MLS Snapshot: Philadelphia Union 3-3 Vancouver Whitecaps

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[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PvxxL86HcwU]

One game, 100 words or less: Down two goals going into the final half-hour, Philadelphia scored three times from minutes 63 to 71, with two goals from Conor Casey sandwiching Sebastien Le Toux’s 68th minute equalizer. After enjoying their lead for 12 minute, fans at PPL Park saw Zac MacMath give up the lead, with Pedro Morales coverting from the spot after the Philly keeper took own Darren Mattocks in the box.

Despite out-shooting Vancouver 29-6 and holding 59 percent of the ball, John Hackworth’s team was left to content itself with its sixth draw of the year, a valuable but disappointing point against one of the league’s better teams.

Three moments that mattered:

1. 41′ – Hurtado, Mesquida appear to bury Philadelphia – The Union had controlled the first half, but control is a strange thing in soccer. Sometimes, it breeds a comfort that leaves you exposed. Near the end of the first half, already up a goal, Vancouver took advantage of that control, with Erik Hurtado setting up Nicolás Mesquida 23 minutes after scoring the opener. Against a team that’s struggled all season to score goals, the 2-0 lead looked like enough.

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At the beginning of the season, Conor Casey appeared to be a poor fit for the Union’s new approach. For the second straight season, however, the former Rapid has become a focal point for Philadelphia.

2. 63′ – How do you lose Conor Casey? – Casey’s first goal? Fine. Great effort, and while you’d like your defenders to get in front of the cross, sometimes you have to take your hat off to the attacking player. Casey’s second goal, a blast inside the right post from the top of the arc? How does a team playing two holders give an attacker that much time from that spot? But also, how do the two defenders who should be keeping an eye on Philly’s number nine stay so stoic in the face of such a quality chance?

3. 80′ – That’s what Darren Mattocks is for – The Union will rue giving away the late penalty that cost them two points, but that’s what Darren Mattocks can do to you. And Pedro Morales, for that matter. One innocuous clearance and a hum drum layoff laid the foundation for Vancouver’s late counter, with a long ball off the outside of Morales’s right foot letting Mattocks’ speed undo the Union. MacMath made the wrong decision, being too aggressive on a ball that rolling toward a sharp angle, but you can empathize with his plight. Against slower players, he probably gets to that ball first.

Three Four lessons going forward:

1. Young Vancouver learns an old lesson – Any given Sunday, right? In this case, it was any given Saturday. Even against one of the team’s struggling sides, even with a 2-0 lead, a young Vancouver team was reminded: The weakest teams in MLS can still take a scalp, as evidenced by who won last year’s U.S. Open Cup.

2. Good Philadelphia is never that far away – This was an upset, but it wasn’t a smash and grab. Philadelphia played to the potential we saw early in the season. At home, against a team willing to play on the counter, the Union put up huge edges in shots and possession. While that doesn’t always mean a team will generate the best chances, on Saturday it did. That didn’t translate into a win, but it did remind us the good version of Philadelphia is never too far away.

3. Life without DeMerit may be near – After 24 minutes, Jay DeMerit was gone, unable to put weight on his leg as he left the game. On came Andy O’Brien, replacing a player who would have proved valuable as Philadelphia fought back from two goals down. Though Johnny Leveron gives Carl Robinson some depth in the middle, DeMerit’s loss could loom large for a team that was looking more likely to compete near the top of the Western Conference.

4. Mattocks and Hurtado, not Mattocks or Hurtado – Erik Hurtado’s goal and assist confirmed he belongs in the starting lineup, but does that have to be at the expense of Darren Mattocks? Ever since the Jamaican’s returned from injury, that’s been the case, but the best version of the Whitecaps sees both Hurtado and Mattocks in the starting XI.

Robinson’s made so many correct choices this year, it’s hard to fault him for holding out Mattocks, but like his flirtation with the diamond midfield, this may be Vancouver’s new coach being a little too reserved.

Where that leaves them:

  • Philadelphia: 3-7-6, but only three points out of fifth in the West.
  • Vancouver: 5-2-6, unbeaten in seven

Oxlade-Chamberlain injury update

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Jurgen Klopp does not seem confident that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will play again this season.

The Liverpool and England midfielder suffered an injury to his right knee early on in Liverpool’s 5-2 win over Roma in their UEFA Champions League semifinal first leg, as he appeared to extend his right knee under his body when making a challenge on Aleksandar Kolarov.

Speaking to the media following Liverpool’s dramatic win, Klopp was downbeat about Oxlade-Chamberlain’s chances of playing again this season.

“We don’t know exactly but if the medical department are quite concerned without a scan, you can imagine it’s difficult. The season is not that long anymore. It doesn’t look good,” Klopp said. “I’m a very positive person and still hope it only feels bad, but is not that bad. We’ll see. We lost a fantastic player tonight. It’s not good news.”

This injury has come at such a bad time for The Ox.

He has been flourishing with Liverpool in a central midfield role and has delivered key goals and assists in big wins since arriving from Arsenal last summer. Most notably the Ox’s driving midfield runs have caused Manchester City all kinds of problems and he scored two screamers against them in wins at Anfield in the Premier League and UCL.

Georginio Wijnaldum stepped in admirably for Oxlade-Chamberlain against Roma and the Dutch midfielder will be used alongside James Milner and Jordan Henderson from here on out by Klopp, especially with Emre Can battling a back injury.

As for Oxlade-Chamberlain, he will now be focused on trying to be fit for the UCL final on May 26 (if Liverpool get there) and on making England’s 2018 World Cup squad. That seems like a big ask given Klopp’s gloomy assessment.

Wenger: Timing of departure “not really my decision”

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Arsene Wenger has been speaking about his Arsenal departure and there are some intriguing details emerging.

Wenger, 68, announced last Friday that he would be leaving Arsenal at the end of the current 2017-18 campaign after almost 22 years in charge.

But when asked about the timing of his decision during his press conference ahead of the Europa League semifinal first leg against Atletico Madrid on Thursday, Wenger said it was taken out of his hands…

“The timing was not really my decision, the rest I have spoken about already,” Wenger said. “I focus on what I have to do every day. At the moment, I work like ever.”

Wenger added that he will “for sure” continue to work beyond this season but wasn’t giving anything away on where he would go. The Arsenal boss also said he had a “high opinion of Luis Enrique” but that didn’t “want to influence the next manager” of Arsenal with so many contenders mentioned.

What do we make of all this?

Wenger still had one more year left on his current deal at Arsenal and it appears he was keen to be in charge next season, but he could have simply been saying that he would have preferred an announcement at the end of the season. The growing notion that Wenger stepped down before he was sacked seems to be on point. After three Premier League titles and 10 major trophies in total in over two decades in charge, it appears Wenger didn’t get to decide when he called time on his Arsenal career.

The perfect end for Wenger at Arsenal would be to win the Europa League and then leave on a high, but these comments suggest the Frenchman may not be happy with some of the hierarchy at Arsenal.

These comments amid links to PSG and the French national team also suggest to rule out a role upstairs at Arsenal, at least for the foreseeable future, for Wenger.

Roma condemn violent scenes outside Anfield

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AS Roma have condemned an attack from some of its supporters on Liverpool’s fans before the game after a 53-year-old Liverpool supporter was injured outside Anfield before the UEFA Champions League semifinal first leg on Tuesday.

The Serie A side said that a “small minority of traveling fans brought shame on the club” as two men from Rome have been arrested on suspicion of attempted murder after the attack on the Liverpool fan who is in a critical condition after suffering head injuries.

Below is the statement in full from the Italian club.

AS Roma condemns in the strongest possible terms the abhorrent behavior of a small minority of traveling fans who brought shame on the club and the vast majority of Roma’s well-behaved supporters at Anfield after getting involved in clashes with Liverpool supporters before last night’s fixture.

There is no place for this type of vile behavior in football and the club is now cooperating with Liverpool Football Club, UEFA and the authorities. The club’s thoughts and prayers are with the 53-year-old Liverpool fan in hospital and his family at this time.

Salah’s sensational season in context

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Mohamed Salah is having a season on the same level as Lionel Messi.

Some* will even say it’s better.

[ MORE: LFC 2-1 Roma | Klopp reacts ]

There are few ways to overstate how well the Egyptian has performed for Liverpool this season, and few matches have been as strong as Tuesday’s destruction of AS Roma.

Make no mistake about it: Destruction is the right word. I Lupi isn’t dead thanks to the Reds right side of the defense and James Milner‘s arm, but it was fading out of consciousness when Salah departed the game.

It’s not crazy to draw the connection. Just ask Jurgen Klopp:

“If anyone wants to say it is my mistake that we concede the two goals because I change the striker, I have no problem with that,” he said. “Mo was running all the time and it would not have helped us if he gets an injury. What a player. If you think he is the best in the world, write it or say it. He is in outstandingly good shape, world-class shape, but to be the best in the world you need to do it over a longer period, I think. The other two are not bad.”

No, no they are not, but Salah is on their level.

The aesthetics of his first goal were first-class, dinging off the bottom of the cross bar like a vicious swish of a Steph Curry three. When the night ended, Salah had two more goals and two more assists to bring his total to 43 goals and 15 assists in 47 matches. In three more matches, the best player on the planet has 40 and 18 (Ronaldo has 42 and 7 in 39).

[ MORE: LFC supporter in critical condition after Roma attack ]

The reason not to overreact is Luis Suarez’s 2013-14, in which he posted posted 31 goals and 24 assists in 37 games and would’ve arguably made Salah’s season look just “pretty great” if the Reds were in European football (or, one could argue, Suarez wasn’t slowed by the demands of a more congested adventure).

And we also won’t know Salah’s path next season. Take Cristiano Ronaldo’s 2007-08 season, the closest thing we have to Suarez or Salah in this generation. The then-23-year-old posted 42+8 in 49, but took a step back the next season before exploding into space upon debut with Madrid the following season (His second Real campaign, 2010-11, was the first real otherworldly CR7 campaign, with 53+18 in 54).

Salah is the Premier League Player of the Year, and he’s the front-runner for the Ballon d’Or (which is likely to be determined by this summer’s World Cup in Russia, with Argentina and Portugal possibly on a quarterfinal collision course and Egypt in an very winnable Group A with Russia, Uruguay, and Saudi Arabia).

Jurgen Klopp deserves much credit for Salah’s explosion. Even if the Egyptian began his ascent in Italy, there’s been nothing like this. And if he can do it a few more years, he has the chance to land amongst the generational names in soccer (perhaps as the best African player in Premier League history with Yaya Toure and Didier Drogba).

He’ll almost certainly become the all-time single-season Liverpool league goal scorer this season barring rest for the UCL, and he’ll be their top all-time according to Opta if he nabs four or more goals across 4-5 matches (Roma again, Stoke, Chelsea, Brighton, and probably Real Madrid or Bayern Munich).

The Reds were unbelievably good for 80 minutes on Tuesday — 75 of which were Salah-led — and the praise would’ve been flowing like a waterfall had they not switched off for 10 (in which it must be said Liverpool was fortunate to only concede twice!).

*By the way, Messi fans, you’ll be relieved to count me as not one of those who’d say Salah is having a better season. It’s closer than you think. Messi is better than Salah in league play, while Salah is having a superior UCL campaign. Given the general consensus top-to-bottom on Premier League vs. La Liga and Barca’s UCL competition vs. Liverpool’s opponents — which is drawing level now — we’d say it’s even.

Messi vs. Salah league play (per 90, Squawka)
Assists: Messi 0.4-0.31
Key passes: Messi, 2.16-1.63
Chances created: Messi, 2.56-1.94
Attack score: Messi, 73.04-54.5
Possession score: Messi, 5.6 to minus-5.12
Pass completion (%): Messi, 81-77
Shot accuracy: Even (62%)
Tackles won: Salah, 0.24-0.2
Take-ons won (%): Messi, 69.47-64.96

Messi vs. Salah league play (per 90, Squawka)
Assists: Salah, 0.45-0.23
Key passes: Salah, 2.13-1.72
Chances created: Salah, 2.58-1.95
Attack score: Salah, 70.89-55.69
Possession score: Messi, 2.71 to minus-3.34
Pass completion (%): Messi, 81-73
Shot accuracy(%): Salah, 73-69
Tackles won: Messi, 0.69-.45
Take-ons won (%): Salah, 76.4-61.4