Photo credit: Toronto FC / @torontofc

3 keys to Sunday’s decisive return legs in MLS Cup Playoffs

Leave a comment

Three keys to Sunday’s three decisive second-leg matchups in the 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs conference semifinals…

[ MORE: Previewing Sunday’s 2nd legs, from Toronto and NYC, to PDX ]

Toronto FC (2) vs. (1) New York Red Bulls — 3 p.m. ET

With a 2-1 lead — and a pair of away goals — heading into Sunday’s second leg at home, TFC’s key to advancing is quite obvious, while anything but simple: the numbers advantage must translate to a territorial advantage against Bradley Wright-Phillips and Daniel Royer.

On the right, you’ll see the combined touches of Wright-Phillips and Royer, New York’s two most prolific final-product providers, in the first leg. You’ll immediately notice BWP and Royer, New York’s leading scorers with 17 and 12 goals during the regular season, respectively, combined for two open-play touches inside TFC’s penalty area over the whole of 90 minutes — the first an unsuccessful pass by BWP (6th minute), the second a blocked shot from BWP (87th).

TFC’s three-man backline, which quickly becomes a five-man unit when Steven Beitashour and Justin Morrow track back in times of need, dealt so well with the unconventional and coordinated movement of BWP and Royer. They’re a nightmare come alive for most central duos, but faced with the organization and continuity of Chris Mavinga, Drew Moor and Eriq Zavaleta on Monday, TFC’s central trio put on a clinic of communication and spatial responsibilities.

New York City FC (1) vs. (4) Columbus Crew SC — 5 p.m. ET

One might look at the scoreline from the first leg — 4-1 to Crew SC — and say there’s simply no way back for NYCFC on Sunday. To which this writer would be so inclined to agree… if not for the magical presence of David Villa.

Let’s go to the chalkboard again, this time to see Villa’s in-possession actions from the 52nd minute onward — the 38 minutes which remained after Alexander Callens earned himself a straight red card. Completely starved for service and support after Rodney Wallace was sacrificed to bring on a defender, Villa still managed to create five chances, either for himself or for others, including the one he scored in the 78th minute. Of course, Crew SC were busy breaking the other direction for three more goals while enjoying their man advantage, but that’s something with which NYCFC won’t have to wrestle again on Sunday (presumably).

Admittedly, it takes the most devoted of optimists to conjure a scenario in which NYCFC break down a bunkering Columbus side by three goals or more, but a man with 84 combined goals and assists (in 94 career MLS games) is as good a place as any to begin your search for hope.

Portland Timbers (0) vs. (0) Houston Dynamo — 7:30 p.m. ET

Finally, a tie without a presumed winner with 90 minutes still left to play. Feel free to imply any lessons from the abomination that was the first leg — I won’t be joining you, but you’re more than welcome to do so yourself — and I’ll focus on the absence of Diego Chara (broken foot suffered in leg 1) and David Guzman (knee).

Typically, Houston’s go-to strategy is to bypass the midfield altogether with long diagonal balls out to wingers Alberth Elis and Romell Quioto, or quick, cutting balls into the channels for the rotating duo at center forward, Erick Torres and Mauro Manotas. With Chara out for the rest of the season and Guzman’s status uncertain at this point, the tactical tweaks applied by Houston manager Wilmer Cabrera will almost certainly determine the outcome of leg 2.

A continued refusal to deviate from Plan A would be the most welcome of sights for Portland’s eyes. Quickly bypassing the middle third of the field, where Caleb Porter’s side was once so strong but now so depleted, wouldn’t be all too different from refusing to shoot against a team playing without a goalkeeper. If Houston can work a bit of possession in the middle third and entice Amobi Okugo and/or Zarek Valentin to abandon the space just in front of the backline, space — and chances — will undoubtedly open up against a Timbers defense which only ever looked competent when shielded by Chara and Guzman.

VIDEO: 10 red cards in abandoned Brazilian game

Getty Images
Leave a comment

This is utterly bonkers.

There are plenty of derbies around the globe which put fans and players on edge, but this was different.

Vitoria and Bahia squared off in the Bahia State derby in Salvador, Brazil and the match was abandoned amid violent scenes on the pitch which saw 10 players sent off.

The first half saw eight yellows dished out, but it all kicked off in the 50th minute after Vinicius scored a penalty kick for Bahia and shall we say danced before appearing to hump mid-air in front of the Vitoria fans. Predictably, that didn’t go down well.

Chaos ensued (see the video clip below) as punches flew in and the referee ended up sending off eight players, which included substitutes nearby, as all hell broke loose behind the Vitoria goal.

After a lengthy break, eventually three Vitoria players were sent off and five from Bahia, but there was to be more drama as two more Vitoria players were sent off in the 79th minute to take their tally of players on the pitch to seven.

That meant the game was abandoned and Bahia will likely be awarded a 3-0 victory.

The next time someone tells you a derby game is particularly “feisty” just show them the video below…

Arsenal sign record-breaking deal with Emirates

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Arsenal have announced a new sponsorship deal with Emirates Airlines which will run until 2024 and is said to be worth over $56 million per season.

In a statement released on the club website, they call the five-year extension to the current deal “largest sponsorship deal ever signed by the club” as Emirates will continue to appear on the shirts and training gear of all of the teams.

Arsenal chief executive Ivan Gazidis revealed the reason behind extending the relationship with Emirates.

“Our shirt partnership is the longest running in the Premier League and one of the longest relationships in world sport. This mutual commitment is testimony to the strength and depth of our unique relationship. Emirates are again demonstrating their great belief in our approach and ambition and their significantly increased investment will help us continue to compete for trophies and bring more success to the club and our fans around the world.”

The Gunners also confirmed that their home stadium will be known as the Emirates Stadium until at least 2028, as per the agreement reached in 2012.

Where do Arsenal rank in terms of shirt sponsorship deals?

Manchester United lead the way with their deal with Chevrolet said to be worth over $74.2 million per year, while Chelsea sit in second with a $56 million per year partnership with Yokohama but the Gunners are now alongside their London rivals.

Manchester City and Tottenham are just behind them when it comes to sponsorship deals, while Liverpool’s relationship with Standard Chartered runs until the end of next season.

Money from Wembley replay will ‘support Rochdale for two or three years’

Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Worst-case scenario for Tottenham Hotspur: drawing League One side Rochdale in Sunday’s FA Cup fifth-round clash; best-case scenario for the Dale: drawing the Premier League giants and forcing a replay at Wembley Stadium.

[ MORE: Man Utd draw Brighton in FA Cup QF; Chelsea get Leicester ]

For a club the size of Rochdale — 10,200-seat stadium, and never been above the third tier of English soccer — the financial impact of raking in half of the game’s gate receipts “will support the club for the next two or three years,” according to manager Keith Hill — quotes from the Guardian:

“I don’t know how much it is worth but a lot of money has gone into the new pitch. That was a heavy investment for us. Hopefully the money we make will support the club for the next two or three years. We will cut our cloth accordingly and we won’t be in debt.”

As for Steve Davies’ 93rd-minute equalizer, Hill was adamant that it was nothing short of what they “deserved”:

“It was a feeling of reward, not relief, because the performance deserved at least the opportunity for us to go to Wembley for a replay. I’ve always wanted to do that against a Premier League team and manager. Why not take them on and try to win? It could have been football suicide but I thought we gained their respect and to score the goal we did was tremendous. The players were magnificent.”

Tottenham Hotspur, soccer philanthropists.

Try, try again: Messi seeks 1st goal vs. Chelsea in 9th attempt

Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images
Leave a comment

LONDON (AP) As unlikely as it sounds, Lionel Messi is still waiting to score his first goal against Chelsea after drawing a blank in eight previous Champions League matches.

The five-time World Player of the Year is likely to get another chance to break his duck this week and Chelsea manager Antonio Conte believes the past will count for little when Barcelona visits Stamford Bridge on Tuesday.

“I hope we maintain this tradition but we are speaking about a fantastic player,” Conte said ahead of the last-16, first-leg Champions League game. “The most important thing is the present.

“We must have great respect but at the same time we must be excited to play this type of game and take on this type of challenge. It won’t be easy because we know very well this player, we are talking about one of the best in the world.”

The teams have produced some epic games in the past although they have not met in the Champions League since Chelsea pulled off a remarkable backs-to-the-wall semifinal victory over Barcelona on the way to winning the trophy in 2012.

Messi missed a penalty in the second leg at the Nou Camp as the London club overcame the first-half dismissal of captain John Terry, and a 2-0 deficit, to draw the game 2-2 and secure an unforgettable 3-2 aggregate win.

Bayern Munich hosts Besiktas in Tuesday’s other game while the following day sees Manchester United traveling to Sevilla, and Shakhtar Donetsk playing host to Roma.

Two weeks ago, the prospect of a Chelsea win over Barca would have been unthinkable after Conte’s men had slumped to successive defeats by two of the Premier League’s lesser lights.

The London club was still smarting from a 3-0 home loss against Bournemouth when it traveled to Watford and succumbed to an embarrassing 4-1 reverse.

Chelsea has got back on track since then, though, easing past West Bromwich Albion 3-0 in the league last Monday before swatting aside second-tier Hull 4-0 in the FA Cup four days later.

Conte has several selection dilemmas. He must choose between captain Gary Cahill and Antonio Rudiger for a place at the back, and between Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud up front.

Cesc Fabregas will also be desperate to play against his former team but may have to settle for a spot on the bench.

Barca has lost only once in 38 matches this season since falling in the Spanish Super Cup to Real Madrid in August. It has a seven-point lead at the top of La Liga and has reached the final of the Copa del Rey.

Messi is having another stellar campaign, scoring 27 times in all competitions, and he helped set up two goals in Saturday’s 2-0 win at Eibar.

Philippe Coutinho is ineligible for Barca following his move from Liverpool.