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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De Gea limps off for Spain ahead of Man Utd-Liverpool tilt

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Here’s the good news for Manchester United supporters: David De Gea played incredibly well for Spain in its EURO qualifier on Tuesday as La Furia Roja clinched a place in EURO 2020.

The bad news? The performance was truncated, with De Gea limping off the pitch and replaced by Chelsea’s Kepa Arrizabalaga in the 60th minute.

[ MORE: EURO qualifying wrap ]

De Gea appeared to injure himself while attempting a goal kick of all things, as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be wondering what fresh hell awaits him next.

Perhaps that’s simply the fact that Liverpool visits Old Trafford on Sunday in a match that Solskjaer previously said was perhaps ideal for his reeling Red Devils.

Solskjaer would turn to Sergio Romero should De Gea been unable to play at the weekend. Lee Grant is United’s third goalkeeper with Dean Henderson on loan to Sheffield United.

United was already going to need a lot of help to beat back the unbeaten Reds.

EURO qualifying wrap: Spain earns place in stoppage time

Photo by JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP via Getty Images
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Spain clinched a spot in EURO 2020 via a last-minute equalizer, but the rest of the picture only got murkier thanks to dramatics in Romania and Switzerland.)

[ MORE: How should USMNT line up? ]


Sweden 1-1 Spain

A Marcus Berg header had Sweden on the verge of a significant home win against nearly unbeatable David De Gea and Spain, but Valencia forward Rodrigo delivered a stoppage time goal to give Robert Moreno’s men a place in EURO 2020. But Sweden can breathe a little easier thanks to a stoppage time goal across the continent.

Bad news for Manchester United, though, as De Gea’s strong day ended early due to injury.

Romania 1-1 Norway

New York City FC’s Alexandru Mitrita added another beauty to his collection in scoring for the second successive qualifier, but it wouldn’t stand up thanks to former Crystal Palace striker Alexander Sorloth‘s stoppage time equalizer.

Switzerland 2-0 Republic of Ireland

Terrible from the Irish, who trailed after 16 minutes and then went down to 10 men when Seamus Coleman was shown a red card in the 76th minute. Former West Ham man Edimilson Fernandes put it to bed in stoppage time as the Swiss out-attempted Ireland 20-9.

The Irish are tied for the lead in the group with 12 points but that’s about where the good news ends. They do not have an automatic spot in the playoffs while Denmark does and has 12 points. Switzerland has 11 and has also played one fewer match.

Ireland will need to beat Denmark next month and hope for help on the out-of-town scoreboard when Switzerland meets Gibraltar and Georgia.

Finland 3-0 Armenia

Norwich City striker Teemu Pukki continued his fine year with a pair of goals after Fredrik Jensen staked the Finnish side to a lead in Turku. Group J second place side Finland has a five-point lead on chasing Armenia and BNH.

Elsewhere

Faroe Islands 1-0 Malta
Gibraltar 2-3 Georgia
Greece 2-1 Bosnia and Herzegovina
Liechtenstein 0-5 Italy
Israel 3-1 Latvia

Lloyd: Coming off bench at World Cup “rock bottom of my entire career”

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The upper echelon of the USWNT player pool, especially the veteran generation, just swims in a different competitive gene pool.

Comments from a recent podcast featuring Carli Lloyd are the latest evidence of this, as the USWNT legend calls not starting regularly at this summer’s World Cup “the worst time of my life.”

[ MORE: How should USMNT line up? ]

She says she was happy to be a part of it and happy for her teammates but doesn’t back down from the “worst” diagnosis. Yeah, you read that right.

“I’m not going to lie and sugarcoat it,” Lloyd said on Julie Foudy’s Laughter Permitted podcast. “It was absolutely the worst time of my life. It affected my relationship with my husband, with friends. It really was rock bottom of my entire career. But somehow, you see light at the end of the tunnel, and I can honestly say I’m having more fun now playing than I ever have in my career. I think I just learned a lot throughout it.”

To be fair, Lloyd hasn’t backed up anyone in almost a decade and has since won a Ballon d’Or. Not many elite athletes get used to being second (or fourth) fiddle, especially on a major stage like that.

The personalities on this team are as big as any produced by Ronaldo’s Brazil or Zidane’s France. Some may laugh at this, but it shows what a tremendous job Jill Ellis did in marshaling the team to two-straight World Cups, the first with Abby Wambach in a sub’s role and the second with Lloyd.

It also shows the marvelous competitive nature of Lloyd and the resilience of players who know they’d start for any number of teams in the world. Lloyd says in the podcast that she believed she was playing at near her best level despite being moved from midfielder to forward.

Obviously no player prefers a sub’s role to starting, but — wow — if it isn’t bewildering to hear Lloyd talk about her supporting role at age 37 being the worst time of her life. Different types.

Liverpool’s Alisson, Matip return to training

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Premier League leaders Liverpool have been handed a huge boost ahead of their massive clash at bitter rivals Manchester United on Sunday (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Remember: Liverpool are eight points clear atop the table and United sit in 12th, so Jurgen Klopp‘s men are keen to rub salt further into the wounds of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s Red Devils.

Alisson and Joel Matip both returned to training at Melwood, with Alisson recovering from a calf injury which he suffered on the opening day of the season.

The Brazilian goalkeeper has been missing after limping out of the 4-1 win against Norwich City on Aug. 9, and his return to full fitness will bolster this already stingy Liverpool defense. Adrian has performed admirably, albeit with a few errors, in Alisson’s absence but it is now time for the superstar goalkeeper to return to action.

As for Matip, the towering center back suffered an injury against Sheffield United and missed Liverpool’s UEFA Champions League win against Red Bull Salzburg and their narrow Premier League victory against Leicester City.

Joe Gomez and Dejan Lovren have both come in for Matip but neither have been solid enough and the former Schalke star will slot straight back in alongside Virgil Van Dijk and bring a steadying influence to the entire defensive line. Matip has been sensational this season, just as everyone expected Gomez to take his starting spot.

Another situation to keep an eye on is the fitness of Mohamed Salah, as he trained on his own at Melwood. Salah was caught with a rash challenge by Hamza Choudhury at the end of Liverpool’s win over Leicester and suffered an ankle injury.

Klopp was incandescent with rage about the foul on Salah and it appears the Egyptian winger is in a race against time to be fit for the clash against Man United, although he is reportedly looking good to play at Old Trafford on Sunday.

With the fitness of Paul Pogba, Luke Shaw Anthony Martial, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and others a constant struggle for United in recent weeks, Solskjaer hasn’t had much help in that department.

Having Alisson and Matip back is great news for Liverpool and Klopp.