Late Portugal equalizer leaves United States with just one point after 2-2 draw

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The United States was on the verge of securing a place in the knockout round, but a late header by Varela secured a point for Portugal and denied Jurgen Klinsmann all three points, leaving the US with a gut-wrenching feeling after a roller coaster ride in Manaus.

It appeared that Clint Dempsey had given the US a stunning victory with a goal in the 81st minute, but Portugal remained alive in the “Group of Death” by snatching back a point.

The match started with a gut-wrenching moment for the United States. Just five minutes into the game, Geoff Cameron went to make a routine clear on a ball into the box, but he flubbed it, and the ball fell right to Nani at the back post, and the Manchester United winger didn’t miss with a howitzer into the back of the net for an early Portugal lead.

The Seleção were strong in the early going, both before and after the goal, and the United States struggled to hold any sort of possession.

[ MORE: Man of the Match rankings | Talking points | How the U.S. can advance ]
[ MORE: Soccerly covers the World Cup ]

But the US held off any more danger from the opponents, and slowly built themselves into the game, proving the more dangerous side by the 15th minute.

It stayed that way for much of the first half, with the US coming close a number of times.

Clint Dempsey had the two early chances for the US on set pieces, first in the 13th minute on a free kick that he blazed just over the bar, and then on an 18th minute corner when the ball dropped to Dempsey on the back post and the striker looked to chip the keeper, just missing over the top again.

A pair of chances then fell to Michael Bradley, and he just missed as well. He struck one over in the 24th minute,and four minutes later skimmed a slow-roller wide, beating Beto the goalkeeper but beating the post as well.

Tim Howard was called upon as the half wore down, and performed admirably to keep the game at just 1-0. A pair of counter-attacks for Portugal proved dangerous, with Howard saving well off a Nani smash three minutes before the break.

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Jermaine Jones’s curling goal drew the United States back level to restore order after Portugal’s early lead.

He’d best that save two minutes later though, as another counter got Nani another shot, which he crashed into the post. The rebound found substitute Eder, who looked to loop the ball into the far corner, but Howard got up from his spot on the ground and tipped the ball wide acrobatically.

The second half began a tactical chess match, but the US had the first true chance 10 minutes after the break. Fabian Johnson bombed down the right flank, and brought the ball all the way to the end line before cutting it back brilliantly into the middle of the box, drawing Beto out in the process.

The ball came to Bradley, and with the goal gaping, he smashed his shot into the knee of Ricardo Costa who cleared off the line, breaking US hearts.

Jurgen Klinsmann’s bunch continued to ask questions of the Portuguese defense, and they got their breakthrough for their patience. A corner ping-ponged through the box before coming out to Jermaine Jones at the top of the key, and with nobody expecting him to shoot, he fired a strike that Beto never saw, and it nestled into the far corner for the equalizer.

As the country caught its breath, Portugal put on a response, with Raul Meireles and Nani bagging half-chances in the next five minutes. Portugal manager Paulo Bento, having already made an early injury change and a halftime sub, then used his final substitution in the 69th minute to pull Meireles for Varela, using all three of his changes before the US had used a single one.

Things shut down for a bit as the US looked to be on their heels a bit, but it would all fall to them in the final 10 minutes.

An attack down the right side through substitute DeAndre Yedlin proved fruitful. The 20-year-old burst all the way down the flank and to the end-line before cutting back into the box.  It bobbled to Bradley, who tried an off-balance shot, but he scuffed it and it fell to Zusi on the far side. The US winger cut the ball back into the middle, and Demspey crashed the box and chested it home for the 2-1 lead.

The Americans were forced to defend as the clock wound down, as Portugal looked to stave off elimination by throwing everything forward.  It went down to the last moment, and a cross from Cristiano Ronaldo found Varela for an open header, and he put it home on literally the last touch of the game.

With the point, the United States remains in second place in the group, level with Germany on points.  Portugal remains alive in the group with the draw, although they trail a qualifying spot by three points and own a -4 goal differential, five fewer than the US.

LINEUPS:

United States – Howard; Johnson, Cameron, Besler, Beasley; Beckerman, Jones; Bedoya (Yedlin 72′), Bradley, Zusi (Gonzalez 90+1′); Dempsey (Wondolowski 87′).

Goals: Jones 64′, Dempsey 81′

Portugal – Beto; Bruno Alves, Pereira, A. Almeida (William 46′), Costa; Veloso, Meireles (Varela 69′), Mourinho; Nani, Ronaldo, Postiga (Eder 16′).

Goals: Nani 5′, Varely 90+5′

Barkley ineligible to make Chelsea debut in FA Cup replay

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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

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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

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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

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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.