’s 1-1 draw with Norwich City, Wenger said Koscielny “could not walk” due to the hip spasm that forced him out of the game after just 11 minutes. He also divulged that Cazorla, who could not be subbed off because Wenger had already used all three subs late on, played the second half “on one leg.” Sanchez came into Sunday injured after picking up a hamstring injury in Arsenal’s UEFA Champions League victory over Dinamo Zagreb on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Sunday’s PL roundup — Chelsea, Arsenal, Spurs all draw ]

Arsenal fans were up in arms during the summer transfer window — let’s be honest, the following is true of every transfer window the last five years — crying out, “We must buy, we must buy.” Have a look at Arsenal’s complete injury list at the moment, and try to say, “They didn’t need to buy in the summer.”

In chronological order: Danny Welbeck (knee – early 2016 return), Tomas Rosicky (knee – Christmas time return), Jack Wilshere (leg – Christmas time return), Theo Walcott (calf – December return), Mikel Arteta (calf – three weeks), Francis Coquelin (knee – three months minimum), Laurent Koscielny (hip – to be assessed), Alexis Sanchez (hamstring – to be assessed), Santi Cazorla (knee – to be assessed)