Major League Soccer Week in Review – Round 22

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All-Star break

Thing is, it’s not much of a “break,” per se. This is just what everyone calls it. Either way, no mid-week matches for as the best of the bunch gather in Kansas City for Wednesday’s contest against Roma.  United States midfield maestro Michael Bradley is a member of the Italian Serie A club.

Landon Donovan was just added to the MLS roster. It’s the summer of Donovan, don’t you know?

Mike Magee scores. Again.

An interesting and unlikely pair are trying to break from the peloton in the Golden Boot chase. Vancouver’s Camilo and Chicago’s Mike Magee have 13 goals each to lead the field. Magee’s latest was a easy far-post finish in a 1-1 draw at Houston. And that trade for Robbie Rogers’ right just looks better and better for the Fire … worse and worse for the Galaxy. (Watch Magee’s latest goal here.)

Best game: New York’s win over Real Salt Lake

If it wasn’t the best match of the weekend, it was darn sure the best 10 minutes of MLS Round 22.

The night at Red Bull Arena was physical but included plenty of skillful stuff, too. Alvaro Saborio, fresh off Gold Cup duty with Costa Rica, netted a hat trick, just the fourth in MLS this year.

New York had a 2-0 lead late after 23 minutes and still led by a goal in the 80th minute –then all heck broke loose.  Saborio scored twice within 10 minutes as the visitors, still missing about half its lineup due to injuries and international absences, climbed into a sudden 3-2 lead.

Fabian Espindola supplied New York’s 89th minute equalizer, and then Dax McCarty found a wonderful time for his first goal of 2013, a brave diving header and game-winner in the 94th minute. Final score: 4-3 New York.

Match highlights are here. (They are 10 minutes long, but what did you expect? There was a lot going on!)

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Dramatic wins in Canada, by the Canadian clubs

Montreal and Toronto had late goals to record dramatic wins before their home fans.

Montreal took advantage of a whopping seven minutes of stoppage time, as Blake Smith found space on the left and beat Kansas City goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen in the 96th minute. That gave the Impact a 1-0 win in the kind of physical, emotional contest you would expect in an exchange of these two clubs.

The drama rose to another level yet in Toronto, where Ryan Nelson’s club actually trailed Columbus going into the 87th minute. But Bobby Convey and  Jeremy Brockie helped arrange a goal for Jonathan Osorio.

As a driving rain poured down, TFC poured on the pressure, desperate for its first league victory at BMO Field in more than a year. Defender Stephen Caldwell headed one off the post, and then in the 94th minute Convey set up Andrew Wiedeman for the winner in a 2-1 result.

Bobby Convey? He’s still playing?

Mostly a forgotten man and a tale of talent squandered, Bobby Convey, on his third MLS team in three years, had two assists in Toronto’s win. The Reds are too far behind for a playoff run, but getting the former U.S. international back on track would surely assist in the ongoing (latest) rebuilding effort around BMO Field.

The champs are hurting

Quick checklist of the biggest LA Galaxy names: Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane, Omar Gonzalez, Robbie Rogers.

Quick checklist of the LA Galaxy players absent from Saturday’s match in Colorado: Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane, Omar Gonzalez and Robbie Rogers.

Throw in yet another underwhelming performance from goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini, and it’s not hard to see why the Galaxy

Not hard to see Donovan and Gonzalez struggled at DSG Park, looking pretty tame in a 2-0 loss. Donovan and Gonzalez are finished with Gold Cup duty and should be back in the lineup when Bruce Arena’s team resumes league play at FC Dallas on Aug. 11. Keane and Rogers should be recovered from injuries by then as well.

Rookies still getting it done in the Rockies

Central midfielder Dillon Powers had a goal and an assist in the latest match of his outstanding rookie season. He has four goals and four assists.

Fellow rookie Deshorn Brown was in for 77 minutes of the 2-0 win over Los Angeles. And  rookie goalkeeper Clint Irwin recorded his 8th shutout.

(By the way, Chris Klute, the  Rapids’ outstanding young left back, is not a rookie; I’ve seen several people make that mistake. He signed a professional contract previously with Atlanta of the NASL, and he even played one match last year with the Rapids.)

Either way, it’s clear that Rapids manager Oscar Pareja has an outstanding eye for young talent, and knows a little about how to manage it.

Tight in the East … just six points separate top from no playoffs

Brad Davis returns … but not quite enough for the Dynamo

The Houston Dynamo’s versatile U.S. international midfielder got back into a league match for the first time in a month. He had an impact, too, providing the assist (Brad Davis, assists … they go together like coffee and cream, eh?) on Cam Weaver’s goal in a 1-1 draw with Chicago. That was the first goal for a Houston forward since early May. Seriously.

David couldn’t do enough, however, as Houston would surely have loved all three points at home. As of today, the MLS runner-ups in 2011 and 2012 are not in the playoffs. (Houston is tied with New England, behind on tiebreakers, but does have a game in hand on the fifth-place Revs.)

Set pieces. It’s always set pieces

As the playoffs draw closer, every goal takes on added significance. And that means every restart is a potential post-season spot waiting to happen. Or something like that.

Restarts were big as Colorado upended the Galaxy. Hendry Thomas’ 41st minute strike was off a corner kick. Both of San Jose’s goals in a 2-1 win over visiting Portland were off restarts, a penalty kick from Victor Bernardez and Steven Lenhart’s game-winner off a clever free kick execution.

Kevin Alston returns to the field

New England defender Kevin Alson created the happy news of the weekend when he came on in the 84th minute of New England’s 2-1 win at D.C. United. This is the first time Alston, a former MLS All-Star has stepped onto the field since his diagnoses and treatment for a rare form of leukemia in April.

The East is a beast

Check out those Eastern Conference standings. The top team (Kansas City) has 36 points. The sixth place team (Houston) has 30. So, a mere six points separates the conference winner from a team not going to the post-season as things stand.

Overall, seven teams have a real shot at the playoffs. Eight if you count Columbus, although Saturday’s 2-1 loss (when Robert Warzycha’s team had a lead, as mentioned earlier, in the 87th minute) may be hard to rally past. The Crew has lost five of its last six.

USWNT opens Olympic qualifying with win over Haiti

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The USWNT was rusty, that much was clear. Vlatko Andonovski still made sure they took care of business.

Four different goalscorers delivered a 4-0 victory over Haiti to begin CONCACAF Olympic qualification, putting the United States in front of Group A early. Lynn Williams picked up a goal and assist, proving useful on an otherwise sputtery evening for Vlatko Andonovski’s attack.

Just 78 seconds into the game, Williams charged down the right flank and crossed to Christen Press at the far post for the opening goal. Williams’ assist came without the use of her left shoe which she lost while holding off a defender for the bobbling ball.

Despite the early lead, the United States seemed somewhat sluggish as Haiti built themselves into the match. There were few chances on net after the opening goal through the half-hour mark.

Haiti nearly caught the U.S. napping on a corner as the ball found the back of the net on 20 minutes, but the goal was somehow ruled out. It appeared to be for offside, but since it’s impossible to be offside from a corner, there must have been another reason for the official ruling. Nonetheless, it was a clear sign for the USWNT that they needed to pick up the level of play.

The U.S. continued to struggle after halftime, creating very little in front of net. There was a half-chance for Lloyd near the penalty spot but a quality tackle by Kethna Louis put that to bed. Then finally they put the game to bed on a corner, not coincidentally coming just five minutes after Megan Rapinoe entered the fray. Rapinoe delivered a corner to the doorstep where Williams headed in well under pressure, moving her upper body away from goal against the motion of her lower body to reach the delivery.

Another Andonovski substitute paid dividends however as Lindsey Horan scored, again coming off a corner. They played it short and Horan headed from a significant distance out, the ball squirting past the goalkeeper Kerly Theus and Louis who tried to clear off the line. It was clear that Haiti had begun to tire and the USWNT was taking advantage. Up front, Carli Lloyd had a poor game, unable to get involved in attacking play, but she found the scoresheet in stoppage time, bagging a header off a Rapinoe cross in the 93rd minute to finish out the scoring.

Emily Sonnett replaced Kelley O’Hara with 10 minutes to go for Andonovski’s final change, and the USWNT saw the rest of the match out. They have two matches remaining before the knockout stage, set to take on Panama on Friday before the group stage finale against Costa Rica on February 3. The top two teams in the group reach the knockout phase with the semifinals to begin on February 7.

Report: Chelsea may ask Abraham to play through injury

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Chelsea has so far come up empty in its search for a striker, so desperate times may call for desperate measures.

Tammy Abraham, who has been a revelation this season with 13 Premier League goals, went down with an ankle injury late in the 2-2 draw with Arsenal last weekend. The club has tried desperately to find a striker before the Friday transfer window closes, and while the Blues have been linked with Edinson Cavani and Krzysztof Piatek they so far have not had any success in finding a replacement.

Therefore, according to Matt Law of The Telegraph, Chelsea may ask Abraham to play through his injury against Leicester City this weekend. The match is a vital one as Chelsea, sitting fourth in the Premier League table, looks to put separation between themselves and Manchester United while also chasing the third-placed Foxes who sit eight points clear.

The thinking appears to be that Chelsea has a 16-day break between the Leicester City match and their subsequent game against Manchester United in mid-February thanks to the Premier League’s two-week break at the start of the month.

Earlier this month, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer admitted regret for not resting a banged up Marcus Rashford, choosing instead to bring him off the bench in an FA Cup match against Wolves. Reports after the match confirmed that Rashford was carrying a single stress fracture in his back at the time of the appearance, and he was hauled off 16 minutes later with scans after the match showing his appearance against Wolves worsened the injury. He now he faces two to three months on the sidelines.

Abraham has also slowed of late after being so heavily used this season. The 22-year-old has logged a massive 2,359 minutes across all competitions this season, including 1,843 out of a possible 2,160 in Premier League play. Abraham scored his first 11 Premier League goals in his first 14 matches of the season, but has just three goals in the last 10 games.

Chelsea has Michy Batshuayi as a natural replacement for Abraham up top, but Frank Lampard has used him as solely a bench option the entirety of this season. Batshuayi has made 14 Premier League appearances this season, but has logged just 138 minutes across those matches. When used as a starter in cup action, Batshuayi has four goals in four domestic cup starts. Olivier Giroud is also on the roster, having made just five Premier League appearances this season.

Ed Woodward’s house attacked by Man United fans with flares

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Manchester United has been unable to reclaim the glory of the Sir Alex Ferguson days, and that has Red Devils fans up in arms. CEO Ed Woodward has taken much of the heat, with the executive unable to prevent the squad from degrading in quality and the team consequently has been unable to consistenly challenge for a top-four place, with his financial background not exactly a fit for his player recruitment position.

Some fans seem to have taken their frustration way too far.

A video emerged on social media claiming to show fans shooting flares at Woodward’s private residence, and reports from Sky Sports and The Daily Mirror corroborated that claim. The club then issued a statement condemning the incident.

“Manchester United Football Club have tonight been made aware of the incident outside the home of one of our employees.”We know that the football world will unite behind us as we work with Greater Manchester Police to identify the perpetrators of this unwarranted attack. Anybody found guilty of a criminal offense, or found to be trespassing on this property, will be banned for life by the club and may face prosecution. Fans expressing opinion is one thing, criminal damage and intent to endanger life is another. There is simply no excuse for this.”

The Sky Sports report claims that neither Woodward nor any of his family – particularly his wife and two children – were present in the home at the time of the attack. The Daily Mirror claims upwards of 20 or 30 fans were part of the attack on the house, with the caption “Ed Woodward’s gonna die” with three red circle emojis all in a Snapchat banner. Sky Sports also reports that red paint was sprayed on the gates of the home.

There are also reports of sickening chants during the recent FA Cup win over Tranmere Rovers, with fans singing about burning Woodward and the club owner Malcom Glazer in a bonfire.

Manchester United has reportedly looked to hire a Director of Football in recent months, but has so far stuck with Woodward as the head of recruitment. The squad has

PL Preview: West Ham v. Liverpool

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  • Liverpool has won 30 of its last 31 Premier League fixtures
  • West Ham is winless in its last 6 PL games against Liverpool
  • The Hammers have just 11 points at home this season, joint-low in the PL

Liverpool can go an obscene 19 points clear at the top of the Premier League table with a win over West Ham on Wednesday, with kickoff from London Stadium at 2:45 p.m. ET live on NBCSN or live online at NBCSports.com.

The Reds will be without Sadio Mane who pulled up in the first half of the win over Wolves. The news was positive, but still the argument could easily be made that Mane is the most important player in the Liverpool lineup, and replacing him will give Jurgen Klopp a headache. He could start Divock Origi on the wing in a direct replacement, but Origi is a striker by nature and would make things narrow on the left flank. He could also move Salah to the left and insert Xherdan Shaqiri on the right, but there’s no guarantee that the Swiss international will be fit enough to play.

Still, Liverpool will be massive favorites to build on its winning streak against a West Ham side limping into the match. The Hammers are vulnerable with a long injury list of their own, with just one win since the festive period. Felipe Anderson, Andriy Yarmolenko, and Jack Wilshere are the most significant of the injured West Ham army, but certainly not the only ones. By the most recent reports, five players will miss the match with another two to be assessed before the match.

The Hammers are only out of the relegation zone thanks to goal differential, and with a brutal upcoming fixture slate that includes another against Liverpool plus games against Man City, Arsenal, Spurs, Wolves, and Chelsea through the end of March, West Ham will have to scrap for every point available.

Injuries/suspensions

West Ham: OUT – Ryan Fredericks (hamstring), Felipe Anderson (back), Andriy Yarmolenko (thigh), Arthur Masuaku (knee), Jack Wilshere (groin). QUESTIONABLE – Robert Snodgrass (knee), Lukasz Fabianski (thigh).

Liverpool: OUT – Sadio Mane (thigh muscle), James Milner (thigh), Nathaniel Clyne (ACL). QUESTIONABLE – Xherdan Shaqiri (calf).


Probable lineups

West Ham: Randolph; Cresswell, Ogbonna, Diop, Zabaleta; Snodgrass, Noble, Rice, Antonio; Lanzini, Haller.

Liverpool: Alisson; Robertson, Gomez, van Dijk, Alexander-Arnold; Henderson, Wijnaldum, Oxlade-Chamberlain; Origi, Firmino, Salah.


What they’re saying

West Ham manager on being huge underdogs: “Everybody gets the chance to throw a punch at some point along the line, and sometimes you can get a lucky one. I’ve never gone into any game not expecting to win. Quite often, you don’t always win, but I really do expect the players to go out there, put a show on, and try and win. If that’s won by a set-piece, a flukey goal, I wouldn’t be bothered. That’s been my attitude throughout my whole career: I want to win. We’ll do everything we can to get points where we can.”

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp on how West Ham will play: “It will be a rather defensive line-up [from West Ham]. If it’s four in the back or five in the back, I don’t know, but we have to be ready for a big fight. They want to strike back, they have a tough program coming up, everybody knows that. They have no points to waste, no time to waste.”


Prediction:

Liverpool is without Sadio Mane, and that’s notable in any Premier League match, but against West Ham it shouldn’t matter. The Reds have been utterly unbeatable defensively, and against a West Ham side missing Felipe Anderson, Jack Wilshere, and Arthur Masuaku plus a banged up Robert Snodgrass, an eighth clean sheet in the last nine matches is likely. The Reds put on a clinic in a comprehensive 3-0 victory.