After strong first legs, can MLS teams advance in Champions League?


Two wins and a draw. Had you asked MLS fans before this week’s CONCACAF Champions League action, they’d probably be elated. Fans know how difficult it’s been to compete with Mexico’s best. Real Salt Lake’s run in the 2010-11 tournament still serves as MLS’s bright spot since the tournament’s rebrand.

For this week to serve as more than a moral victory, though, MLS’s three survivors need to get something out of Mexico. For Sporting Kansas City and LA Galaxy, both up 1-0 after their first legs with Cruz Azul and Tijuana (respectively), clean sheets will get them through. Having held their opponents without a crucial away goal, though, each can take a major step toward the final four if they score in Mexico. Whether it be a shut out or a score, both teams will need something next week.

San Jose’s road is more difficult, but thanks to Alan Gordon’s 95th minute “Gonnie-ism” in Santa Clara, Mark Watson’s team has a chance. The 1-1 result against visiting Toluca was a minor set back (giving the Diablos Rojos that potentially crucial away goal), but one score on the road would immediately shift the scales.

(CCL Results: San Jose 1-1 Toluca | Sporting KC 1-0 Cruz Azul | LA Galaxy 1-0 Tijuana)

Here’s where Major League Soccer’s trio stands after leg one, what we learned in the process, and heir chances to advance to the semifinals after next week’s second legs in Mexico.

Best chance: LA Galaxy (up 1-0; leg two at Tijuana on Tuesday)

Bruce Arena’s team used an early Samuel goal and second half heroics from Jaime Penedo to take a 1-0 lead at on Wednesday night. Though the Galaxy gave up significantly more chances than their opponents, last year’s acquisition of their Panamanian international paid off. Perhaps the Galaxy can’t depend on Penedo stealing results every night, but on Wednesday, it worked.

The good news for LA: They’ll likely play better on Tuesday. Hopefully, they won’t seem so work down in the second half. They also have the least travel, won’t be playing at altitude (unlike their MLS partners), and are arguably facing the worst team. Though Tijuana is talented, they’re not one of the top teams in Liga MX’s current tournament (eight out of 18).

One PST reader took exception to the description after last night’s action, but winning 1-0 at home truly is the equivalent of holding serve. Anything less, and you’d be giving something to your opponents. On Wednesday, LA merely did what they were supposed to do.

In that sense, we didn’t get a good idea whether LA or Tijuana is actually the better team. All we know is that LA’s result leaves them with the fewest obstacles for any MLS team on the path to the semifinals.

source: Getty ImagesGood shot: Sporting Kansas City (up 1-0; leg two at Cruz Azul on Wednesday)

The defending MLS champions gave the league’s strongest first leg performance, out-playing Cruz Azul in the first half while limiting the number of chances they gave up in the second. Had Mariano Pavone buried his second half opportunity, Sporting would be sitting in San Jose’s shoes, but thanks to the effort of a former Earthquake defender, Ike Opara, the Cruz Azul attacker couldn’t prevent his team from leaving Kansas with a loss.

Next Wednesday, however, Liga MX’s leaders will be back at Estadio Azul. They’ll be at altitude and playing at a venue where they haven’t lost since September. The last eight opponents to visit La Machina have been outscored 12-3, with Luis Fernando Tena’s team registering at least one goal in each game.

Sporting’s best chance to reach the semifinals would be a clean sheet, but Cruz Azul’s recent history says that’s unlikely. If, however, Sporting can snare a goal, they won’t need a win to move on. The results América (1-1), Toluca (1-1) and Santos Laguna (1-2) have put up during Cruz Azul’s eight-game unbeaten run would be enough to see Sporting into the final four.

Toughest road: San Jose Earthquakes (1-1; at Toluca on Wednesday)

No mystery here: The team with the fewest advantages on the scoreboard has the worst chance of moving on. This job isn’t difficult, folks. I just plug into the machine and let the obvious poor out.

There are other factors that make San Jose’s plight more difficult. They’ll be traveling the longest distance of MLS’s three quarterfinalists. They need to score twice to see the away goals rule work in their favor. They also may face a stronger Toluca side in leg two. Whereas José Cardozo left some of his best players out of his starting XI in Santa Clara, there’s no guarantee he’ll do the same in Mexico.

There is another, more basic reason why San Jose should be seen as a bigger underdog: They may not be as good as Sporting or LA. Between where the teams finished last season and the talent they’ll take into next week’s second legs, the Earthquakes aren’t quite on the same level as their MLS colleagues. Unfortunately, they’re facing a team that sits second in Mexico.

Let’s not get too pessimistic about this, though. What San Jose does well should come in particularly handing in the close games that are more likely to transpire in Champions League. If they can stay within one going into the match’s last stages — if they can take advantage of late defensive substitutes that lead to games being played in their opponent’s end — the Goonies may yet continue on their quest for Champions League gold.

Who needs victory more in EFL Cup: Man United or Man City?

FILE PHOTO - (EDITORS NOTE: COMPOSITE OF TWO IMAGES - Image numbers (L) 592215668 and 596883044) In this composite image a comparision has been made between Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho (L) and Josep Guardiola, Manager of Manchester City.  Josep Guardiola brings his Manchester City team to Old Trafford to face Jose Mourinho's Manchester United in their first Manchester derby in the Premier League on September 10, 2016.   ***LEFT IMAGE*** MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 19: Jose Mourinho, Manager of Manchester United celebrates after the Premier League match between Manchester United and Southampton at Old Trafford on August 19, 2016 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images) ***RIGHT IMAGE*** MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 28: Josep Guardiola, Manager of Manchester City encourages his players during the Premier League match between Manchester City and West Ham United at Etihad Stadium on August 28, 2016 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images)
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Manchester’s two teams aren’t quite in turmoil, but they are in a tricky patch.

[ MORE: Rooney to leave?

Perhaps the last thing both Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola would’ve wanted is another massive derby game so early on in their respective careers at United and City but they will clash again in an EFL Cup last 16 tie on Wednesday. 

But they’ve got it.

In September the two teams met at Old Trafford with Kevin De Bruyne the star of the show as he scored and grabbed an assist in City’s 2-1 win.

Since then City have stumbled in recent weeks and Guardiola is without a win in his last five games in all competitions. That’s only happened to him once before in his managerial career and after the 1-1 draw against Southampton on Sunday he kept his side locked in the dressing room for 50 minutes after the game.

For Mourinho, he will still be seething from the 4-0 defeat at his former club Chelsea on Sunday as the Portuguese coach suffered his worst-ever defeat in a Premier League game and also lashed out at Antonio Conte with a bizarre post-match embrace.

Ahead of the game at Old Trafford, Guardiola played up the special atmosphere of derby day in Manchester.

“I always expect the best from United,” Guardiola said. “They are strong team with quality. They are six points behind – just two games. Derbies are always special. We are going to try to play seriously and try to win the game.”

That said, Guardiola revealed that he will rotate his squad and that De Bruyne is out injured for the clash. So, that will be a boost for Mourinho and United.

With both the Red Devils and the Citizens having a heck of a week following big Premier League games and European action, it is likely both teams will rest plenty of players but can either really afford to do so?

So early on in their careers at the two hugely expectant clubs, both are experiencing wobbles. You can argue that perhaps Mourinho needs a win here more than Guardiola.

The latter already has City playing his way and in his style. Even if silly defensive errors from Claudio Bravo and John Stones in recent games have cost them results, there is a clear direction City is heading in. They’re on their way and are top of the Premier League on 20 points.

For United, where do we start?

The Wayne Rooney situation has taken center stage once again as questions continue to crop up about his future at Old Trafford under Mourinho, while dressing room unrest is also being reported with some players “surprised by how hands off he’s been” on the training ground. It is never good when things like that start to leak out. Add to that 14 points from their first nine games of the PL season with Mourinho has the same record as David Moyes did in his first nine league games in charge, plus Paul Pogba struggling and Zlatan Ibrahimovic ice-cold and things are stacking up against the Red Devils.

Yeah, Mourinho and United need this EFL Cup win more, especially after losing the derby at home last month. A victory will build confidence and give Mourinho extra games to use all of his squad and try and get his message across.

In the past Mourinho has had great success in the EFL Cup, winning it three times in his five full seasons as a manager in the Premier League. He values its importance and although his rivalry with Guardiola goes way back, he may want to (and perhaps needs to) win this game much more than City’s manager does.

Premier League Player Power Rankings: Top 20 in Week 9

HULL, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 22:  Xherdan Shaqiri of Stoke City (L) celebrates scoring his sides first goal with Geoff Cameron of Stoke City (R) during the Premier League match between Hull City and Stoke City at KCom Stadium on October 22, 2016 in Hull, England.  (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
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We had ourselves some very tight games in the Premier League in Week 9.

[ VIDEO: Tight title race? ] 

With Arsenal, Manchester City and Tottenham all drawing, there are plenty of new names in this list below of the top 20 players to grace the PL on Matchday 9.

Let us know if you agree with the selections in the comments section below.

  1. Eden Hazard (Chelsea) – New entry
  2. Xherdan Shaqiri (Stoke City) – New entry
  3. Diego Costa (Chelsea) – Down 1
  4. Sadio Mane (Liverpool) – New Entry
  5. N’Golo Kante (Chelsea) – Up 9
  6. Victor Wanyama (Tottenham) – New entry
  7. Tom Heaton (Burnley) – Up 12
  8. Adam Lallana (Liverpool) – New entry
  9. Kelechi Iheanacho (Man City) – New entry
  10. Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal) – Down 10
  11. Riyad Mahrez (Leicester City) – New entry
  12. Dimitri Payet (West Ham) – Down 2
  13. Dele Alli (Tottenham) – Down 11
  14. Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea) – New entry
  15. Mesut Ozil (Arsenal) – Down 7
  16. Virgil Van Dijk (Southampton) – Up 1
  17. Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham) – Down 1
  18. Oriol Romeu (Southampton) – New entry
  19. Harry Arter (Bournemouth) – New entry
  20. Gary Cahill (Chelsea) – New entry

Former World Cup winner, Brazil legend Carlos Alberto dies

COSTA DO SAUIPE, BAHIA - DECEMBER 05:  Former Brazil footballer Carlos Alberto Torres attends the FIFA World Cup Ambassadors Press Conference during a media day ahead of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Draw at Costa do Sauipe Resort on December 5, 2013 in Costa do Sauipe, Brazil.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Brazilian soccer legend Carlos Alberto has died at the age of 72.

He died in Rio de Janeiro following a heart attack.

Alberto, a marauding right back in his playing days, was best known for his role as Brazil’s captain as he led his team to glory in the 1970 World Cup in Mexico.

He is also remembered fondly for one of the greatest team goals ever scored.

Take a look at the video below to see Albero arriving like a steam train at the back post in the 1970 World Cup final against Italy to hammer home a shot following a marvelous team move from a famous Brazilian side which included the likes of Pele, Tostao, Gerson, Roberto Rivelino and Jairzinho.

Alberto played for Fluminense and Santos in his homeland and the New York Cosmos in the North American Soccer League before going on to many coaching roles in the game both in Brazil and across the planet.

Without doubt he is regarded as one of the finest defenders to ever play the game as his attacking instincts from full back were seen as revolutionary.

Five Manchester United players to leave in January?

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 18:  Marouane Fellaini of Manchester United celebrates scoring his team's third goal with Morgan Schneiderlin and Memphis Depay during the UEFA Champions League Qualifying Round Play Off First Leg match between Manchester United and Club Brugge at Old Trafford on August 18, 2015 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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Jose Mourinho is a ruthless individual. That’s one of the reasons why he’s won so much over the years.

[ MORE: Rooney to leave? ]

And after a slow start to life at Old Trafford as Manchester United’s manager, it has been reported that he’s had enough of several first team stars.

Various reports, rounded up by the Manchester Evening News, say that five first team players will leave Old Trafford in January as Mourinho wields the axe following a start to the Premier League season which has seen them pick up 14 points from their opening nine games.

Per earlier reports, Rooney will be allowed to leave if he doesn’t want a bit-part role in Mourinho’s plans, plus Memphis Depay, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Morgan Schneiderlin and Matteo Darmian will all be cut loose.

In the case of Schweinsteiger, we all know what Mourinho thinks of the legendary German midfielder who has been forced to train with the reserve team as the new United boss deemed him surplus to requirements. As for the others, well, it is the same story.

Memphis has made six appearances for United this season, while Schneiderlin has yet to appear in the Premier League, Schweinsteiger hasn’t appeared at all and Darmian has played in only two Europa League games.

With Schweinsteiger and Schneiderlin, it is clear Mourinho sees his central midfield better off with the power of Paul Pogba and Marouane Fellaini plus the poise of Ander Herrra and Michael Carrick. Schweinsteiger is widely expected to move to Major League Soccer in January but his huge wages of over $200,000 per week may be a stumbling block.

At full back, Darmian is up against Antonio Valencia and Timothy Fosu-Mensah, while Phil Jones can also play at right back, and out wide Memphis has fallen behind Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial in the pecking order.

Mourinho is used to operating with a relatively small squad and after the win against Southampton on Aug. 19 this season he spoke about how he was happy for the win but sad at the amount of top players in suits sat in the stand watching.

This is a massive squad but it is one Mourinho obviously feels like he can cut down. If these five players aren’t regulars in United’s current team which is struggling to perform, then they have no chance of edging their way in long-term.

Expect plenty of clubs to come in with loan moves for Memphis, Darmian and Schneiderlin in January if Mourinho can’t offload them for good.