Late Ivanovic goal gives Chelsea Europa League glory

2 Comments

Three minutes earlier, Frank Lampard had rattled the woodwork, leaving Chelsea fans to rue what at the time seemed to like a storybook ending. What better way to win a trophy than, on the day he’s reported to have signed a one-year extension, to have an icon secure silverware.

But Chelsea fans wouldn’t have to wait long for another well-established Blue to secure another piece of European gory. With the match tied 1-1 and Amsterdam’s Europa League final looked destined for an extra 30 minutes before another, less revered part of the Blues’ core gave the Londoners another European trophy.

In second half stoppage time, Juan Mata swung a corner kick far post, allowing veteran defender Branislav Ivanovic to elevate above André Almeida and Jardel, his contact putting a long, looping header back near post, leaving goalkeeper Artur flat-footed as the Serbian center half secured Chelsea’s 2-1 victory.

The win makes Chelsea the first team to win Champions then Europa League in successive seasons, the West London club having claimed Europe’s ultimate prize in Munich 12 months ago. Combined with the UEFA Super Cup (1998) and the now defunct Cup Winner’s Cup (won in 1970-71, 1997-98), Chelsea have a full array of major European silverware, the Europa League having succeeded the old UEFA Cup.

For Benfica, there will be no consolation for coming so close. The Eagles all but lost the Portuguese Liga this weekend when a last-minute goal by Porto lifted the Dragons into first. More broadly, it’s the seventh straight European final loss for the Lisbon titans, with the club having last won a continental honor in 1962 (European Cup).

A lackluster first half ended scoreless before Fernando Torres, on the end of a Petr Cech ball, beat Luisao to go in Artur, the Spaniard’s finish from the right of the box putting Chelsea up in the 60th minute. Eight minutes later, Benfica equalized, with Paraguayan Oscar Cardozo converting from the spot after a hand ball from Cesar Azpilicueta.

In a match largely controlled by Benfica’s midfield yet often lacking inspiration, it was just that a late tally eventually separated the sides. Benfica had 58 percent of the possession but only three shots on goal. Chelsea, on the other hand – often content to let Benfica play at the edge of their attacking third – managed five shots on Artur.

The last, of course, was the most meaningful, with a team that’s relied on key goals from the likes of John Terry seeing another defender step up. Ivanovic has done it before, his two against Liverpool in the 2009 quarterfinals as well as his winner against Napoli in 2012 standing out, but with the timing of tonight’s tally, Ivanovic is unlikely to have scored a more important goal. With his looping header in stoppage time on Wednesday, the 29-year-old helped Chelsea secure this year’s Europa League.

Chelsea Ladies sign NWSL superstar Sam Kerr

Photo by Harriet Lander - Chelsea FC/Chelsea FC via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Sam Kerr is heading to London.

The Australian megastar is leaving the Chicago Red Stars for Chelsea after scoring two MVP awards in the National Women’s Soccer League (2017, 2019).

[ MORE: NYCFC teen off to Gladbach ]

Kerr, 26, has 38 goals in 83 caps for the Lady Matildas, scoring four times in one World Cup match against Jamaica last summer.

Her 69 goals are the most in an NWSL career, and she admits it was a challenge to leave her comfort zone and head to Europe.

“Probably the part that was most difficult was leaving friends and the US because I’ve created such a home there, but it was just time for me to make a change. And once I had my eyes set on Europe, it was kind of an easy decision to choose Chelsea as a club.”

It’s a huge signing for Chelsea, who is leading the table through five matches with an unbeaten 4W-1D record. She’ll join the team in January.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic says goodbye to the LA Galaxy

Photograph by Julian Avram/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has bid adieu to Major League Soccer, thanking the LA Galaxy for “making me feel alive again.”

The Swedish superstar averaged nearly a goal per game with the Galaxy, and was rumored to be in line for another two years at the club.

[ MORE: Columbus acquires Nagbe ]

Perhaps those reports, and maybe AC Milan’s struggles to score goals, have made more suitors come forward. Time will tell.

The Galaxy said the decision was a “mutual parting of ways” and thanked the player for his work both on and off the pitch.

From LAGalaxy.com:

“We would like to thank Zlatan for his contributions to the LA Galaxy and Major League Soccer,” said LA Galaxy President Chris Klein. “Since his arrival in 2018, Zlatan has positively influenced the sport of soccer in Los Angeles. We are grateful for his work ethic and passion. We thank Zlatan for his professionalism and immeasurable impact on the Los Angeles community and the soccer community in North America as a whole.”

Zlatan’s full thoughts, below, were a bit more Zlatanny.

Klein will have his hands full in replacing Ibrahimovic, who scored 52 times in 53 matches, but the Galaxy have always managed to bring in big names.

Getting a star playmaker is even more important as El Trafico rivals LAFC have rewritten the MLS record book and snared plenty of attention in California and across the league.

Columbus acquires Nagbe from Atlanta for $1M in allocation

Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Darlington Nagbe is headed for a reunion with old boss Caleb Porter.

Columbus has sent over $1 million in allocation money to Atlanta United in order to claim the influential midfielder.

[ MORE: Top 25 players in USMNT pool ]

Porter coached Nagbe at the University of Akron and the Portland Timbers, and has 25 USMNT caps but has turned down Gregg Berhalter’s requests for service.

Nagbe made 46 appearances across all competitions for the Five Stripes this season, scoring twice with five assists. He has 313 matches played between Portland and Atlanta.

From MLSSoccer.com:

“Darlington Nagbe is a proven winner and the type of player who can be a difference-maker in our team,” Crew SC president and GM Tim Bezbatchenko said in a statement. “In addition to his skill set, we believe that Darlington is someone whose character and values fit well within our organization. As we stated heading into this offseason, we continue to look both domestically and internationally for players that will make our team better, and we believe Darlington is an important part of those efforts.”

It’s a bold statement from Columbus, who had a reputation for getting the most of its talent under Berhalter but faded under Porter after a hot start. The Crew began 2019 with a 4-1-1 record but lost 13 of its next 15 matches.

Of course, being MLS, the Crew then only lost 2 of their final 13 matches. Shoulder shrug emoji.

NYCFC teen agrees move to Borussia Monchengladbach

Photo by Maddie Meyer - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images
Leave a comment

New York City FC’s impressive academy has earned one of the bigger transfer market payoffs in MLS Homegrown history, and will join the current Bundesliga leaders after next season.

Joe Scally, 16, is headed to Borussia Monchengladbach on a $2 million transfer with a sell-on clause, and will spend the 2020 MLS season with his boyhood club. Scally has played in the Open Cup, but has not debuted in an MLS match.

[ MORE: Top 25 players in USMNT pool ]

The $2 million figure is on the edge of Top 30 for departing MLS players, according to Transfermarkt, just behind Cyle Larin’s move from Orlando City to Besiktas.

Scally appeared 11 times for the U.S. U-17 national team, going 90 minutes in all three matches and assisting on the lone American goal at the World Cup in Brazil.

From Borussia.de:

“Joe Scally is a top American talent who we have been following for a long time. We see a lot of potential in Joe and we are looking forward to him joining up with us in January 2021. Until then, we will work together with New York City FC to prepare him for his move to Germany,” said Borussia’s sporting director, Max Eberl.

Not sure just how long they could’ve been following a 16-year-old, but we digress.

Scally will join U-17 teammates Giovanni Reyna (Borussia Dortmund) and Maximilian Dietz (Freiburg) on the books at a Bundesliga club. Recent U-17 call-ups Pablo Soares (Gladbach) and Noah Jones (RB Leipzig) are also with clubs in Germany’s top flight.

Last month, NYCFC sporting director Claudio Reyna told me that Scally was the perfect example of a young player trusting a club’s preference of changing his position.

“The perfect example is Joe Scally on the U-17 World Cup team. He came to us from a club in Long Island as an athletic box-to-box midfielder. He was very strong, but we saw him as an outside back. The lesson that we now we share that with our players, don’t get upset if you move to a position, but Joe Scally understood, never complained, he played wherever he was told to do, and now he’s a right back now, 16 years old going to the World Cup after being in our academy for two and a half years.”

Looks like it’s worked out.