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MLS Roundup: Seattle wins fourth in a row; Three move even atop Eastern Conference

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The uneven nature of Major League Soccer’s opening schedule often makes it difficult for teams to separate themselves from the pack, but after the ninth week of the 2014 season, three teams’ form has created a group of early title favorites. This weekend, Real Salt Lake, the Seattle Sounders, and Sporting Kansas City all found different ways to show why they currently make up that top tier:

  • The Sounders fell behind early against Philadelphia but never let the game leave their grasp. Even though the team’s goals didn’t come until the game’s final 30 minutes, there was little doubly Seattle would overcome its hole.
  • Real Salt Lake, on the other hand, tempted a series of doubts by taking a two-goal deficit into the final 20 minutes against Chicago. The Western Conference champions responded, however, to stay unbeaten.
  • And Sporting Kansas City pulled an SKC special, scoring the first goal before keeping its opponents at arm’s length, with only one moment in Sunday’s first half casting doubt upon the champs’ eventual victory over Columbus.

Particularly with World Cup camps approaching, MLS’s pecking order is bound to change. Through nine weeks, however, three teams are raising the bar. Last year’s conference champions have been joined by the surging Sounders as standard-setters going into the season’s third month.

Here what happened in Week 9:

Toronto FC 1-2 New England Revolution

A tough return for Doneil Henry saw the Canadian international play a major part in both New England goals. Thanks to the defender’s first half giveaway and second half handball, the Revolution were able to claim the franchise’s first victory ever at BMO Field, earning three points that temporarily put Jay Heaps’ team alone at the top of the Eastern Conference.

Vancouver Whitecaps 3-2 San Jose Earthquakes

Three goals in the match’s first 20 minutes dug a hole San Jose couldn’t climb out of. Pedro Morales’s early brace and Kekuta Manneh’s opener ended up being too much for Chris Wondolowski’s double to overcome, with the San Jose captain scoring in injury time of each half to leave the visitors within one.

Chicago Fire 2-3 Real Salt Lake

First half goals from Mike Magee and Juan Luis Anangonó allowed Chicago, in search of its first win of the season, to enjoy a two-goal lead for most of the match. Starting with João Plata’s 72nd minute goal, however, the Fire embarked on a collapse that snapped the team’s six-match unbeaten streak, with late goals from Álvaro Saborío and Plata allowing RSL to stay the league’s only undefeated club.

Colorado Rapids 1-0 LA Galaxy

Vicente Sánchez’s clever chip in the 20th minute gave Colorado an early lead over their sluggish visitors, but come the hour-mark, LA had a chance to extend its four-game unbeaten run. For the second time this season, however, Robbie Keane failed to convert a potential equalizer from the spot. Pushing his attempt wide right, LA’s captain relegated his team to its second loss of the year, allowing the Rapids to recover from last week’s loss at Seattle.

Seattle Sounders 2-1 Philadelphia Union

Brad Evans returned to the starting lineup with an early own goal, a score that allowed the Union to carry a one-goal edge into the second half. Obafemi Martins, however, took Seattle’s first step toward a fourth straight win, scoring in the 61st minute. When Chad Marshall headed home the winner from a 84th minute corner, the Sounders were back on top of the Western Conference.

Portland Timbers 3-2 D.C. United

Bookend dramatics allowed the Timbers to claim their first victory of the season. Gastón Fernández, 34 seconds into the game, scored Portland’s opener, a goal that was eventually pulled back by Davy Arnaud. A converted corner and an own goal from Futty Danso left the teams tied at two going into injury time, where Maxi Urutti’s 94th minute winner got Portland into the win column.

Chivas USA 1-4 Houston Dynamo

Erick Torres’s early goal from the spot went for naught as Houston piled on four goals over the ensuing hour, the last of which came from the spot after Dan Kennedy’s understudy, Tim Melia, was sent off. Winning for the first time since mid-March, Houston also broke a 512-minute goalless drought from open play. Chivas USA is winless in eight.

FC Dallas 0-1 New York Red Bulls

Je-Vaughn Watson’s 10th minute red card seemed to doom Dallas, but over the next hour, the home side generated the better chances. In the 71st minute, however, a long through ball from Dax McCarty put Thierry Henry behind the Dallas defense, where the Red Bulls playmaker set up Bradley Wright-Phillips’ sixth goal of the season.

Sporting Kansas City 2-0 Columbus Crew

Jacob Peterson put the home side up after 10 minutes, but a header from Bernardo Añor that was inches from crossing the line nearly brought Columbus back before halftime. In the second, Columbus’s closest chance was whistled dead after Jairo Arrieta was judged offside, with a late goal Claudio Bieler providing insurance. Sporting is back on top of the Eastern Conference.

Loss to Sevilla quickly puts Real Madrid’s Zidane on the defensive

SEVILLE, SPAIN - JANUARY 15:  Head Coach of Real Madrid CF Zinedine Zidane looks on prior to  the match against Real Madrid CF during the La Liga match between Sevilla FC and Real Madrid CF at Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan on January 15, 2017 in Seville, Spain.  (Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images)
Photo by Aitor Alcalde/Getty Images
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MADRID (AP) Real Madrid’s first loss after a 40-game unbeaten streak was enough to put coach Zinedine Zidane on the defensive.

Two days after Madrid’s unbeaten record was halted by a 2-1 defeat at Sevilla in the Spanish league, Zidane was forced to defend some of his players against criticism from fans and local media.

[ MORE: Klopp, Liverpool still consulting lawyers over absurd Matip situation ]

Most comments were aimed at goalkeeper Keylor Navas, who failed to stop Sevilla’s injury-time winner on Sunday. Navas got to Stevan Jovetic‘s long-range shot but was unable to keep the ball from going in.

“He’s having a really good season,” Zidane said on Tuesday. “You can always ask for more, but if up until now we had gone 40 games without losing, it’s for a reason, and he has been there all the way.”

There have been calls for Zidane to give reserve goalkeeper Kiko Casilla a chance, but the coach said there was “no need to go over this again.”

Zidane also dismissed talk about signing a new goalkeeper.

“These are rumors,” he said. “We are focused on what we are doing this year. Whatever happens next I’m not interested and it’s not the time to talk about it. The three goalkeepers we have are important, they’re doing well and I’m very happy with them. I don’t want to change anything we’re doing.”

[ MORE: How Sevilla hope to break up the Madrid-Barca duopoly ]

Zidane defended forward Karim Benzema, who lost possession near midfield in a mistake that led to host Sevilla’s winner on Sunday.

“Everyone can say and write what they want,” Zidane said. “On a field, playing 90 minutes, you can’t do everything right. There is talk of lack of concentration, but we only had five bad minutes and that happens in football.”

Benzema also missed a chance to score from close range in the game, but a few days earlier it was the French striker who netted in stoppage time in a Copa del Rey match against Sevilla to help Madrid set the Spanish unbeaten record.

Zidane downplayed the end of Madrid’s unbeaten streak. The club hadn’t lost since a 2-0 defeat at Wolfsburg in the Champions League in April.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

“These things happen,” he said. “Nothing is going to change in what I’m going to do. Those who are not Real Madrid fans will want us to lose, but we must be ready and think that what we’re doing is fine. We lost a game, something that happens, and now we have to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.”

Madrid hosts Celta Vigo on Wednesday in a first-leg match in the quarterfinals of the Copa del Rey.

Celta has won all four matches this year.

“I am not surprised by Celta’s record because they’re a very good team, they fight and play very good football,” Zidane said. “It’ll be another complicated match for us.”

FA fines Man City’s Sagna over “10 against 12” Instagram message

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - JANUARY 02: Scott Arfield of Burnley (L) tackles Bacary Sagna of Manchester City (R) during the Premier League match between Manchester City and Burnley at Etihad Stadium on January 2, 2017 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
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LONDON (AP) The English Football Association has fined Manchester City defender Bacary Sagna 40,000 pounds (around $50,000) for an Instagram post about a referee.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Sagna posted a photo with the caption “10 against 12.. but still fighting and winning as a team” on the social network site following City’s 2-1 win against Burnley on Jan. 2.

Sagna later amended the post to read “still fighting and winning as a team” after a match that saw referee Lee Mason send off midfielder Fernandinho.

[ MORE: Klopp, Liverpool still consulting lawyers over absurd Matip situation ]

The FA also warned Sagna about his future conduct.

Klopp, Liverpool still consulting lawyers over in-limbo Matip

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 11: Joel Matip of Liverpool and Andre Ayew of West Ham United compete for the ball during the Premier League match between Liverpool and West Ham United at Anfield on December 11, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)
Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images
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Few footballing sagas will ever reach heights of absurdity comparable to that of the Joel Matip/Liverpool versus Cameroon/FIFA battle currently raging, as the Reds defender finds himself “ineligible” to play for his club due to an international call-up 18 months after announcing his international retirement.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

PST’s Joe Prince-Wright summed up the situation quite well, in full, right here. An excerpt:

Matip, 25, was called up by the Cameroon national team for the 2017 African Cup of Nations which is currently taking place in Gabon. However, the former Schalke defender has previously stated that he did not want to play for them and he had retired from international duty.

Cameroon called him into their initial 35-man squad for the competition anyway but did not include him in their final 23-man squad once it became clear Matip, along with six other players, had no interest in playing for them at AFCON.

FIFA has confirmed that Liverpool has been in touch regarding Matip’s status and it now appears that he will not be able to play in any other competition while Cameroon is still in AFCON action under Article 5 of FIFA’s rules.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday | Thursday ]

Fast forward a few days, and Jurgen Klopp and Co. have no further clarity regarding the situation. It’s so unclear, in fact, that Klopp said on Tuesday he may select the 25-year-old during one of two remaining games this week, and hope for the best — quotes from the Guardian:

“As you can imagine, we are in a lot of talks. We’ve done transfers quicker than this. It’s already long term but now it’s getting really tense on our side. We’ve tried everything but at the end I have to make the decision. Of course I have to ask [Liverpool’s lawyers] but the decision is for me to make. I could put him in the lineup. I don’t think the referee is going to say: ‘Stop, stop, you cannot go on the pitch.’ But I will do it when it’s OK from our point of view. Of course I need advice — I’m not a lawyer.”

“Most of the time in life you know if you do this, then you get this. But it’s not 100 percent clear what happens [if Matip plays]. We try everything to win football games. If this can happen — out of the tournament or whatever — then we have to decide about the risk. He’s ready to play for us and that makes it difficult.”

What an utter disaster of a situation Cameroon have intentionally created here.

VIDEO: Jeison Murillo’s incredible bicycle from a corner kick

MILAN, ITALY - JANUARY 17:  (R-L) Jeison Murillo of FC Internazionale celebrates his first goal with Geoffrey Kondogbia during the TIM Cup match between FC Internazionale and Bologna FC at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on January 17, 2017 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)
Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)
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Look away now, Andy Carroll. Take a bow, Jeison Murillo.

[ VIDEOS: All in a week’s work — Messi free kick no. 1 | Messi free kick no. 2 ]

Just three days after Carroll scored the bicycle-kick goal of the year (so we thought), here comes Murillo, Inter Milan’s 24-year-old Colombian striker, to steal his thunder (below video). The fact he did it directly from a corner kick, with the ball traveling roughly 40 yards before flinging his body into the air and striking the ball so cleanly, (somehow) trumps Carroll’s accomplishment from Saturday.

[ MORE: PL Power Rankings — Tight at the top… and bottom ]

Sensational goals come in twos now, apparently, as Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Olivier Giroud scored stunning scorpion-kick goals (WATCH HERE and HERE) just days apart earlier in the season.