Photo credit: @MLS/Twitter

MLS Conference Finalists cheat sheet

Leave a comment

Four teams remain in the chase for the 2017 MLS Cup, from Supporters’ Shield winning Toronto down to the team with the 10th most points in the regular season, the Houston Dynamo.

For those who haven’t been watching too closely this season, here’s what you need to know about the semifinalists.

[ VOTE: PST’s Big American soccer survey]


Toronto FC

Regular season: 1st in East (20W-5L-9T)
Overall: 1st
Playoffs so far: Advanced past Red Bulls 2-2 on away goals
Last season: Lost MLS Cup Final to Seattle

Leading scorer: Sebastian Giovinco (17), Jozy Altidore (15)
In-form player: Goalkeeper Alex Bono
Secret weapon: Victor Vazquez — The Spaniard and ex-Barcelona prospect was the Belgian Professional Footballer of the Year in 2015, and has nine goals and 10 assists in his first MLS season,

Record vs. Seattle: Won 1-0 in Washington
Record vs. Houston: Won 2-0 at home
Record vs. Columbus: Won home and away; Lost away

The big question: Will MLS find enough evidence against the Red Bulls to reverse Jozy Altidore’s suspension for the weekend’s tunnel fracas? If not, TFC will not have its top two scorers for leg one.

(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

Houston Dynamo

Regular season: 5th in West
Overall: 10th
Playoffs so far: Defeatied Sporting KC, then Portland
Last season: Missed playoffs

Leading scorer: Erick Torres (14), Mauro Manotas and Alberth Elis (10)
In-form player: Elis — four goals in last seven matches
Secret weapon: Juan Cabezas — The Colombia defensive midfielder averages 3.7 tackles and 2.1 interceptions per game.

Record vs. Toronto: Lost 2-0 in Canada
Record vs. Seattle: Lost 1-0 at Seattle, Won 2-1 at home
Record vs. Columbus: Won 3-1 at home

The big question: Can backup backstop Joe Willis do the job with Tyler Deric suspended after a domestic arrest?

(Photo credit: Houston Dynamo / @HoustonDynamo)

Columbus Crew

Regular season: 5th in East (16W-12L-6T)
Overall: 5th
Playoffs so far: Defeated Atlanta, then New York City FC
Last season: Missed playoffs

Leading scorer: Ola Kamara (19), Justin Meram (14)
In-form player: Artur — The 21-year-old center mid does the little things well, humming on a consistent motor.
Secret weapon: Pedro Santos — Gets into dangerous places, and knows how to draw a foul.

Record vs. Toronto: Won at home, Lost home and away
Record vs. Houston: Lost 3-1 in Texas
Record vs. Seattle: Won 3-0 at home

The big question: Can the Crew continue to rise above the furor and buzz of owner Anthony Precourt’s horribly-timed relocation discussion? (EDIT: Twitter user CG Hudson pointed out that there is rarely a good time for a relocation discussion, and that’s spot on).

(AP Photo/Bryan Woolston)

Seattle Sounders

Regular season: 2nd in West (14W-9L-11T)
Overall: 7th
Playoffs so far: Beat Vancouver 2-0 in quarterfinals
Last season: MLS Cup champion

Leading scorers: Clint Dempsey (14), Will Bruin (11)
In-form player: Dempsey
Secret weapon: Cristian Roldan — The University of Washington product has always good defensively, but has seen his goals rise from zero to four to six in his first three seasons.

Record vs. Toronto: Lost 1-0 at home
Record vs. Houston: Won 1-0 at home, Lost 2-1 in Texas
Record vs. Columbus: Lost 3-0 in Columbus

The big question: Can Seattle become the first back-to-back MLS Cup winners since the Galaxy in 2011-12?

(AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Mata seems to confirm Champions League is Man United’s priority

Getty Images
Leave a comment

With the Premier League title all but wrapped up, English top flight teams are beginning to put their true focus onto competitions they still have a realistic shot of winning.

Manchester United sits in second place in the Premier League table, but they are a full 18 points back of rivals Manchester City, as so with a Champions League match against Sevilla on Wednesday afternoon, Juan Mata all but confirmed that the Red Devils are putting their main efforts into Europe’s largest competition.

[ MORE: Messi pegs back Chelsea despite winning tactics ]

“If we had less of a gap with respect to the Premier League leaders and we had a chance to fight for it, it wouldn’t be so tough to be eliminated from the Champions League, but now our aim is to progress from every round,” Mata said to Spanish radio station Cadena Ser. “It would be a big blow to be eliminated in the last 16.”

Last season, a similar story played out. Manchester United was out of reach of a top four finish in the league, so manager Jose Mourinho publicly admitted they were putting their main focus on the Europa League due to the automatic berth the competition’s winner received into next year’s Champions League. The gamble paid off, as Manchester United won the competition and earned their spot in the Champions League this season.

Sevilla has not progressed past the Round of 16 since 1958. Manchester United, meanwhile, has not made it past the Champions League quarterfinals since their runners-up finish in 2011, when they lost to Barcelona in the finals at Wembley Stadium.

Wenger confirms Ospina will start pair while Ozil, Ramsey miss out

Getty Images
3 Comments

Arsene Wenger confirmed in his pre-match press conference that goalkeeper Petr Cech will get an extended rest with a pair of Cup games on the horizon for Arsenal.

In his place, David Ospina will start both Thursday’s Europa League Round of 32 match against Ostersund and Sunday’s EFL Cup Final against Manchester City. Ospina is no stranger to this type of rotation, with the Colombian owning just 30 starts over the last three seasons in national and international Cup competitions compared to just seven Premier League appearances.

In addition, Wenger also confirmed that Mesut Ozil will miss out for Thursday’s match due to illness, but is expected back for Sunday’s EFL Cup final. Arsenal has a 3-0 lead over Swedish club Ostersund after the first leg, with the second leg to be played at the Emirates.

Wenger said Aaron Ramsey is back in training, and while he will not be risked in the Europa League match in his return from a groin injury that saw him miss the North London derby loss, he could be in contention to play against Manchester City. [Ramsey] is not in the squad tomorrow, he had a good training session. We will see how his evolution goes between now and Sunday. I don’t rule him out.”

Ramsey scored a hat-trick in the 5-1 win over Everton in early February, but has played just 181 minutes since picking up a hamstring injury in mid-December.

Finally, Wenger said that Danny Welbeck and Henrikh Mkhitaryan will both receive starting spots against Ostersund, as will some unnamed youth products. Welbeck has been out of Premier League action since mid-January, stuck behind Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, but he received four minutes off the bench in the North London derby and will get another opportunity in the Europa League to prove his worth.

Conte admits job security speculation will always exist at Chelsea

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Antonio Conte admits that he will always face speculation about his tenure as manager while he is employed at Chelsea, but dismissed it as “no problem for me.”

There is a general acceptance that Conte will part ways with Chelsea at the end of the season given the tough times the club has seen this campaign. The Blues are hanging on to a Champions League place by a thread, and struggled through a January that included just two wins across all competitions in six matches.

“I’ve said it very clearly: I’ve got a contract until 2019 and I intend to respect this, but you know anything can happen in football,” Conte told Italian publication Mediaset. “It takes two to be happy and continue a marriage. Our work is unique because we’ve always got our suitcase in our hands.”

Conte did issue somewhat of a warning to Chelsea, however, that if he were to be fired, it could come back to haunt the club, as he would have no shortage of offers. “My intention is to respect my contract, but if something were to happen, it would open up different scenarios.” Big clubs such as Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid could have job openings this summer if their lofty goals aren’t met, and those places would be attractive destinations for Conte, who won the Premier League title with Chelsea just last year.

“It’s a bit the history of Chelsea and inevitable when, in the past, in 14 years, 10 coaches have been changed,” he said. “Clearly when there is this habit, let’s say, the press play on it and as soon as there is a result or two which don’t go your way, they try to put the pressure on.

“But it’s no problem for me. I hope that this pressure doesn’t harm the players, not me, because I go looking for pressure.”

CCL: Toronto wins; Wild Herediano comeback

AP Photo/David Zalubowski
Leave a comment

On a single-digit Tuesday that severely limited the attendance at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, where the Colorado Rapids and Toronto FC dueled in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals.

Jonathan Osorio’s second half goal put the Reds in front and Sebastian Giovinco had a goal and an assist and the visitors take a 2-0 decision back to Ontario.

The best chance of a preseason quality first half saw Dominique Badji flub the best chance of the stage into the feet of Alex Bono.

Toronto took the lead, nabbing the away goal through Osorio’s header of a Sebastian Giovinco cross. And the Atomic Ant got on the board with a goal of his own off an Auro assist with 17 minutes to play.

[ MORE: Georgia teen heading to Schalke ]

Tuesday’s other first leg saw Herediano and Tigres play to a 2-2 draw in Costa Rica, with the Liga MX visitors taking a pair of away goals but shocked by a pair of stoppage time concessions.

Francisco Meza scored in the 15th minute and Lucas Zelarayan seemingly put it to bed with 15 minutes to play.

But Yendrick Ruiz converted a 90th minute penalty kick before ex-DC United forward Jairo Arrieta did this ahead of the Feb. 22 second leg in Mexico.