david_de_gea_diving

Manchester United sinks to new depths in 2-0 Champions League loss at Olympiakos

2 Comments

Piling on to the festering misery of their 2013-14 campaign, Manchester United suffered their first ever loss to Olympiakos on Tuesday, a 2-0 defeat in UEFA Champions League that leaves its competition’s survival in serious doubt. With goals from Alejandro Domínguez and Joel Campbell, the Greek champions took a commanding lead in the teams’ Round of 16 match up, holding the Red Devils without an away goal ahead of the teams’ return leg three weeks from now in Manchester.

Olympiakos broke through in the 38th minute when Alejandro Domínguez’s deflection rolled inside David de Gea’s right post, leaving England’s champions down one at halftime. Ten minutes into the second period, however, the hosts were up two, with a long curler from Joel Campbell taking advantage of lax United defending to seal the club’s first win in five all-time meetings against the English titans.

United finished the match having controlled possession, a deliberate but passive style allowing them to keep 61 percent of the ball. At full-time, however, they registered only one official shot on target. Olympiakos, on the other hand, had put four shots on de Gea, their 12-7 edge in total shots speaking to the difference in the teams’ attacking intent.

Electing to pursue goals rather than control, Olympiakos won what’s sure to become a famous victory, the club having lost each of their four previous meetings with United. As a result, the team is 90 minutes away from the quarterfinals, with the now hovering specter of a road goal at Old Trafford leaving the Greek champions with one foot in the competition’s quarterfinals.

(MORE, Champions League: Borussia Dortmund punish slack Zenit Saint Petersburg in 4-2 win)

source: APFrom the opening kickoff, Manchester United settled into a passive posture, one that granted their hosts a monopoly on the first half’s chances. Dropping central midfielders Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley deep toward the defense when in possession, the Red Devils were more intent on controlling the game than generating actual scoring opportunities, something that left Olympiakos goalkeeper Roberto with little to do before the first intermission.

Seven minutes before halftime, one of those Olympiakos shots finally found twine, sending the underdogs into the dressing rooms with a 1-0 lead. Off a ball cleared out of the United area, midfielder Giannis Maniatis fired a speculative shot from well outside the penalty box toward a crowd of players near the spot. One of those players, Domínguez, opened his right foot onto a touch, pushing his deflection toward David de Gea’s right post. Wrong-footed and diving in vain, the United keeper could only watch as the game’s first goal rolled inside his right post.

Ten minutes into the second half, the underdogs doubled their lead, with a lax effort from United’s midfield allowing Campbell to beat de Gea from beyond the arc. After a Cleverley giveaway in the Red Devils’ half, Olympiakos forward Michael Olaitan laid a pass off for Campbell cutting in from the right flank. Taking one touch around Carrick, the Costa Rican international had plenty of time to curl his 24-yard shot around de Gea and inside the left post, giving the Greek champions a 2-0 lead.

United manager David Moyes quickly responded by bringing on Danny Welbeck and Shinji Kagawa (at the expense of Antonio Valencia and Cleverley), but having ceded the night’s momentum to their hosts, United’s tendency of possession without potential persisted through the final whistle. As the Karaiskakis Stadium crowd started to realize the inevitability of their team’s accomplishment, their voice began to embolden their players. Only a Robin Van Persie chance from near the penalty spot in the 82nd minute carried the aura of a breakthrough, though when the team’s best finisher put his shot well over the bar, the Red Devils were relegated to their latest embarrassing result.

Thanks to competition’s format, Moyes has 90 minutes to engineer a comeback, one that’s not beyond the reach of a team with United’s talent. But after a first leg where the Red Devils played so far below their potential, an Olympiakos victory can no longer be seen as an upset. The upset will be if United go through.

“Pretty unreal, a fairy tale” — Alonso, Marshall celebrate Sounders title

@NicholasMendola
@NicholasMendola
Leave a comment

Talk about penalty kicks all you want, and definitely talk about that save, but Seattle’s formative heart kept Toronto FC’s vaunted attack off the scoreboard to win its first MLS Cup final.

Veterans Chad Marshall, Osvaldo Alonso, Stefan Frei, and Roman Torres simply got the job done against Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore and the high-flying Reds.

“We knew what a great offensive team they are,” Marshall said. “Giovinco and Jozy are incredible. The amount of goals they put up this postseason is pretty ridiculous, so to keep them off the board for 120 minutes is incredible.”

[ MLS CUP: Seattle wins in PKs | 3 things ]

The man in front of him, Alonso, was a prime reason for that. Countless connecting passes and perfect spacing limited TFC’s chances with the ball. After an MVP caliber season, you could argue that Alonso deserved just as much of a shout for MLS Cup MVP as winner Frei.

“In the final you have to give everything you have to win,” Alonso said. “I step on the field to play for my team, play for myself, and play for my family. And I think I did that.”

Both Alonso and Marshall spoke of the moments following Torres’ match-winning PK, as the Sounders crew flew down to pitch to celebrate in front of a rave green and blue visitors section high above BMO Field.

[ MORE: Bradley apologizes to fans ]

[ MORE: Altidore, Frei on that save ]

“I think I threw my back out on the run to Roman, and he flew right by me,” Marshall said. “It was just nuts. I lost my voice in a matter of 20 seconds. It’s just so exciting.”

Alonso was filled with pride for the fans at the game, and the ones back in Seattle who stood by the Sounders after a midseason coaching change.

“They deserved this, the trophy, because they are always there for us,” Alonso said. “Even when we were down at the bottom of the table. This trophy means a lot for me.”

Marshall admitted the words weren’t coming to him, even an hour after the game.

“I don’t know if I can. It’s an incredible feeling, from where we in July, the Kansas City game, to this moment right now, it’s pretty unreal, a fairy tale.”

Follow @NicholasMendola

Bradley lauds “fearless” teammates after heart-wrenching MLS Cup loss

@NicholasMendola
@NicholasMendola
Leave a comment

Michael Bradley paused to collect himself, several times actually, before apologizing to Toronto FC’s supporters.

The game of football, with its soaring highs and gutting lows, was the latter now. TFC had dominated Seattle over a lackluster 120 minutes, Bradley engineered several big interventions and some delightful balls that didn’t have an end product.

[ MLS CUP: Seattle wins in PKs | 3 things ]

Much of that won’t be remembered, though, because Bradley passed his penalty kick right into the path of a waiting Stefan Frei. Surrounded by reporters in the TFC locker room, Bradley chose his words carefully.

“When you put everything you have into something, when you come in every day ready to pour your heart and soul into something, the highs are amazing and emotional and incredible in a positive ways,” Bradley said. “And the setbacks… hit you hard. Every guy here is going to have to take the time to get over this one, to let it hurt, let it frustrate you, let it anger you.

“It’s not for the weak, and you see that on nights like tonight.”

[ MORE: Altidore, Frei on that save ]

Bradley was one of the final men to emerge from the showers at BMO Field, and he answered every question with brutal honesty.

“On behalf of the team, we can only thank every person in this city for their support and for the passion and the emotion and the energy that they put into this, together with us,” he said. “I’m sick to my stomach that we couldn’t reward them with the biggest trophy tonight.”

In defeat, it was easy to see why TFC’s locker room is drawn to its captain. Bradley shirked nothing, answering the tough questions and humoring those who would lob softballs about his family.

Among the former was this response, one of those quotes that moves a team into formation.

“The margins are so small, and on nights like this you have no choice but to go for it,” he said. “We talked about having a group of guy who were gonna, on the biggest of nights, be fearless and go after things in an aggressive way. And we did that. We were strong, brave, and went after the game in a really, really hard away from the first minute right up until the 120th minute.”

That Bradley missed a PK will howl to the moon in Toronto to the wee hours of this Sunday morning, and his critics will be happy to join in. But as the 29-year-old prepares for a winter that could see him head across an ocean before returning for World Cup qualifying and another MLS season, Toronto can be happy to put its faith — and its backbone — in No. 4.

Follow @NicholasMendola

Altidore, Frei react to “that save” after Sounders claim MLS Cup

TORONTO, ONTARIO - DECEMBER 10:  Stefan Frei #24 of the Seattle Sounders stops Michael Bradley #4 of the Toronto FC during the penalty kick phase during the 2016 MLS Cup at BMO Field on December 10, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Seattle defeated Toronto in the 6th round of extra time penalty kicks. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images
Leave a comment

When it comes down to it, Jozy Altidore and Toronto FC were inches away from becoming MLS Cup champions.

The man who walked away with MLS Cup MVP was the reason they didn’t.

[ WATCH: Frei’s big save ]

Deep in extra time, Altidore leapt high to loft a header toward the far post. Frei adjusted his body for one dramatic lunge, just slapping the ball toward Roman Torres for a clear.

“(Altidore) does the right thing because he goes against the way that I’m coming from, and that point you just move your feet as quick as you can see what’s possible,” Frei said.

Altidore thought it was in.

“I thought so,” he said. “It was a tough ball to begin with. … It was a hell of a save. At the end of the day you’ve got to pull off something special.”

Follow @NicholasMendola

Three things we learned from Seattle Sounders’ MLS Cup triumph

Seattle Sounders players chase defender Roman Torres (29) after he scored the game-winning shootout goal to defeat the Toronto FC during shoot out MLS Cup soccer final action in Toronto on Saturday, December 10, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Blinch/The Canadian Press via AP)
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Blinch/The Canadian Press via AP
Leave a comment

MLS Cup 2016 was the most well-played game of soccer all year — far from it, in fact — but the Seattle Sounders are MLS champions for the first time in their eight-year history anyway.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS Cup coverage ]

Three thoughts on a poorly-played, but thoroughly intense 2016 finale…

A cup final, it most certainly was

The numbers of cup finals which feature brilliant, composed attacking play is hugely outweighed by the number of cup finals featuring a total lack thereof. Whether it was down to nerves, the frigid conditions in which the game was played, or a combination of the two, Saturday’s final at BMO Field was yet another example of the latter.

The telling stats: 40 fouls between the two sides (just three yellow cards shown); zero first-half shots attempted by the Sounders, and just three shots in total over 120 minutes (zero on target).

The only moment of true quality came in the 108th minute, when Stefan Frei made the best save you’ve seen all year to deny Jozy Altidore and keep the Sounders on level terms (WATCH HERE).

Michael Bradley, man of the match (until his PK)

As we’ve come to expect, Bradley was anywhere and everywhere on the field for TFC, at all the right times. With Osvaldo Alonso playing the part of warrior in the Sounders midfield, and Jonathan Osorio’s attacking prowess preferred to the defensive chops of Will Johnson alonside Bradley, it was up to the U.S. national team captain to singlehandedly track and mark Nicolas Lodeiro out of the game. He did just that, and so much more.

Then, came his penalty kick, TFC’s second, which was hit with so little pace and no more than three feet to Frei’s left for the easiest save he’d make all night.

The greatest comeback in MLS history

You’ve heard it all by now, but it doesn’t make what the Sounders did from August to December any less remarkable — from ninth place on the day Sigi Schmid was fired (two days before Lodeiro arrived), to the MLS summit in four and a half months. Clint Dempsey, the Sounders’ highest-paid player, was then lost for the rest of the season a month later (irregular heartbeat). No team in MLS history had ever overcome a points gap that large (10) that late in the season to even qualify for the playoffs, let alone advance in said playoffs, reach MLS Cup, and lift the trophy.

Brian Schmetzer, a Seattle native and member of the Sounders family since his own playing days beginning in 1980, replaced Schmid with (presumably) the idea that he’d see out the lost season as interim head coach before making way for a big-name hire this winter. He won eight of his first 14 games as a head coach instead, led the Sounders to the four-seed in the Western Conference, and delivered to his hometown the ultimate prize on Saturday.

Watching the Portland Timbers lift MLS Cup 2015 was undoubtedly the toughest pill to swallow for anyone in Rave Green, but to end their Cascaida Cup rivals’ reign as defending champions by winning that very piece of silverware themselves … that’s a one-up that’ll last a lifetime.