MLS Week in review: Round 26

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source:  The big match was the last of a long round of contests, Clint Dempsey’s first home match in Sounders’ rave green. Still, there was plenty to talk about elsewhere:

The big match in Seattle

Attendance late Sunday night at CenturyLink Field in Seattle was 67,385, the largest ever for a soccer game in Seattle, the second largest ever for a stand-alone MLS match (that’s over 18 years) and the third largest crowd worldwide this weekend. It was all about Cascadia Cup and Clint Dempsey’s home debut, which Seattle won, 1-0.

So, how did Dempsey make out? It’s all here.

Donovan approaches scoring record

Landon Donovan’s early goal was the only score in a 1-0 win over Vancouver.  It was a big win for the two-time defending MLS Cup winners and a big moment for Donovan, who is within three goals of equaling Jeff Cunningham’s all-time league scoring record.

More on that here.

Maybe the best save you’ll see all season

This is why the Galaxy made a change in goal; because Carlo Cudicini wasn’t making these game-saving stops. Well, newcomer Jaime Penedo sure did. Watch his work of art in the second half Saturday in the Galaxy’s 1-0 win at Vancouver:

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Statement wins from Real Salt Lake and Montreal

Real Salt Lake manager challenged his players, who had been taken apart last week in Los Angeles. Result? Listen to Kreis, a perfectionist who is not easy to please, after watching his team waylay Columbus, 4-0: “This for me, was the most complete game we have played this season. … And it comes at the right time, because we are entering the most critical stretch, and we’ve got a lot to play for and a lot to win. We needed a performance to put some confidence behind or our group, and I think that‘s exactly what we got.”

In the East, Montreal manager Marco Schallibaum was in the booth, suspended for the fourth time this year, as his team did a similar number on Houston. Justin Mapp, Felipe Martins and Marco Di Vaio all had big nights for Montreal.

New England also had a showy score line, a 5-1 win over Philadelphia. But in all honesty but

Two crushing blows:

Of course, there is another side to those “statements.” Columbus might just be done, and not just because they went into Utah and and got clobbered by a motivated Real Salt Lake, 4-0. Federico Higuain was caught throwing an elbows in stoppage time – of a match long since decided, so tsk-tsk, sir – and found himself on the business end of red card.

He was already set to miss the next Crew match for accumulation of cautions, and now will need to sit out an additional contest due to the red card. So for the Crew, barely hanging around in the playoff picture anyway, getting hammered in Utah and losing their top man for two matches may mean “Game, Set and Match” on the playoff chances.

Houston is better positioned, but will need to rally from a 5-0 humbling at Montreal, the club’s worst loss since moving to Houston in 2006.

Opportunity lost

Two teams paid Round 26 visits to Chivas USA, longtime occupant of last place in the West. FC Dallas arrested its long, slow slide down the table, winning for the first time since June. So, mission accomplished.

Et tu, New York Red Bulls?

Nope. Thierry Henry and Co. missed an opportunity to pull ahead of Montreal in the standings. No offense to Chivas USA, but points dropped against the Goats represent massive opportunity lost for any team with real playoff ambition.

Remember, teams that fall into the fourth and fifth spots will have one additional round in which to fall out of the post-season. Plus, they are losing ground in the fight for possible host duties of MLS Cup 2013.

Did blown call in New England affect the final outcome?

Philadelphia and New England were tied at 1-1 outside Boston when the Union had a goal disallowed. It was absolutely the correct call as Sebastian Le Toux was offside.

But a few minutes later, referee Allen Chapman disallowed a perfectly legitimate Union goal, and that decision turned the important Eastern Conference match.

It would have given the visitors a 2-1 lead.  Rather, the visitors struggled to get past the frustration and fell apart spectacularly. Final score: 5-1 for New England as things got away from Philly.

More on that one here.

Weekend’s top goal

There really were a bunch of worthy choices, including big strikes by Donovan and New England’s Kelyn Rowe and a highly technical, curving effort from Montreal’s Felipe Martins. But what about this one from D.C. United’s Dwayne De Rosario, one of the few moments of sunshine this year around RFK Stadium:

Report: Spurs, Inter close to deal for Eriksen

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After months of posturing and working the back channels, it would appear that Christian Eriksen is close to getting his transfer away from Tottenham Hotspur.

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

After months of posturing and holding firm, it would appear that Tottenham are close to getting their desired transfer fee for Eriksen despite his contract having only six months remaining.

After months of posturing and unsettling the 27-year-old star, it would appear that Inter Milan are close to getting their Danish international playmaker.

In the end, it would appear that everyone is going to get what they want, only no one truly gets what they want. Spurs spent the last year trying to sign Eriksen to a new contract; Eriksen wanted to leave in the summer and will feel like they wasted six months of his career; much like Inter would have been desperate to bolster their squad in the summer.

[ MORE: Mourinho in favor of PL’s winter break, but says timing all wrong ]

$22 million — the amount Spurs will reportedly receive from Inter — will hardly be enough to replace such an influential player, therefore Spurs come out of this long-running saga the worst of the bunch.

As for Eriksen and Inter, it’ll be a challenge for the player to immediately find his footing and shine ever so brightly in the midst of a title race, especially after the side has already slumped to back-to-back draws and fallen four points back of Juventus. Though, reportedly tripling his wages from Spurs to Inter leaves Eriksen the biggest winner in a mostly no-win situation.

Struggling Atleti in unfamiliar territory under Simeone

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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.