Sporting Kansas City routed by Cruz Azul, completes MLS’s 0-for-3 in CCL quarterfinals

5 Comments

The defending Major League Soccer champions didn’t give fans much to talk about. After Wednesday’s performance in Mexico City, most MLS supporters will prefer to forget than discuss. Though Benny Feilhaber’s late first half goal gave Sporting Kansas City an away goals edge going into halftime at Estadio Azul, the second leg of Sporting’s CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal was all Cruz Azul. With three goals from Mariano Pavone and insurance from Mauro Formica and Cristian Giménez, La Machina are through to the tournament’s semifinals, their 5-1 demolition of the MLS Cup holders belittling any notion Sporting could preserve the 1-0 lead that earned in Kansas.

Given what we’ve seen over the last four years from a physical, often oppressive Kansas City quad, the result was a complete shock, one that reminded viewers of a era they thought dead. It wasn’t so long ago that MLS teams would go to Mexico can be embarrassed by teams that looked far superior to their MLS counterparts, yet in recent years, the league had made strides. But between the Galaxy’s performance in Tijuana and Sporting’s performance in the capital, MLS turned back the clock. The difference in class between Xolos as Cruz Azul was shocking to those used to seeing the Galaxy and Kansas City near the top of MLS’s standings.

Wednesday’s shock started in the second minute, when Joao Rojas set up Pavone for the host’s opening goal. Twenty-one minutes later, Liga MX’s leaders had completely reversed its leg one deficit, with the Argentine’s second goal of the night giving them a 2-1 aggregate lead. Within 23 minutes, all the hopes Sporting had of carrying their MLS success into Champions League seemed to have evaporated.

Then came their moment of hope. Dribbling around Marco Fabian at the edge of the penalty box, Feilhaber drilled a shot from 20 yards out at goalkeeper José de Jésus Corona’s lower right hand corner. Unable to get down for the ball quick enough, Corona could not prevent Sporting from taking an advantage into half-time, the 2-2 aggregate score giving the visitors the away goals tiebreaker.

Whatever hope came with that advantage evaporated within 10 minutes. That’s when Pavone, in the 55th minute, completed his hat trick. Then came Fórmica’s goal (66′). Then Gímenez’s (70′). As bad as the Galaxy were in the first half against Tijuana, Sporting may have been worse, and for longer, against Cruz Azul. Relentless, ruthless, and intent on building an insurmountable lead, La Machina laid highlighted the lingering Liga MX-MLS divide.

For Sporting, it was a bad night. It was a terrible night. It was a night that nobody around the MLS champions could have envisioned when they took off for Mexico City. And if anybody near Cruz Azul saw this coming, their veins are probably full of Machina blue. This was an aberration.

But it’s an aberration that broke against MLS, and embarrassingly so. This was MLS’s best, as crowned in December. And it was Mexico’s best, according to the current standings. While Cruz Azul does have the advantage of being fully in-season, is that advantage worth four goals? Especially when Sporting knew this game was coming? Considering the Galaxy ultimately lost by one in Tijuana while San Jose get a draw at Toluca, it’s difficult to apply the “out of season” excuse.

Sporting were just bad, giving a performance they won’t be able to redeem until the next Champions League. On a night when San Jose nearly advanced to the semifinals, the defending champions provided a stark, surprising contrast to MLS’s positive potential.

Barkley ineligible to make Chelsea debut in FA Cup replay

Photo credit: Chelsea FC / Twitter: @chelseafc
Leave a comment

Ross Barkley was expected — and himself expected — to make his Chelsea debut on Wednesday, when the Blues host Championship side Norwich City in a third-round FA Cup replay at Stamford Bridge.

Alas, the 24-year-old English midfielder has been ruled ineligible due to a lesser-known and -applied rules surrounding transfers and player registration.

[ MORE: Tuesday’s 3rd-round replay roundup | Wednesday preview ]

Barkley completed his move from Everton to Chelsea, for $20 million, on Jan. 5, the day before Chelsea and Norwich drew 0-0 at Carrow Road. In order to be eligible for Wednesday’s replay, Barkley is required to have completed his transfer prior to the noon cut-off the day prior to the original tie. While the time of official approval is unknown, Barkley’s move wasn’t announced by the club until after 5 p.m. in the UK.

As such, Chelsea will attempt to set up a behind-closed-doors friendly this week, in order to provide Barkley a bit of game action as he builds fitness and sharpness ahead of a potential debut against Brighton & Hove Albion on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com). Barkley hasn’t seen a single minute of first-team action this season after suffering a serious hamstring injury in the summer.

FA Cup preview: Three more PL sides face 3rd-round replays

Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Three more Premier League sides, including a top-four fighter, attempt to join a dozen of their top-flight contemporaries in the fourth round of the FA Cup on Wednesday…

[ MORE: Tuesday’s 3rd-round replay roundup ]

Chelsea and Swansea City host Championship opposition in the form of Norwich City and Wolverhampton Wanderers, respectively, while Bournemouth will make the 500-mile roundtrip to take on League One side Wigan Athletic.

The Blues, who now sit fourth in the PL after their disappointing 0-0 draw with Leicester City, could manage only a scoreless draw with the Canaries at Carrow Road earlier this month. They are winless in their last four games across all competitions — all draws — including their League Cup semifinal first-leg draw with Arsenal last week; the last three of those all finished without a single goal scored. Chelsea, who are tied with Liverpool with the fourth-most FA Cups in their history (7), lost out to Arsenal in last season’s final at Wembley Stadium.

Swansea are undoubtedly the side on highest Cupset alert, as Wolves are the runaway leaders and champions-elect in the Championship (10 points clear after 27 of 46 rounds played), thus able to devote more attention to the FA Cup than the typical second-division side. With the two sides separated by just a single place in the English footballing pyramid (Swansea, 20th in the PL; Wolves, 1st in the Championship), they appear destined to swap places by the end of May.

Meanwhile, Bournemouth’s punishment for conceding a pair of early goals to a side currently 32 places below them in the pyramid, is the long, midweek trip from the south coast to the DW Stadium in the northwest of England. It was the Premier Leaguers who needed a two second-half goals, including Steve Cook‘s 90th-minute equalizer, to draw level at home in the first meeting.

Tuesday’s FA Cup replay actionFULL ROUNDUP

Leicester City 2-0 Fleetwood Town
West Ham United 1-0 (AET) Shrewsbury Town
Mansfield Town 1-4 Cardiff City
Sheffield Wednesday 2-0 Carlisle United
Reading 3-0 Stevenage

Agent: 37-year-old Ronaldinho has retired

Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images
Leave a comment

SAO PAULO (AP) The brother and agent of 2005 Ballon d’Or winner Ronaldinho announced Tuesday that the former Brazil and Barcelona playmaker has retired from football.

Roberto Assis made the announcement to Brazilian media on behalf of the 37-year-old midfielder, who played his last professional match in 2015 for Brazil’s Fluminense.

“Ronnie’s professional career is over. He wants to be a football ambassador, do charity, and work with his friends in music from now on,” Assis told The Associated Press.

Assis hopes to schedule some farewell matches for Ronaldinho after the World Cup in Russia, which ends July 15. The initial plan is to play games in Brazil, Europe and Asia and to also get Brazil’s national team involved, Assis said.

Last July, Ronaldinho said on the sidelines of a friendly in Chechnya that was he was “too old” to return to action.

The Brazilian’s decorated career also includes one World Cup title (2002), one Champions League victory (2006) and two Spanish league titles with Barcelona, and two FIFA world player of the year awards (2004 and 2005).

Ronaldinho started his professional career at Gremio in southern Brazil in 1998. He left for Paris Saint-Germain in 2001 and was signed by Barcelona two seasons later.

At the Camp Nou, he was the engine of a team that took Barca back to the limelight. However, after a series of club trophies, Ronaldinho’s career took a downturn. He was often accused by Brazilian and Spanish media of lacking professionalism, despite his mentoring of a then youthful Lionel Messi.

In 2008, with Messi then leading Barcelona, Ronaldinho left for AC Milan. Despite being part of a team that won Serie A in 2011, he failed to reach his previous heights as a player.

When returning home became a real option, Ronaldinho frustrated Gremio’s efforts to re-sign him and joined Flamengo instead.

Disappointing performances in Rio de Janeiro took him to Atletico Mineiro, a club that then was more often fighting against relegation than for titles.

Yet a more mature Ronaldinho took Atletico to a different level.

In his last great run, Ronaldinho carried Atletico with his superb passes and dazzling dribbles to second place in the 2012 Brazilian Championship.

A year later, he was the key to his club lifting its first Copa Libertadores, South America’s most prestigious club trophy, but his hopes of playing at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil were dashed.

Ronaldinho left to play for Mexico’s Queretaro in 2014-15, but was mostly on the bench.

He played his last seven matches as a professional for Fluminense, though his performances were a far cry from his best days in Spain.

Now living in Rio, he has appeared in advertisements all over the world since leaving Fluminense.

USL granted 2018 2nd-division sanctioning by U.S. Soccer

Photo credit: USL / Twitter: @USL
Leave a comment

U.S. Soccer has officially granted the United Soccer League second-division sanctioning, behind first-division Major League Soccer, for the upcoming 2018 season, as well as first-division status for the National Women’s Soccer League.

[ MORE: Landon Donovan unveiled by Liga MX side Club Leon ]

USL, which will feature 33 teams in 2018, had been granted temporary second-division sanctioning, alongside the North American Soccer League, in 2017. As NASL’s demise continued and accelerated — the league will not begin play this spring, opting instead for a late-summer kickoff, after a number of its teams either folded or jumped ship to USL — USL, with the help of MLS, quickly pounced to capitalize — from U.S. Soccer’s statement:

Sanctioning allows NWSL and USL to operate a Division I and II league, respectively, during the 2018 season and includes a two-year pathway to full compliance with the Professional League Standards. USL has demonstrated substantial progress toward reaching full compliance since being granted provisional Division II sanctioning in 2017.

Conspiracy theorist’s take: USL supplanted NASL as the U.S.’s second-most viable professional men’s league — and more importantly, being granted official second-division status — paves the way for MLS to, at some point well down the line — say, 2030 or so — implement its own multi-tiered system of promotion and relegation, featuring anywhere between 60 and 80 teams, while still remaining a single-entity structure closed to the lower reaches of the sport in America, as the lines separating MLS and USL have only become more and more blurred in recent years.

[ MORE: Donovan ready to “win championships” after ending retirement ]

MLS realizes that public demand for promotion and relegation in the U.S. has grown significantly louder in recent years — particularly given the climate of the sport after the men’s national team failed to qualify for the World Cup, and subsequent ongoing presidential-election campaign — thus an open-but-not-really-open system which satisfies neither side will eventually be the end result.