Major League Soccer Week in Review – Round 16

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Another abbreviated schedule: Next week will see the resumption of a full schedule — and who doesn’t like a full schedule? For Round 16 (like the last one) play was restricted to just five matches due to the ongoing FIFA for World Cup qualifiers.

The streaks to talk about: Portland is now unbeaten in 13 matches after staying on top of Dallas in the meeting of Western Conference leaders. FYI, Timbers head coach Caleb Porter is now dead level with Tom Soehn, who once presided over D.C. United, for the longest unbeaten streak by a first-year manager in MLS.

On the other end, D.C. United could not follow up on the mid-week U.S. Open Cup success; Ben Olsen’s team is now winless in 13 league matches. (And Saturday’s loss was a particularly miserable one … which we’ll get to.)

The weekend’s gritty win: The men of Columbus had so much going against them in taking on Montreal. Not only were two highly important men recently felled by ACL tears, they were playing on just one full day of rest, a rare, rare burden in professional soccer. (The Crew’s U.S. Open Cup match had to be pushed back a day, from Wednesday to Thursday, due to weather.)

Meanwhile, Montreal came into Crew Stadium fresh and spring daisies. So lots of credit to Robert Warzycha’s team – perhaps inspired by a season-high crowd of 18,320? – took down the Impact, 2-0. Dominic Oduro (pictured) had a goal and an assist in a truly worthwhile win.

The weekend’s top goal: The thing about Darlington Nagbe’s game-winner for Portland  on Saturday, the defending is pretty much what it needs to be from Dallas center back George John. And it didn’t matter. Nagbe’s ability to spin and hit this  shot in the tightest of spaces is simply stunning.  Heck, his ability to conceive of such a shot is pretty impressive in itself.

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Flowing red … and fuming mad!: First half red cards went a long way to deciding matches in Colorado and Vancouver. The Rapids lost Atiba Harris after just 18 minutes and went on to lose 2-1 at home to San Jose (a team debuting under interim manager Mark Watson). And some of the players and coaches were all hopped up in this one, highlighted by a near donnybrook that involved players and coaches.

In Vancouver, New England rookie Andrew Farrell was tossed in the 23rd minute, and his team went on to lose to Martin Rennie’s Whitecaps. (More on that down below.)

Sad news: FC Dallas has three top-level strikers – and none of them were available for Saturday’s match. Most unfortunate was that Kenny Cooper’s father, also Kenny Cooper, had a heart attack Saturday morning. The younger Cooper flew home to be with his dad, who is in stable condition. Kenny Cooper Sr. was once the face of the old Dallas Tornado back in NASL days.

The latest blow around RFK Stadium: You know, things are so bad around D.C. United, this death spiral borders on the unthinkable. Seriously, how could things possible have gone so horribly pear-shaped? No offense to Toronto FC, but United should not be losing to the rebuilding Reds in Washington. Period!

But lose Ben Olsen’s club did – and it sounds like everyone around RFK is at the end of their 13-game winless rope.

The weekend’s worst 18 minutes: Things unraveled spectaculary in Vancouver, conceding three goals in 18 minutes just before the break. What’s worse, in doing so, Jay Heaps’ team squandered a two-goal lead.

It all happened around a red card to rookie Andrew Farrell, and Heaps was clearly frustrated by the reactions that eventually saw his team fall, 4-3.

“Sometimes game plans get disrupted and really, I’m a little disappointed by – after the red card – our reaction,” Heaps said. “We really wish we had solidified things and played a little better in that time, a little more alert, a little more veteran-like in those few minutes. Unfortunately, we’re a younger team and we got rattled a bit.”

A gallery of amazing saves in Portland v. Dallas: FC Dallas’ visit to Portland was easily the feature game of Round 16. Don’t let that 1-0 score fool you, there were plenty of chances on both sides in a match memorable for world class goalkeeping on both sides. Watch the highlights below, which include three top-class saves from heroic FC Dallas goalkeeper Raul Fernandez, fresh off duty as Peru’s No. 1.

Portland’s Donovan Ricketts didn’t have as many show-stoppers, but his stop on Jackson’s goal-bound drive just before the break was the game’s top stops. It really was a wonder. Enjoy:

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Struggling Atleti in unfamiliar territory under Simeone

Photo by Oscar J. Barroso / AFP7 / Europa Press Sports via Getty Images
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MADRID — This is uncharted territory for many Atletico Madrid fans.

Few other times in recent years have they seen their team struggle so much under Diego Simeone.

[ VIDEO: Haaland has played 59 minutes, scored 5 goals for Dortmund ]

Few other times have they seen their coach fail so often while trying to put the team back on track.

Atletico hit a new low under Simeone on Thursday when it was eliminated by third-division club Cultural Leonesa in the round of 32 of the Copa del Rey. The 2-1 loss in extra time was the team’s worst result in the cup competition since losing to third-tier club Albacete at the same stage in 2011-12.

Two days after that loss in 2011, Atletico hired the then-mostly unknown Simeone to replace Gregorio Manzano, a move that kick-started one of the club’s most successful eras and led to a Spanish league title, two Europa League trophies and two Champions League final appearances.

Atletico did go through difficult moments under Simeone, including when the team failed to advance past the group stage of the Champions League a couple of seasons ago.

“There were always complicated moments in past seasons, maybe after we didn’t make it in the Champions League, or when we lost in the Champions League finals,” Simeone said. “After being at the club for so long, things like this can happen, although they shouldn’t happen.”

There is a greater sense of urgency about the team’s struggles this time.

In addition to Wednesday’s embarrassing Copa del Rey elimination, Atletico lost the Spanish Super Cup final to Real Madrid on Jan. 12, and already is eight points off the Spanish league lead after 20 matches.

[ MORE: Report: Man United’s list of possible new strikers revealed ]

Before, there used to be a notion that Simeone would quickly turn things around and put the team back on track, but this time there aren’t many signs things will improve again soon.

Atletico has yet to impress since undergoing its biggest squad revamp under Simeone at the end of last season, when it lost Antoine Griezmann and other veteran players such as Filipe Luis and Diego Godin. Young Portugal forward Joao Felix, who arrived to replace Griezmann after a transfer from Benfica worth more than 120 million euros ($133 million), has yet to meet expectations.

More concerning, Atletico is not being nearly as effective as it used to be, when it always seemed to find a way to win matches despite not playing well.

The team remains solid defensively — it has the second-best defense in the Spanish league with 14 goals conceded — but it hasn’t been able to do much in attack recently.

“Everything is harder when you can’t score,” Simeone said.

Only seven teams have scored fewer goals than Atletico’s 22 in the 20-team standings.

Diego Costa has been mostly out injured, and Victor “Vitolo” Machin and Alvaro Morata haven’t done much in attack. Morata is the team’s leading scorer with 10 goals in all competitions, and no one else has more than five.

“We have to be humble enough to be self-critical,” Simeone said. “We need to keep working to try to be ready for the challenges that we have ahead of us. We have a very good squad and I’m sure that the results that we want will start arriving soon.”

Atletico biggest chance to rebound will come next month against European champion Liverpool in the last 16 of the Champions League. The first leg will be on Feb. 18 in Spain.

Mourinho in favor of PL’s winter break, but says timing all wrong

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Jose Mourinho seems to be quite happy that the Premier League will implement its first-ever winter break next month, allowing players a bit of rest and recovery time during a marathon campaign, but says its timing makes the break almost worthless for clubs competing in European competitions.

[ VIDEO: Haaland has played 59 minutes, scored 5 goals for Dortmund ]

The next four weeks will play out as follows for Tottenham Hotspur: FA Cup against Southampton this weekend; PL fixture against Manchester City next weekend; the following weekend off which results in two weeks without a game; PL fixture against Aston Villa the following weekend; Champions League first leg against RB Leipzig three days later.

In Mourinho’s perfect world, that first round of PL fixtures following the break would be held a week earlier, leaving the seven English clubs competing in the Champions League and Europa League with a week and a half between games before setting out once again to chase European glory. Instead, Tottenham, Man City, Liverpool and Chelsea will all have a quick turnaround from PL action to UCL competition — quotes from the Guardian:

“It is what it is. I’m not happy that the break comes in the wrong moment. The break should be before the Champions League and, in the end, before the Champions League we don’t have the break. We have to play Aston Villa on the Sunday, playing [RB Leipzig three] days later. So we don’t really care about the break, honestly.”

Mourinho’s point is a solid one: if the winter break is going to exist — and it should — then why shouldn’t its benefits be maximized? Non-European sides — typically those with smaller squads — would still have the full two weeks between games, while those in Europe are able to better leverage their slightly larger squads with only 10 or 11 days between games — still a lengthy break relative to the rest of the season.

[ MORE: Report: Man United’s list of possible new strikers revealed ]

It’s only the first year of the winter break in the PL, so perhaps hopefully they’ll receive Mourinho’s criticism — and that of any other managers — constructively.

Serie A: AC Milan extends unbeaten run since Zlatan’s arrival

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BRESCIA, Italy (AP) Ante Rebic scored his third goal in two matches, goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma was superb and AC Milan won 1-0 at relegation-threatened Brescia on Friday to climb into the Europa League places in Serie A.

[ MORE: Report: Man United’s list of possible new strikers revealed ]

Rebic, who scored twice in a win over Udinese last weekend, pounced on a loose ball directly in front of the goal following a cross from Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the 71st minute.

Since Ibrahimovic’s return to Milan over the holiday break, Milan is unbeaten with four wins and a draw across all competitions.

Donnarumma produced several difficult saves to deny Dimitri Bisoli and Ernesto Torregrossa.

Also, Milan fullback Theo Hernandez hit the crossbar in the closing minutes.

The Rossoneri moved up to sixth place, four points behind fifth-place Atalanta.

[ MORE: Solskjaer’s transfer update; positive on rebuild ]

“Our goal is to qualify for Europe,” Donnarumma said. “We’ve got to continue like this and not rest for a moment. There’s another big Italian Cup match coming up with Torino midweek and we want to reach the semifinals.

“We’ll take it one game at a time and try to keep this momentum going.”

Brescia was without Mario Balotelli, who was suspended for two matches after protesting a booking last weekend that ended up with the striker being sent off.

Brescia remained one point above last-place Genoa.

FA Cup: Sheffield Wednesday into 5th round; Derby headed for replay

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Sheffield Wednesday became the first club to reach the fifth round of the 2019-20 FA Cup by beating Queens Park Rangers at Loftus Road on Friday.

[ MORE: Report: Man United’s list of possible new strikers revealed ]

The Owls took a 1-0 lead into halftime after Morgan Fox squeezed his shot past the goalkeeper from a tight angle, and Sam Winnall put the EFL Championship side 2-0 up by slotting the ball home just before full-time. QPR pulled a goal back through Nahki Wells just moments later, but it wasn’t enough and the game finished 2-1.

It’s the second time in three seasons that Wednesday has reached the fifth round after doing so just twice in their previous 17 seasons.

[ MORE: Solskjaer’s transfer update; positive on rebuild ]

Elsewhere, fellow Championship side Derby County, featuring Wayne Rooney who played all 90 minutes, couldn’t see off League Two side Northampton Town and will be forced into the dreaded replay after struggling to a scoreless draw away from home.

The draw for the fifth round will be held on Monday at 2:20 p.m. ET, prior to kickoff of Bournemouth v. Arsenal.