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An all-timer: Toronto onto MLS Cup Final, outlasting Montreal in thriller

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The game in (more than) 100 words: The thrills didn’t relent over 90 minutes in Toronto, and they had no choice but to give the fans more.

In front of a rambunctious BMO Field crowd, Toronto and Montreal took the 3-2 first leg in Quebec and flipped it on its ear in regulation.

Jozy Altidore backed up his big words, bulling his way around the field, clobbering Impact players in both legal and illegal fashion.

Ignacio Piatti was effective even when he stumbled for the visitors, keeping pace with his MVP-caliber season.

[ MORE: Sounders win the West ]

The first chance of overtime fell to Piatti, and Clint Irwin stopped the cross from reaching substitute Didier Drogba. The next twist came via withdrawal, as Sebastian Giovinco had to be substituted in the first period of extra time.

With names like Drogba, Bradley, Piatti, Altidore, and Giovinco, of course you had Steven Beitashour and Benoit Cheyrou teaming up for the winner, right? Right?

The leg ended 5-2. The match? 7-5. Seattle, you’re coming to Toronto.

Seven moments that mattered

24′ — Piatti opens up TFC back line for Oduro — Ignacio Piatti was one of the best players in MLS this season, and the electric Argentine carried a Montreal counter deep into Toronto territory before sliding a pass onto the path of Oduro. Goalkeeper Clint Irwin could only get a piece of the ex-TFC man’s shot, and it was 4-2 on aggregate.

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38′ — Cooper cleans up the trash — Nick Hagglund’s header off a corner kick was cleared off the line by Hernan Bernardello, but the rebound kicked off Hagglund into the path of Cooper, who scored his first TFC goal to level the tie and put the Reds back within a goal of advancing to the final.

44′ — Jozy does it (again) — Another set piece, another goal for TFC. Sebastian Giovinco’s near post corner kick was turned just inside the pipe by the head of Jozy Altidore, who put Toronto in front.

53′ — Piatti flips the script — Piatti got one of his own to put Montreal back on the plane to Seattle, as Johan Venegas slipped him through and the Argentine’s mishit shot fooled Clint Irwin and trickled over the line.

68′ — Hagglund makes amends — The Xavier alum was partially at fault for Montreal going ahead, but Hagglund rose high to hammer a header home to put extra time back in play. More set piece woes for Montreal, but no one said this was an advertisement for defense.

98′ — Guess who? Cheyrou! — Reigning MVP Sebastian Giovinco had to be subbed off in the first period of stoppage time, and his substitute scored moments later. Steven Beitashour swept a cross right into the thick of the box, and Cheyrou rose high to bury a header.

Man of the match: Altidore

Goalscorers: Oduro (24′), Cooper (37′), Altidore (45′), Piatti (53′), Hagglund (68′), Cheyrou (98′), Ricketts (100′)

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Timbers sign Peruvian winger Andy Polo from Liga MX’s Morelia

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) The Portland Timbers have acquired winger Andy Polo on loan from Liga MX club Monarcas Morelia for the upcoming season.

The 23-year-old native of Peru played in 25 matches last year for Morelia and made six starts with two goals.

He’s also World Cup-bound, having appeared in Peru’s two-legged playoff against New Zealand in November. Peru won 2-0 on aggregate. Overall, he’s appeared with the Peruvian national team 15 times since his senior debut in 2016.

“Andy is a versatile, young player who will add another element to our attack, and we believe that he has further upside to his development,” Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese said in a statement.

The Timbers used targeted allocation money and have a purchase option. Polo’s arrival is pending a physical and receipt of a visa.

He will occupy an international roster spot.

Can Man United still sign Sanchez without Mkhitaryan swap?

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The answer to the (first) titled question is, undoubtedly, yes.

[ MORE: Wednesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Tuesday | Friday ]

The latter question — the “will they?” — remains a relative unknown at this point, but if reports out of the UK are to be believed, Manchester United are just as likely to send $40 million (or so) Arsenal’s way in exchange for Alexis Sanchez, should Henrikh Mkhitaryan refuse the move by declining any contract offers from the Gunners.

[ MORE: Conte bewildered VAR not used in Chelsea PK controversies ]

The thinking, at least for the last few days since Man United somewhat unexpectedly entered the Sanchez sweepstakes, was that swapping the Armenian for the Chilean was the obvious — and, perhaps only — way forward. Call it special circumstances or an obvious audible, but that’s not necessarily the case — from the Guardian:

“It is understood that if Mkhitaryan does not leave Mourinho believes that, given the club’s robust finances, [Man United executive vice-chairman] Ed Woodward could still sanction a move for a player who would potentially vastly improve United.”

By the time Sanchez is signed, sealed and delivered, United will have also paid Sanchez and his agent, Fernando Felicevich, massive signing-on fees that could total another $30 million. No matter the order in which the Sanchez-Mkhitaryan saga plays out, United will come out ahead with a superior player at a massively discounted price — should Sanchez ultimately move to Old Trafford, of course.

Conte bewildered VAR not used in Chelsea PK controversies

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If the FA, English football’s governing body, is insistent upon testing video-assistant refereeing (VAR) as they have done in recent FA Cup and League Cup fixtures, Antonio Conte believes they should darn well use it.

[ MORE: Wednesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Tuesday | Friday ]

Following his Chelsea side’s penalty-shootout victory over Norwich City in an FA Cup third-round replay on Wednesday, Conte was equal parts frustrated and confused by the fact that video-referee Mike Jones failed to prompt referee Graham Scott to consult the on-trial system on multiple occasions.

Most notably, Chelsea’s 92nd-minute (extra-time) penalty shout following Timm Klose‘s tackle on Willian. Scott, instead, booked the Brazilian for diving — one of three cards, all shown to Chelsea players, for simulation on the night — and that was that.

“If you watch the replay you see very clearly it is a penalty,” said Conte after the game — quotes from the BBC:

“I think that there was a penalty but not on [Alvaro] Morata — on Willian.

“With Willian, the referee heard what the other referee watched and decided to continue to play. If we want to try to use this new system, it is important for the referee to wait, especially in this incident that is not so clear.

“And then when the referee that is watching had a doubt, he has to call the referee to watch and he can make a decision. The referee on the pitch has to make the decision, not one off the pitch.

“We can improve it for sure but we need to try to take the best solution. The final decision is for the ref on the pitch. Otherwise, why is there this ref?

“The mistake wasn’t of the ref on the pitch but the person watching. When you see this, you have to call the referee.”

VAR was used in another third-round replay, on Tuesday, and helped to correctly rule Leicester City striker Kelechi Iheanacho as being in an onside position when he scored his side’s second goal. While offside/onside calls are much clearer, cut-and-dry decisions to make — and with the aid of a natural stoppage in play — clearly much work lies ahead with regard to the process of determining whether the referee has made a “clear and obvious error,” which remains the threshold for using VAR, in instances of fouls/diving.

Copa QF: Messi misses PK, Barca’s 29-game unbeaten run ends

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MADRID (AP) — Lionel Messi missed a penalty and Barcelona conceded late as its 29-match unbeaten streak ended in a 1-0 loss to city rival Espanyol in the first leg of their Copa del Rey quarterfinal on Wednesday.

Messi failed from the spot in the 62nd minute, his shot brilliantly saved by goalkeeper Diego Lopez.

Youngster Oscar Melendo netted the winner for the hosts in the 88th with his first goal as a professional.

“I have no words, I was looking forward to this first goal,” said the 20-year-old Melendo, who had come on as a substitute in the second half.

It was Espanyol’s first win against Barcelona at its RCDE Stadium.

The second leg of the Catalan derby is next week at Camp Nou.

Barcelona hadn’t lost since a 2-0 defeat by Real Madrid in the second leg of the Spanish Super Cup on Aug. 16. It had won 23 of its last 29 matches in all competitions.

“We knew we would lose one day,” Barcelona midfielder Sergio Busquets said. “The positive thing is that in a week we have a chance to rebound and advance.”

Messi had his chance from the spot after Sergi Roberto was fouled by Esteban Granero, but his low shot into the right corner was stopped as Diego Lopez dived to his left to tip the ball away.

It was a rare miss for Messi, who is having a stellar season and is the Spanish league’s top scorer with 17 goals.

“The penalty save gave us the boost that we needed,” Melendo said. “We were playing too defensively.”

Melendo netted the winner with a low shot from the middle of the area after a well-timed pass by Marc Navarro.

Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde did not use all of the team’s regular starters, leaving players such as Luis Suarez on the bench.

The match was interrupted for a few minutes in the 76th after Barcelona goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen was hit by an object thrown by fans behind his goal.

Barcelona midfielder Paulinho was replaced in the second half because of a foot injury.