shea salinas

San Jose’s near miss in Toluca still a setback for Major League Soccer

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After six rounds of penalty kicks, Major League Soccer’s luck in Mexico hadn’t changed, but after Shea Salinas’s shootout try nailed Alfredo Talavera’s woodwork, San Jose had come closer than most. Succumbing in extra kicks after a 2-2 (agg.) draw, the Earthquakes bowed out of CONCACAF Champions League, but only after a 5-4 shootout sent Liga MX’s Toluca into the tournament’s final four.

It was the closet an MLS team has ever come to eliminating a Mexican side south of the border in this competition, a result few would have fathomed when San Jose’s starting XI was announced. There was no Chris Wondolowski, started on the bench with a slight hamstring problem. Alan Gordon also was kept out of the XI, though he would join the captain on the field by full-time. But Víctor Bernández was suspended, while fellow starting defender Clarence Goodson is still struggling with injury. When the team kicked off at the Estadio Nemesio Díez, rookie J.J. Koval joined Ty Harden in center defense, with Billy Schuler and Khari Stephenson also starting under do-or-die circumstances.

Perhaps that’s why Watson tried to shorten the game. In the first half, San Jose left Steven Lenhart alone up top, dropped nine into their defensive third, and tried to get to halftime without scoring a goal. Forty-five minutes later, the score was still 1-1, and while Toluca still held the away goals edge, its willingness to sit on that lead played into San Jose’s hands.

Eleven minutes after half-time, Watson’s plan came good. On a set piece from just inside Toluca’s half, Salinas (pictured) lofted a ball toward the middle of Talavera’s area. There Harden beat midfielder Wilson Thiago to finish inside the right post, giving San Jose a 2-1 lead and eliminating Toluca’s away goals edge. Though fitness and history were against them, the Earthquakes had gone in front.

The lead only lasted 13 minutes, though, before a blast from outside the area from Isaac Brizuela made it 2-2. Collecting the ball after a cleared set piece, Brizuela hit a 20-yard shot through the penalty box’s traffic and into the left side of Jon Busch’s goal, giving the San Jose keeper little chance to stop the score that took the team to penalty kicks.

Before the 120th minute, however, both teams had chances to avoid the shootout. Alan Gordon was controversially ruled offside on a ball that ended up in Talavera’s net, while San Cronin and Busch were both called on to make big saves to keep the Earthquakes alive.

In the shootout, each teams failed to covert its initial kick before making the next four, sending Thiago to the spot with the first sudden death try. Diving to his left, Busch nearly made his second save for the shootout, though the ball’s momentum eventually saw it bounce in front of the line but go under the crossbar.

Salinas, however, wasn’t as fortunate. Though Talavera guessed left, Salinas went right, only to put his try off the cross bar. After playing to a draw over 180 minutes, Toluca and San Jose were separated by only the width of a bar. The Red Devils move on. San Jose goes home.

Particularly given their shortcomings, the Earthquakes gave an effort they can be proud of, but looking at the result from the larger, league perspective, it adds to the list of disappointments Major League Soccer has endured at Mexico’s boots. Though San Jose came closer to advancing than any team that’s faced Liga opposition in Mexico in a knockout round, it ultimately came up short. As MLS pushes for greater significant, Mexico continues to hold it as arm’s length in CCL.

Are moral victories enough? Not for a league whose commissioner has tasked it with being the region’s best. Though the second half was exciting and San Jose’s effort, tactics, and results can be commended, the result was another setback for Major League Soccer, if only a small one.

Report: Chelsea making first waves in $88m Bernardo chase

MONACO - NOVEMBER 22:  Bernardo Silva of Monaco  during the UEFA Champions League Group E match between AS Monaco FC and Tottenham Hotspur FC  at Louis II Stadium on November 22, 2016 in Monaco, .  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
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Monaco has slapped a massive price tag on Bernardo Silva, and The Times says that isn’t stopping Chelsea.

Antonio Conte is trying to land the 22-year-old Portuguese attacker according to the report, which says that the Blues are already chatting up the Ligue 1 outfit.

[ MORE: Wenger’s Sutton pitch worry ]

Silva has six goals and seven assists in France’s top flight this season, adding another three in the UEFA Champions League. He did not appear at EURO 2016 thanks to a hamstring injury, as Portugal won the Henri Delaunay Trophy.

Chelsea is ready to spend $88 million on the right winger, who can also play in a attacking center mid role. From The Times:

Monaco would like to secure a minimum of €80m (£68.4m) for Bernardo, who is comfortable operating on either the left or right wing or as a number 10. With Barcelona, Real Madrid and both Manchester clubs also expressing their interest Monaco, who play Manchester City in the Champions League on Tuesday, believe a money-spinning auction may develop.

Transfer prices can be hard to predict, but is Silva the sort of talent that will tempt nine figures? We’ve been surprised before, and at his age it’s possible, but color us skeptical.

AEK Athens beats Greek league leader Olympiakos 1-0

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ATHENS, Greece (AP) AEK Athens defeated Greek league leader Olympiakos 1-0 in an ill-tempered game on Sunday that saw 12 yellow cards and two dismissals.

[ MORE: Messi brace rescues Barca, Pescara earns second win of season ]

Astrit Ajdarevic scored the only goal in the 34th minute with a free kick that deflected off Olympiakos defender Manuel da Costa.

Olympiakos’ athletic director Francois Modesto was sent to the stands for protesting about the lead-up to AEK’s goal. His team’s central defender Alberto Botia was dismissed after a second yellow card in the 75th for pulling an advancing AEK forward’s jersey.

Despite the defeat, its second of the season, Olympiakos has a 10-point cushion over second-place Panionios, which beat 10-man Iraklis 1-0.

PAOK, a 4-0 winner over Veria, remains in third place, one point ahead of Panathinaikos, which beat Asteras 5-0 on Saturday. AEK is joint fifth with Xanthi.

PSG drops points against Toulouse days after massive UCL win

PARIS, FRANCE - FEBRUARY 14:  Julian Draxler of Paris Saint-Germain looks on during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg match between Paris Saint-Germain and FC Barcelona at Parc des Princes on February 14, 2017 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Just days after its massive (and somewhat unexpected) beatdown of Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain failed to close the gap on league leaders Monaco.

[ MORE: Messi brace rescues Barca, Pescara earns second win ]

PSG settled for a 0-0 draw on Sunday at the Parc des Princes against eighth-place Toulouse, leaving the Parisian side three points behind Monaco through 26 rounds of action.

[ MORE: Bielsa returns to Ligue 1 with Lille ]

Despite holding the visitors to just three shots (one on target), Toulouse managed to contain a rampant PSG attack, which posted four goals midweek in their rout of the Blaugrana.

PSG’s first strong chance came in the 14th minute when Lucas Moura’s effort was saved in the bottom corner by goalkeeper Alban Lafont.

Meanwhile, Edinson Cavani may have had the game’s best opportunity to break the deadlock when the Uruguayan attacker struck the post from inside the penalty area.

Unai Emery’s group will be back in action on Feb. 26 when PSG travels to Dimitri Payet and Marseille.

Wenger worried over Sutton’s pitch heading Monday’s clash

SUTTON, GREATER LONDON - FEBRUARY 16:  Pundits Paul Merson (4L) and Matt Le Tissier (2L) take part in a training session alongside Paul Doswell manager of Sutton United (L) and players during a Sutton United FA Cup media day on February 16, 2017 at the Borough Sports Ground in Sutton, Greater London. Sutton United are due to face Arsenal in the Emirates FA Cup Fifth round on 20 February.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
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The story of Monday’s encounter between Arsenal and fifth-division Sutton United will be whether the minnows can overcome the mighty Gunners.

[ MORE: Mourinho pleased with United’s “attitude” against Blackburn ]

However, Arsene Wenger already fears a bigger challenge within the game, one that concerns his players’ safety.

Sutton’s 5,000-seat Gander Green Lane features an artificial surface, which is largely uncommon for English and most European venues regardless of club standing.

“First of all the pitch. Secondly their enthusiasm. Thirdly that we are not ready mentally for a big fight and think subconsciously that it doesn’t matter,” Wenger said ahead of Monday’s FA Cup meeting in South London.

In preparation for their meeting with the U’s, Wenger had his side train on their own indoor artificial field on Friday.

“Look, ideally we would like to play on a normal pitch. Competition is as well to deal with what you face, and we’ll face an unusual pitch and we’ll have to deal with it,” he said.

“We practice inside [on Friday] because we have an artificial pitch. It’s not the same as it’s a dry pitch, and at Sutton I’ve heard that’s a wet pitch, they water it before the game. So it will be much quicker than what we have.”