2014 Review: Top Moments in U.S. Soccer, #10-6

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Looking back on 2014, it has been a pretty incredible year for soccer in the USA. With the USMNT’s run to the last 16 in Brazil during the World Cup madness, MLS’s upsurge and Landon Donovan going out a winner with LA, we’ve been spoiled for top moments. Over the next few days at PST, we will be counting down our top 10 from the USMNT and MLS in the last 12 months. Here’s numbers 10-6…

No. 10: Jermaine Jones comes to MLS

Following a World Cup which saw the defensive-minded midfielder play lynchpin for the United States and come away having logged one of the most solid all-around performances of any US player, the 33-year-old’s club situation was still in question. Having been loaned to Besiktas in Turkey since January, his contract had run out. Without a club for around a month and rumors swirling, Jones agreed to come to the U.S. and the good ol’ “blind draw” sent him to New England.

Jones changed the face of the Revolution. From his first match on August 30, New England lost just one of its next 14 matches, winning 12 and catapulting an already good team into a title contender. Unfortunately, the Galaxy edged Jones and the Revs in the MLS Cup final, but it was a valiant effort from all involved, and Jones was at the forefront of the run. Whenever top Americans choose to play in front of the home fans, it warrants attention.

No. 9: Seattle wins the Supporter’s Shield

There were a few contenders, but with the goals flying in New York, Landon Donovan finishing strong, and Ben Olsen reviving DC United, the Seattle Sounders were unmoved. There were bumps in the road, including 10 losses on the year, but they also converted chances into maximum hauls, winning three more games than any other club in 2014 to claim the club’s first ever Supporter’s Shield. It proved even sweeter that they would secure the award on the final day against the eventual champions.

source: APNo. 8: Los Angeles Galaxy storm through MLS Cup Playoffs

The Supporter’s Shield is nice, but the Galaxy wanted more. They took the pain from their 2-0 season-ending loss to Seattle and put it to good use, plowing their way though the playoffs, leaving carnage on the way through.

It culminated with a hard-fought 2-1 victory over New England, earning Los Angeles its fifth MLS cup and sent Landon Donovan out with a ride into the sunset. It capped off what proved to be not just a fun and exciting playoffs, but a whole season full of fireworks.

No. 7: MLS players show up big at World Cup

While not exactly a moment, this overarching theme from Brazil capped off a surprising turnaround from years past, and one that has a promising air to it. A large portion of the United States national team found itself hailing from Major League Soccer, including Jermaine Jones (to sign later), Matt Besler, Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Graham Zusi, DaMarcus Beasley (also would come soon after), and Kyle Beckerman. Some of those players earned recognition in the spotlight, with both Dempsey and Jones scoring spectacular and memorable goals. Others, like Beckerman and Zusi, let others get the plaudits while they logged vital minutes and worked their tails off. DeAndre Yedlin also burst onto the international scene, adding some youth to the mix.

No. 6: Michael Bradley signs with Toronto FC

Another big star returning home, Bradley was actually the first this year to do so, and also the most controversial. While he wasn’t a regular starter at Roma, Bradley was no doubt an important piece of their squad, one that had come roaring out of the gates last season. Even if his Serie A club considered him surplus, there was surely a host of European clubs in high places that would have taken a flyer on the 26-year-old.

Instead, with much scrutiny to follow, Bradley decided to take a hefty contract in Major League Soccer on January 9, sparking a debate which would swallow up USMNT coach Jurgen Klinsmann, among others. Ultimately the season was a tumultuous one for Bradley and Toronto, but nonetheless his move started the dominoes falling so as many other Americans would follow suit in the coming weeks.

#5-1 will be coming shortly in the next installment, so stay tuned. With the World Cup still fresh in the memory banks, expect plenty of Brazil talk. Oh, and that Landon guy…

Portland beats Orlando to win MLS is Back championship

MLS is Back
Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) Soaked in sweat and doused in water, the Portland Timbers hoisted the MLS is Back trophy at midfield and then headed toward a giant TV screen filled with fans cheering from afar.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage

It was a huge Zoom party. It might just be the way to celebrate championships in 2020.

Dario Zuparic’s first goal of the season gave Portland a 2-1 victory against Orlando in Major League Soccer’s return tournament finale Tuesday night, capping a month-long event that showed sports can be played safely inside a bubble.

“I always think the more difficult the fight is the more beautiful the victory is at the end,” said Portland’s Larrys Mabiala, who scored the game’s first goal.

Orlando was slow to react to Diego Valeri’s corner kick in the 66th minute, allowing Eryk Williamson to collect the ball, change direction and take a shot that Jeremy Ebobisse deflected to Zuparic’s feet. Zuparic didn’t have to do much to get it by Pedro “The Octopus” Gallese, who had made two fantastic saves in the lead-up to the corner kick.

The goal started the celebration on Portland’s sideline and sent Orlando into panic mode. The Lions had a chance in the closing minutes, but failed to get the equalizer.

“It’s a group of players in a lot of pain right now,” Orlando coach Oscar Pareja said. “Things didn’t bounce our way. We made a couple of mistakes.”

The Timbers, who spent 39 days in the MLS bubble and remained on West Coast time, hugged and danced after the final whistle. They raised the silver trophy while hooting and hollering. But the lasting image will be players and coaches waving at a camera and reaching hundreds back home.

It ended a wild month for the MLS, which managed to play 51 matches in 45 days at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports complex at Disney World.

No family. No friends. No fans.

But it was by most accounts a rousing success, especially considering how it started. FC Dallas and Nashville were forced to withdraw days before the start because of positive coronavirus tests.

Players, coaches and support personnel were tested regularly inside the MLS bubble. The league reported just two positives out of nearly 35,000 tests following the initial setbacks that threatened to derail a tournament that came with a $1.1 million purse.

“We just told ourselves we need to make it worth it,” Mabiala said, adding that his son has been calling, crying and clamoring for him to come home in recent days.

Portland will get $328,000 in prize money to split. The Timbers also earned a berth in the CONCACAF Champions League, their first since 2016.

Orlando settled for $150,000 to share.

Orlando’s appearance in the finale was a surprise considering the team finished 11th out of 12 in the East last season and fired coach James O’Connor. Pareja took over in 2020 and made an immediate impact.

Pareja convinced his players, including star Nani, to settle into the bubble several days early. They won the tournament opener, a group-stage victory against Miami, and ended up spending nearly seven weeks quarantined in the bubble.

Portland’s experience – the Timbers won the MLS title in 2015 and were runners-up two years ago – showed in the finale.

Portland’s first shot on goal found the back of the net. Valeri delivered a perfectly placed free kick into the box that Mabiala headed past Gallese in the 27th minute. It was Valeri’s 93rd assist with the Timbers.

But considering Portland has managed just three clean sheets in its last 23 matches, it was no surprise to see a defensive breakdown just a few minutes later.

Nani worked the ball down the left side following a turnover and created enough room to get a crosser into the box. Mauricio Pereyra got a foot on the ball and then took advantage of a fallen defender to tie the match.

The equalizer came shortly after Portland’s Sebastian Blanco exchanged words with Pareja during a hydration break. Referees stepped between them, and they later apologized and hugged it out.

The league resumes its regular season Wednesday night with Dallas playing at Nashville. The league’s 26 teams will play 18 games apiece. A majority of the games will be played without fans because of local regulations. Teams will be subject to a rigorous testing protocol and will use charter flights or buses to limit outside contact.

“We have to see if it works,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said. “If it does, we go through with it. If it doesn’t, we’ll have to adjust.”

Nuno ‘proud of the boys’ after Wolves’ magical UEL run ends

Nuno Wolves
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Nuno proud, but frustrated: Wolves’ 2019-20 campaign kicked off 383 days ago, on July 25, and finally ended on Tuesday in a late, heartbreaking defeat to Sevilla in the quarterfinals of the Europa League.

[ MORE: Lille sign $35-million Canadian star Jonathan David ]

From those early-round UEL qualifiers, to another fine season in the Premier League (finishing 7th), to reaching the quarterfinals, it’s been an incredible, dramatic, exhausting road for Nuno Espirito Santo and his players.

Speaking after the game, Espirito Santo revealed he was experiencing equal part pride and frustration at the way their season had just ended. Pride for meeting the challenges they faced along the way, and frustration for the missed opportunity — quotes from the BBC:

“We have frustration, in the last minutes it is something that has happened to us many times. We required focus on a set piece. I am proud of the boys, we played a tough team and we had moments, small details, small margins.

“That happens in football. We came this far and now it’s over. Let’s rest and look to the future. We need more players to help us, it’s a small squad.

“Sevilla made us run, we made a big effort to control it but of course there were players who gave everything and the legs and brain doesn’t work so good. We must be proud of ourselves, admit we made mistakes during the season that we need to rectify to compete at a high level. We must work harder and become stronger.

“We are here because we did things good the previous season. European football is something that we chase because we want to improve and compete agianst the best. The Premier League is challenging enough, it’s like playing the Champions League every week.”

The Wolves players will now have the next week or two off before reporting for the first day of 2020-21 preseason later this month. The 2020-21 Premier League season is currently scheduled for Sept. 12.

Europa League: Wolves knocked out by late Sevilla winner

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Europa League: Wolves’ magical run through the Europa League came to an end on Tuesday, as Nuno Espirito Santo’s side was knocked out in the quarterfinals by UEL specialists Sevilla.

[ MORE: Lille sign $35-million Canadian star Jonathan David ]

Wolverhampton Wanderers 0-1 Sevilla

Sevilla were quite comfortably the better side on the night, the side with the vast majority of the scoring chances, and thoroughly deserving semifinalists. Julen Lopetegui’s side will face Manchester United in the semis on Sunday.

It didn’t come easily for Sevilla, though. The game remained level at 0-0 for 87 minutes, until Lucas Ocampos rose above the crowd to head home his 16th goal of the season in the 88th minute.

Wolves had the game’s first — and virtually their only — chance to go ahead inside the first quarter-hour, but Raul Jimenez was denied from the penalty spot in the 12th minute. The real story here, however, is the ease with which Adama Traore left the pack behind and dribbled the ball 81 yards before Diego Carlos cut him down from behind.

Jimenez’s blunder from the spot was one of just two shots on target — both by Jimenez — that Wolves could muster in the game.

[ MORE: Transfer news: Havertz to Chelsea; Ramsey available ]

Sevilla began to ramp up the pressure after halftime and went dangerously close to breaking the deadlock just after the hour mark, as Youssef En-Nesyri weaved his way through traffic inside the penalty area before firing a low strike on goal. Fortunately for Wolves, Rui Patricio was all over and denied En-Nesyri his wondergoal.

Ever Banega forced Patricio to make a vital save of his curling free kick in the 77th minute, but again the Portuguese was up to the challenge. He scrambled across goal and rose high to get a hand on the ball and push it over the crossbar.

Shakhtar Donetsk thrashed Basel 4-1 in Tuesday’s other quarterfinal. They will face Inter Milan in the second semifinal next Monday.

Other Europa League scores

Shakhtar Donetsk 4-1 Basel
Man United 1-0 Copenhagen (Monday)
Inter Milan 2-1 Bayer Leverkusen (Monday)

Lille sign $35-million Canadian star Jonathan David

Lille sign Jonathan David
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Lille sign Jonathan David: Lille announced on Tuesday their signing of Canadian star Jonathan David from Belgian side Gent for a reported transfer fee of $35 million.

[ MORE: Transfer news: Havertz to Chelsea; Ramsey available ]

The fee paid is a record not only for a Canadian player, but also makes David Lille’s club-record signing and the most expensive player ever sold by a Belgian club.

David had been linked with a move to dozens of clubs across Europe, including a handful of Premier League sides, in recent weeks but it would appear that Lille’s recent success with young players starring in the first team, before selling them to those bigger European sides for massive profits, was an important factor in David’s decision to move to Ligue 1.

[ MORE: Spurs sign Hojbjerg from Southampton; Walker-Peters to Saints ]

The 20-year-old operates predominantly as a center forward but has, on rare occasions, played as a second striker underneath the main man. David racked up 48 goals and 20 assists in his two seasons at Gent, including a number of standout performances in the Europa League.