MLS Week in Review: Round 27

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source:  Fear the Galaxy

Every week we find another reason to see the Galaxy as one of the teams to beat, if not the team to beat, for MLS Cup. (It would mark an unprecedented third in a row for Bruce Arena’s star-strewn team.) This week we were reminded of three of them. Landon Donovan scored again, and that makes five in four league matches since returning from that sensational Gold Cup reminder that he is still the best attackers this country has produced. There was Robbie Keane, who continued to build a solid league MVP case with yet another goal and yet another assist. And there was Jaime Penedo, the Panamanian international who has stabilized the club’s formerly concerning situation in goal. It all came as the Galaxy made pretty easy work of rival San Jose in a 3-0 win at the StubHub Center.

The Galaxy is 4-0-1 in all competitions since the All-Star game, and has not conceded a goal in its last three matches.

Donovan inches closer to goals record

Already U.S. Soccer’s all-time leading scorer and the LA Galaxy’s all-time leading scorer, Donovan has drawn ever so close to Jeff Cunningham’s all-time mark in Major League Soccer. His strike on Saturday against the Earthquakes was No. 132, leaving the 31-year-old forward just two shy of the all-time league mark, which Cunningham took from Jaime Moreno just three years ago. Donovan, who made last week’s big off-field splash by re-signing with the Galaxy, will miss L.A.’s next match while pulling national team duty, but will have six chances after that for records chasing.

The big gamble

You really have to hand it to New York Red Bulls manager Mike Petke, who is not even a full year into his first pro coaching assignment. In polite company we would say it like this: the man has courage.

How else to describe Petke’s decision to bench French superstar and former World Cup winner Thierry Henry? Henry doesn’t always play well with others, wearing his lack of patience with lesser players on his Red Bulls sleeve, frequently showing up his teammates. But that’s nothing new, and everyone seems to tolerate it.

What Petke could not allow, apparently, was a training-ground blow-up on Thursday. They hashed it out, but the upshot was a place for Henry on the bench near Petke for a match the wildly inconsistent Red Bulls absolutely could not afford to squander.

Sure enough — and what a relief for the manager — the Red Bulls prevailed 2-1 over woeful D.C. United.

Eddie Johnson and the coming storm

Clint Dempsey is four games into his highly paid days with Seattle, still stuck on no goals and no assists. But Seattle is winning, so no real pressure points are being reached.

Well, they wouldn’t be except for Eddie Johnson’s brazen message to the club, his “pay me” celebration upon scoring he only goal in Seattle’s weather-delayed win at Columbus.

Johnson’s deal is up at year’s end, he wants to remain in Seattle, and now he is scoring while $5 million man Dempsey isn’t. So you do the professional contract math.

Dempsey and Johnson go way back, so there may not be tension between the pair; Dempsey probably wants to see Johnson get a big, fat raise,too.

But how will the this play with fans, who have right to wonder where Johnson’s true loyalties lie? And how will the rest of the Sounders see Johnson’s self-centered actions with the team in such a healthy place, on such a swell roll, steadily climbing in the West?

Real Salt Lake on a goal tear

Portland was the latest to find itself brushed aside by a Real Salt Lake team that has achieved top offensive gear. After hitting three versus Portland two weeks ago and then four versus Columbus last week, Javier Morales led the offensive way as RSL crushed Portland in Utah, 4-2. With the latest win in Utah, RSL extended its lead in the West and for the Supporters  Shield to five points, although all pursuers within bothering distance have games in hand.

“El Cubo” Torres rising

Chivas USA is getting something out of this season of misery. It’s Erick “El Cubo” Torres, the young striker on loan from mother Chivas, the Liga MX team in Guadalajara.

Torres had two more goals in Sunday’s 2-2 draw in Vancouver, including one very cool overhead kick. That followed last week’s two-goal evening, bringing the young striker’s total this year to six.

While it’s great that Chivas USA fans get something to feel good about this year, Torres is almost sure to be recalled for the Liga MX spring season – so he won’t be around the StubHub Center long.

Sporting KC back on track

Peter Vermes’ team found a rough patch in August, losing three times in league play losing ground in the tightly packed Eastern Conference playoff jostle, naturally)  and finding goals in awfully short supply lately. So a commanding 2-1 victory over visiting Colorado should go far in helping to fortify any sagging confidence around Sporting Park.

Speaking of that match …

The weekend’s top goal

Benny Feilhaber’s can be maddeningly inconsistent, but Sporting KC’s former U.S. national teamed always has a special goal or two lurking about him. He sure dropped a doozy on helpless Colorado goalkeeper Clint Irwin in Round 27, an outside of the foot bender that was as gorgeous as it was audacious. Watch and enjoy …

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Danny Rose: I will run down my Tottenham contract

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Oh, good, just what Tottenham needed. Another contract rebel.

Danny Rose, 29, has told the London Evening Standard he will run down the remaining 18 months of his contract.

In an open and ruthlessly honest interview, Rose revealed that Spurs wanted him to leave in the summer but he wants to leave on his own terms.

Rose didn’t travel with the team for their preseason tour of the Far East and he revealed exactly why that was the case.

“It’s pretty obvious what happened [in the summer]. People upstairs at Tottenham were trying to do what they were trying to do. I’ve said [to them] I’ve got 18 months left on my contract and I’m not going anywhere until my contract has ­finished,” Rose said. “In January, you’re probably going to hear something [about my future]. I’m telling you right now that I’m not going anywhere until my contract is finished. [Tottenham chairman] Daniel Levy told me in the summer there was no new contract for me at Tottenham, which is fine. I respect that. We move on.

“My contract is up in 18 months’ time and I’ll leave the football club then. People [in the media] can save their time ­trying to get stuff ready for January about me being sold. Because I can tell you now: it ain’t happening. I know what people were trying to do in the summer… There were no bids — that was rubbish.”

Wow.

Rose has not held back, at all.

He has started 11 of Spurs’ 16 games in the Premier League and UEFA Champions League this season and although he admitted he has made some big mistakes so far, he said he is very happy playing for Mauricio Pochettino and the two have a very good relationship.

However, this situation adds to the growing unrest in the dressing room with Christian Eriksen, Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld all out of contract next summer, it appears that Pochettino has a growing player revolt on his hands.

It’s not all his fault though, as Spurs chairman Daniel Levy is a stickler for a bargain and was unlikely to let any of the aforementioned players leave on the cheap this summer.

But the product of keeping players against their will and not offering new contracts is that Spurs now have a large chunk of their first team who know they are a) not wanted and b) won’t be able to move until May.

Even though Rose and others know they will be moving on soon, they will of course try and give their all for Spurs. But with an eye on a move, you can certainly understand why Tottenham’s players have dropped their levels by a few percent.

That is all it takes to stop being title and top four contenders to being in 14th place and hoping for a top six finish.

Bernardo Silva banned over Benjamin Mendy tweet

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Manchester City winger Bernardo Silva has been banned for one-game after being found guilty of breaching FA Rule E3(1).

Silva posted a message on his Twitter account on September 22 with a photo of close friend and City teammate Benjamin Mendy next to a mascot for Spanish confectionery brand Conguitos.

He posted the message “Guess who?” above the photos before deleting it and then saying “Can’t even joke with a friend these days… You Guys…”

Along with the one-game ban, Silva was also fined $64,000 and must complete face-to-face education after admitting the charge.

Below is the FA’s statement in full:

Bernardo Silva has been suspended for one first team competitive fixture, fined £50,000 and must complete face-to-face education after admitting a breach of FA Rule E3.

“The Manchester City midfielder’s social media activity on 22 September 2019 breached FA Rule E3(1), as it was insulting and/or improper and/or brought the game into disrepute, and constituted an “Aggravated Breach”, which is defined in FA Rule E3(2), as it included reference, whether expressed or implied, to race and/or colour and/or ethnic origin.”

The ban will see Silva miss Man City’s home game against Chelsea on Saturday, Nov. 23 (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com) and this ban seems more lenient than many were expecting as all parties agreed to the sanctions and Silva’s previous good behavior was taken into account.

Also, here is a look at some of their mitigating circumstances when it came to investigating the situation and handing out the sanctions.

David Villa announces retirement

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Legendary Spanish forward David Villa, 37, has announced his retirement.

Villa will end his playing career on Jan. 1, 2019 as his final game will be for current team Vissel Kobe, if they reach the Emperor’s Cup final in Japan.

The former Sporting Gijon, Real Zaragoza, Valencia, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, New York City FC and Melbourne City star holds the record for being Spain’s all-time leading goalscorer (with 59 goals in 98 appearances) and won the 2010 World Cup and 2008 European Championships as a key part of their golden generation.

He also won two La Liga titles and the UEFA Champions League with Barcelona and another La Liga with Atletico Madrid as he scored 376 goals in 752 appearances and also won Copa del Rey trophies with Barca, Atletico, Zaragoza and Valencia.

“After 19 years as a professional, I have decided to retire from playing football at the end of this season. Thank you to all the teams, coaches and teammates that have allowed me to enjoy this dreamed career,” Villa said. “Thank you to my family, that has always been there to support me. It is my objective to put the cherry on top by winning the Emperor’s Cup with Vissel Kobe on January 1st. From then on, I will continue to enjoy football through all the projects that we’re currently developing with DV7 group. Thank you for all the love.”

Villa announced on Tuesday that he is part of the ownership group which will bring a USL Championship side to Queens, New York City. The plan is for Queensboro FC to start play in 2021 in the second-tier of North American soccer and Villa is expected to be a key part of the organization as he heads back to NYC.

During his four seasons in Major League Soccer he was the shinning light for New York City FC and was a model professional as well as being a great goalscorer in the Bronx.

His legendary status will live on, with his goals and performances so key to some of the biggest moments in Spanish, and world, soccer history.

Finland close to first major finals: “It will go crazy”

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The temperatures are plummeting and the days are getting shorter as another harsh winter approaches in Finland.

Expectations around the country’s soccer team are rising, though, like never before.

On Friday, Finland could seal a place in the finals of a major soccer tournament for the first time in its history. All that’s needed is a home win over Liechtenstein, one of the world’s weakest teams, in Helsinki and the Finns will take their place in next year’s European Championship.

After so many past disappointments, it is a day many in this Nordic country of 5.5 million inhabitants – better known for its hockey team, rally drivers and javelin throwers – thought would never arrive.

It is one that could transcend soccer, changing the mentality of a nation.

“There are always skeptics – with a sort of `Ah, they are never going to do it anyway’ feeling – in more or less everything we do, whether it is music, anything,” said former Finland player Aki Riihilahti, who is now CEO of Finnish champion HJK Helsinki. “The Finnish nature is that only when there comes an external acknowledgement of an achievement do we go and support it.

“For what this will mean, it is more important mentally than factually.”

Finland has had better teams down the years, on paper anyway. They’ve had more celebrated players, too – think of Jari Litmanen, the silky playmaker for Ajax and Barcelona, and Sami Hyypia, the defensive stalwart at Liverpool. Yet getting to a World Cup or European Championship has been beyond them, despite more than 80 years of trying.

Finland remains, somewhat embarrassingly, the only major Nordic country to have never qualified for a major tournament.

So what’s changed? The hiring of a former primary school teacher as coach has plenty to do with it.

Markku Kanerva was promoted to the job in December 2016, having previously been an assistant with the team and a former player in the 1980s and ’90s. He inherited a team that had gone all of 2016 without a win and also one that was about to lose some of its best players. One midfielder, Roman Eremenko, received a two-year ban for testing positive for cocaine in 2016; another, Perparim Hetemaj, would go on to retire in early 2018 to focus on his club career.

Kanerva took a pragmatic view of the team, picking players according to their individual strengths rather than a pre-existing style and reverting to a straightforward 4-4-2 formation. His approach was based on hard work and strong defensive shape, and relied on the country’s most high-profile player – striker Teemu Pukki – poaching some goals at the other end.

Kanerva also approaches coaching like he would teaching, encouraging his players to interact more, take responsibility, and learn what they have done wrong so they can improve.

The results have been striking. Finland won its group in the inaugural UEFA Nations League competition after winning its opening four qualifying games, earning promotion to League B and guaranteeing a playoff spot for Euro 2020 that might not be necessary.

In Euro 2020 qualifying, the Finns reacted to an opening loss to Italy by winning four straight Group J games without conceding a goal. After eight games, they are in second place, behind already qualified Italy but five points ahead of both Bosnia-Herzegovina and Armenia. With two teams advancing automatically, Finland needs one win from its final two qualifiers over the coming days, starting with last-place Liechtenstein, to make history.

“This is the missing piece of the puzzle,” said Marco Casagrande, general secretary of the Football Association of Finland. “All the other things in our sports we have managed to do, but this is something that’s still separating us from being a real sports country.”

Finland’s underperformance on the international stage was bought into sharp focus by Iceland, a tiny Nordic brother with a population of just 330,000, reaching both Euro 2016 and last year’s World Cup.

Casagrande recalls speaking to his colleagues at the Icelandic FA, asking them: “So what’s your secret?”

“It didn’t help,” Casagrande said, “when everyone was saying, `You are losing all the games and Iceland is going to the Euros. Come on guys, what are you doing?”‘

Iceland’s rise was based on a strong collective effort combined with a sprinkle of stardust by its one standout player, Gylfi Sigurdsson, and Finland is pretty much the same.

While goalkeeper Lukas Hradecki, who plays in Germany for Bayer Leverkusen, gets plenty of plaudits, most of the spotlight falls on Pukki, the hard-working striker who has scored seven goals in qualifying and made a strong start to his first season in the Premier League with Norwich.

“Teemu Pukki is really somebody who everybody seems to love,” said Riihilahti, who also played in England’s top division with Crystal Palace, “and has been adopted as the Finnish savior who is bringing us to the promised land.”

When Finland won the men’s hockey world championship this year for the first time since 2011, there were wild celebrations in central Helsinki as champagne-swilling fans braved the cold weather by stripping off and taking a swim in the fountain and climbing on the famous Havis Amanda statue.

Expect more of the same if the country’s soccer players finally make the long-awaited international breakthrough.

“Finnish people would all celebrate like a big festival,” Riihilahti said. “It will go crazy.”

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Steve Douglas is at http://www.twitter.com/sdouglas80