Crowd counts at six MLS playoff contests so far have ranged from wholly disappointing to fairly impressive. Let’s take a look:
Chicago Fire’s Toyota Park: Major League Soccer’s 17th playoff season opened with a bit of a dog, as a national TV audience saw empty seats aplenty from a crowd of 10,923. Everyone around the league cringed at that one. It underscored two points: the league has not advanced to a place where mid-week matches can content with weekend contests in terms of ability to sell. And, speaking of sell, having just three days to push tickets clearly put Chicago staff behind the marketing and sales 8 ball.
Los Angeles Galaxy’s Home Depot Center: Los Angeles’ home ground hosted two contest, beginning with last week’s elimination match against Vancouver, which drew a disappointing 14,703. There was some confusion about an important point here. Yes, mid-week matches at the HDC generally have a cap related to its agreement with Cal State Dominguez Hills. But the restrictive cap was lifted, so this was just a fairly weak link.
Sunday’s match helped redeem things; it was a sellout at 27,000.
Seattle Sounders’ CenturyLink Field: Leave it to Seattle to pull the league’s attendance wagon out of a ditch. Friday’s crowd (for MLS post-season Match No. 3) was exactly what we all expect from the league’s far-and-away crowd-count leader: a down-sized sellout of 34,941. Atta boy, ye rave green faithful. We knew we could count on you!
D.C. United’s RFK Stadium: Great to see a little bounce back in RFK Stadium, where attendance has suffered along with a team that missed the playoffs four years running. Saturday’s match drew a lively 17,556; it was very old school DCU that way. Let’s hope the high-energy and encouraging numbers seen on a chilly Saturday becomes the new new-normal around the club’s venerable old ground.
Houston Dynamo’s BBVA Compass Stadium: Not a completely full house at the very orange downtown grounds, but not bad, all things considered. Competing against the NFL’s Houston Texans (having a great season and playing just across town) on a fall Sunday is challenging, especially given such a short sell window for the soccer club. The only big patch of seats left unfilled were high behind the north goal. The official total of 20,689 apparently counted tickets unused, but the vocal crowd made for a swell atmosphere.
ATLANTA (AP) Julian Gressel tied it in the 56th minute and Atlanta United held on for a 1-1 draw with the Portland Timbers on Sunday.
A loose ball deflection off defender Larrys Mabiala bounced into Gressel’s path and he pounced on it with a right-footed volley. Atlanta (10-3-4) stayed atop the MLS standings and extended its unbeaten streak to five games.
Mabiala opened the scoring in the 32nd minute. Samuel Armenteros was the first to get a touch with a left-footed stab on Diego Valeri’s free kick. Goalkeeper Brad Guzan blocked it out, but Mabiala headed home the rebound and Portland took the early lead.
The Timbers (6-3-5) extended their unbeaten run to nine.
NEW YORK (AP) — Jo Inge Berget scored twice and coach Domenec Torrent celebrated his New York City FC debut with a 2-1 victory over Toronto FC on Sunday.
Berget made it 2-1 in the 68th minute, following Maximiliano Moralez’s direct pass up the right channel and slotting it home.
NYCFC (9-3-4) tied it at 1 in the 51st minute on Berget’s back heel from the top of the 6-yard box.
Víctor Vazquez opened the scoring for Toronto (4-8-3) in the 37th minute. Vasquez outran his defender on Auro’s long ball up the right side and sent a chip shot over the onrushing goalkeeper.
NYCFC’s David Villa left the game in the 28th minute with a non-contact injury.
Torrent replaced Patrick Vieira in New York shortly after Vieira’s departure for OGC Nice was officially confirmed. Torrent had been the right-hand man to Pep Guardiola for the last 11 years, most recently at Manchester City.
Day 12 of the 2018 World Cup is up next, on Monday, and with it begins the final round of group games to decide the 16 teams headed to the knockout rounds. For the next four days, we’ll be treated to four games each day.
Also, the end of 8 a.m. ET kickoffs. Hooray for sleeping in.
[ SCENARIOS: Who needs what, to finish where, in final round of group games ]
First up, the conclusion of Group A, where both the hosts, Russia, and Uruguay have already advanced with wins in their first two games. Now, the two meet in the southwestern city of Samara to determine who’ll go through to the round of 16 as the group winners, and who’ll be the runners-up. Most likely awaiting either of them will be Spain and Portugal, pending the order in which they finish in Group B.
[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ]
Speaking of Group B, Spain will finish group play against fourth-place and points-less Morocco, while Portugal have a tricky meeting with third-place Iran, who sit just a point behind the reigning European champions. The winner of Group B will face the runners-up of Group A, and vice versa.
Below is Monday’s schedule in full.
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2018 World Cup schedule – Monday, June 25
Uruguay vs. Russia: Samara, 10 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Saudi Arabia vs. Egypt: Volgograd, 10 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Spain vs. Morocco: Kaliningrad, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Iran vs. Portugal: Saransk, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Unai Emery has reportedly been in contact with at least one former player, Ever Banega, in an attempt to convince the Argentine midfielder to join him at Arsenal.
[ MORE: Latest transfer news ]
Banega, who’ll turn 30 on Friday, played two seasons under Emery at Sevilla — where they won back-to-back Europa League titles (Banega was only at the club for the second and third of three straight from 2013-2016).
With Banega reportedly on the fence about whether or not to leave Sevilla again — he only just returned last summer after one season at Inter Milan — Emery is said to have made a personal call after Arsenal’s bid of roughly $23 million triggered the release clause in Banega’s contract. Sevilla will join Arsenal in the Europa League next season after finishing seventh in La Liga.
[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ]
Jack Wilshere announced last week that he will leave Arsenal this summer — thus opening up the handful of games for which he was healthy and fit to play each season, perhaps for Banega — which leads us nicely to the final bit of transfer talk for Sunday: West Ham are interested in the 26-year-old, but are reportedly only willing to offer him a one-year contract.
The Hammers’ hesitancy is, of course, a response to his years-long battle with injuries — he’s made just 66 appearances over the last four PL seasons (three with Arsenal, one on loan to Bournemouth).
Two other clubs to keep an eye on, as they’ve reportedly indicated interest in Wilshere and/or been in contact already: Everton and Juventus.