MLS Snapshot: Real Salt Lake 2-1 Seattle Sounders

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One game, 100 words (or less): A largely controlling performance from Real Salt Lake saw the final score undermined by one terrible defensive sequence. While that breakdown prevented Nick Rimando from keeping a third straight clean sheet, it couldn’t stop Jeff Cassar’s team from passing the Sounders in the Western Conference. With early second half goals from Joao Plata and Osvaldo Alonso (own goal) carrying RSL’s first half success through half time, the two teams swapped places in the standings, giving last year’s conference champions a view from the top.

Goals

Real Salt Lake: Plata 53′, Alonso (o.g.) 57′

Seattle: Barrett 72′

Three moments that mattered:

45′ – Deceiving appearances – As the teams left the field at halftime, with Real Salt Lake’s 61 pct. possession having rendered Seattle’s attack a non-factor, Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid expressed his satisfaction with his team’s performance, explaining his players had withstood the home team’s charge. Despite his side giving up three or four good chances (mostly through Plata), Schmid was optimistic about the second half, claiming quicker play out of midfield could help Seattle turn the match in the second half.

53′ – Reality – Eight minutes into the second half, RSL proved Schmid’s optimism ill-placed. Off a restart deep down Seattle’s left, Luke Mulholland found Plata at Stefan Frei’s far post, with the 5’2″ attacker beating Lamar Neagle to head home the game’s opening goal.

57′ – Giving the game away – A series of poor decisions in Seattle’s defensive third culminated in a bad clearance from Zach Scott, one that led to an RSL chance in front of goal. Trying to track a Mulholland run into the penalty area, Alonso inadvertently redirected a through ball behind Frei, his attempted interception becoming the game’s winning goal.

Lineups

Real Salt Lake: Nick Rimando; Tony Beltran, Nat Borchers, Chris Schuler, Chris Wingert (Carlos Salcedo 89′); Luke Mulholland, Kyle Beckerman, Ned Grabavoy; Luis Gil; Joao Plata (Cole Grossman 82′), Olmes Garcia (Robbie Findley 60′)

Seattle: Stefan Frei; DeAndre Yedlin, Chad Marshall, Zach Scott, Leo Gonzalez (Aaron Kovar 88′); Brad Evans (Andy Rose 46′), Osvaldo Alonso, Gonzalo Pineda, Lamar Neagle (Chad Barrett 62′); Clint Dempsey, Kenny Cooper

Three lessons going forward:

1. No answers from Seattle – Are they collapsing? Was Wednesday a rebound? Today, it was hard to tell. Real Salt Lake played very well, and on the road, on short rest, it may be best to give Seattle the benefit of the doubt. With the wisdom of hindsight, this seems like a game they weren’t going to win.

2. And that was a shorthanded RSL – No Javi Morales, out with a hip problem. Álvaro Saborío’s still a couple of weeks away, while Sebastian Jaime’s yet to pull on a uniform. RSL is going to be stronger, yet even with a number of key absences,* Cassar’s team still looked Cup-contender strong. Perhaps they didn’t make complete amends for their 4-0 loss earlier this season in Seattle, but they proved they’re the better team now.

* – Seattle was missing Obafemi Martins and Marco Pappa.

3. Don’t underestimate Joao Plata – As if the Ecuadorian’s goal totals don’t say enough (he’s now up to 11 this season), the diminutive Plata, all 62 inches of him, has scored with his head in two games in a row. From today’s opening moments, he was the key man in RSL’s attack, pulling Chad Marshall wide as his team used him to make headway down the left. In the absence of Morales, Plata served as the team’s focal point, helping RSL claim a key three points.

Where this leaves them

  • 42 points leaves RSL atop both the West and the Supporters’ Shield race. Not bad for a team in the middle of a bad patch just over a month ago.
  • Seattle’s no longer in first, but there’s nothing to worry about, yet. Two games in hand on RSL means the West’s lead is there for the taking, should they recapture their spring form.

 

Zlatan Ibrahimovic confirms Man United contract talks

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic is in talks with Manchester United about extending his stay at Old Trafford beyond this season.

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The veteran Swedish striker, 35, has scored 26 goals in 41 appearances in all competitions this season, and he has an option to extend his contract for another year. However, that option hasn’t been triggered yet by Ibrahimovic and United’s fans seem to be getting rather tetchy about the prospect of him not being around next season.

Ibrahimovic is enjoying life in England and revealed to the Manchester Evening News that he is in talks with the club about extending his stay in the Premier League.

“Let’s see what happens, we are talking,” Ibrahimovic said. “I have an option for another year, I want to do great as long as I’m here, so let us see, there is a lot of time. I’m enjoying being at a fantastic club, without doubts, one of the biggest clubs in the world with a great coach (Jose Mourinho).

“I know him before (from our time at Inter Milan), he’s a winner, he’s the perfect coach for this club. Being a Manchester United player, I don’t know how many people have that possibility but I am a Man United player, people wanted me here, I chose the club, I chose the best English club, that’s the way it works.”

Ibrahimovic also hinted that he would stay by stating he “never leaves a job unfinished” when talking about his dedication.

“I’m a person when I go into something I put my head 200 per cent, and I do what I’m good at. I go in, I go for the kill and I go out,” Ibrahimovic said. “And when I go out there is no complaints, that’s what I do. I never leave a job unfinished. I always go in, do my job, and in the way that is a fair play, a fair deal, that is what I do.”

With offers reported pouring in from Major League Soccer and the Chinese Super League, Ibrahimovic will likely have those kind of deals on the table next summer too. His current deal at United sees him paid over $310,000 per week but after joining from Paris Saint-Germain on a free transfer it could be one of the best pieces of business in United’s history if he helps them win the Europa League and/or finish in the top four in the PL this season.

If he leads the Red Devils back to the UEFA Champions League and has one more season as the talisman for Mourinho at Old Trafford, then leaves to finish out his playing days elsewhere, the legendary forward will go down as a hero in the eyes of United’s fans.

Portugal airport to be named after Ronaldo near his hometown

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FUNCHAL, Portugal (AP) Welcome to Cristiano Ronaldo Airport.

That will be the message awaiting passengers in the Madeira Islands from Wednesday, when the local airport will be renamed after the local star by the regional government.

Ronaldo is expected to attend a ceremony at the airport outside his hometown of Funchal on Wednesday, a day after his Portugal side lost 3-2 to Sweden in the city in a friendly.

The name change attracted a lot of attention locally, with many politicians opposing it.

Portugal’s squad landed on Monday at the airport displaying the trophy it won at the 2016 European Championship in France.

Funchal also has a Ronaldo statue and a museum about the player, as well a hotel complex named after him.

Arena reacts to USMNT draw, expects CONCACAF fight to end

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Bruce Arena didn’t enjoy watching Tuesday’s 1-1 draw between the United States and Panama, but he’s not upset with the result.

“The referee didn’t blow his whistle too much, and that’s the way the game looked for 90 minutes,” Arena said.

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Arena’s Yanks struggled to find their flow in the draw, ravaged by injuries to their back line. Arena praised his back four for their performance in difficult circumstances on the road with new teammates.

And he’s feeling a lot better than a week ago, when the U.S. had zero points and sat last in the table.

[ WATCH: Full match replay (Spanish) ]

“We’re obviously in better shape with four points in two games. We’ve made progress. Every game in qualifying is going to be critical for every team. Everyone’s in it. It’s going to be a battle for the second, third, and fourth spots.”

The Americans’ next World Cup qualifier is June 8 against Trinidad and Tobago before a June 11 road trip to Azteca to face Mexico.

Panama 1-1 USMNT: Ugly, scrappy point for both sides

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The United States will finish the international break in the Hex’s fourth place after a 1-1 draw at Panama in World Cup qualifying on Tuesday.

Clint Dempsey scored off a feed from Christian Pulisic to give the U.S. a brief 1-0 lead, and Gabriel Gomez leveled the score before halftime.

The Americans’ next World Cup qualifier is June 8 against Trinidad and Tobago before a June 11 road trip to Azteca to face Mexico.

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Here’s the Hex table as it stands, with the U.S. on pace for a playoff spot against Asia’s playoff winner:

Mexico — 10 points
Costa Rica — 7 points
Panama — 5 points
———————
USMNT — 4 points
———————-
Honduras — 4 points
Trinidad and Tobago — 3 points

[ WATCH: Full match replay (Spanish) ]

The first 10 minutes were a bit frenetic, with the U.S. focused on adventurous first touch passes when it managed to earn the ball from Panama.

That feel wasn’t aided by the officiating, as Cesar Ramos was inconsistent in a very physical opening quarter-hour (and never pulled a single card).

Felipe Baloy flashed a header over the cross bar off a 16th minute corner kick as he lost Jozy Altidore and nodded back across goal. It was a bit of set piece foreshadowing, as Arena has yet to fix a long-held USMNT problem.

Christian Pulisic was fired up when Luis Tejada shoved him to the turf in the 20th minute.

Tim Ream bailed out Jorge Villafana, who wasn’t as composed and smart as his Friday versus Panama, sliding to divert Armando Cooper’s cross for a corner kick.

Jermaine Jones cued up Pulisic moments later, but the youngster had to wait for a bounding ball to settle before Panama conceded a corner. That opportunity was wasted by an overly aggressive Gonzalez, who was called for a foul before the ball arrived in the 18.

Howard saw his first danger and averted it when Alberto Quintero shook Zusi to rip a shot on frame. It was 0-0 after 32 minutes.

Then, the breakthrough. Dempsey moved to within a goal of Landon donovan’s all-time mark thanks to Pulisic, who cooked Felipe Baloy and held off Roman Torres before laying off to the veteran. 1-0, 39′.

The lead lasted all of three minutes, as Gomez pounced on a loose ball with the Yanks’ back line at sixes and sevens off a long throw-in. Gomez turned off Jermaine Jones and lost Villafana to bury his chance behind Howard. 1-1, 44′.

The second half began with more chunky play until Villafana blazed down the left wing on an overlapping run to cross for Pulisic, whose shot was forced out for a corner which led to nothing.

Dempsey then turned a Michael Bradley free kick to a waiting Jaime Penedo as the Yanks started to refind their flow.

Panama found a doorstep chance when Torres nodded down for Tejada, but Howard made an exceptional nether regions “leg” save to keep it 1-1.

Arena introduced Alejandro Bedoya for Darlington Nagbe with 20 minutes to play, a move that was a testament to the physical nature of the game.

Fittingly, it was creative work from Pulisic that helped the U.S. win a corner kick soon after, though Penedo claimed the offering.

More chances came Panama’s way, as the U.S. spent much of the late stages desperately clearing loose balls. On another night, with better finishing from Tejada, the Yanks would’ve been sunk.