CCL final: Montreal Impact very much alive after 1-1 draw with Club America in first leg

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The Montreal Impact were not supposed to be here. After finishing 19th (out of 19 teams) in Major League Soccer during the 2014 season, Frank Klopas’s side were supposed to get blown out of the CONCACAF Champions League knockout rounds and serve as an afterthought to the teams with a real chance of winning the competition.

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Someone forget to tell the Impact, because here they are, 90 minutes away from being crowned CONCACAF champions following a 1-1 draw with Mexican side Club America in the first leg of the CCL final on Wednesday night. Forget about winning or even drawing the first leg — they were supposed to get run out of the building, totally embarrassed and effectively defeated before the second leg was even played on their home turf.

The Impact nabbed an early lead (16th minute), and so very nearly did the unthinkable. Dominic Oduro made a darting run into the right channel, played a clever through ball to the top of the box, where Dilly Duka’s dummy attracted the attention of America’s defense just enough to free up Ignacio Piatti near the penalty spot. The Argentine midfielder made no mistake with his finish and Montreal were in dreamland (below video).

Over the next 20 minutes, the Impact saw wave after wave of America pressure come their way, including a great goal being wrongly ruled out for offside in the 26th minute and Miguel Samudio’s stunning full volley clanging off the outside of Evan Bush’s near post in the 33rd minute.

The game’s most controversial moment came just before the halftime whistle when Oduro broke behind the entire America defense and bore down on goalkeeper Moises Munoz. Osvaldo Martinez, who was chasing Oduro down from behind, got a handful of Oduro’s shirt and pulled the Ghanaian speedster down. Criminally, Martinez was only shown yellow for the clear denial of an obvious goalscoring opportunity.

[ MORE: UEFA CL roundup: Real Madrid, Juventus join Barcelona, Bayern Munich in the semis ]

Samudio picked out Dario Benedetto at the penalty spot with a floating cross in the 60th minute, a golden opportunity to equalize, but Benedetto’s subsequent header was right at Bush and an easy save in the end. Either side of the ‘keeper and it was in the back of the net.

America continued to chase an equalizer and came inches from claiming one in the 68th minute, when Rubens Sambueza unleashed a powerful blast from 25 yards out, but the Argentine midfielder’s shot found only the crossbar.

It wasn’t until the 89th minute that America finally broke through, breaking Montreal hearts and planting a further seed of doubt ahead of the second leg. Sambueza whipped in a curling corner kick to the top of the six-yard box where Oribe Peralta was waiting and leapt over the Impact defense to head past Bush and level the game and series at 1-1.

The second leg of this year’s CCL final will be played next Wednesday (8 pm ET) in Montreal, in front of 65,000 at the Olympic Stadium in Montreal.

LINEUPS

Club America: Munoz, Samudio, Aguilar, Pimentel, Aguilar, Pellerano (Guerrero 70′), Sambueza, Martinez (Peralta 46′), Quintero, Arroyo, Benedetto (Zuniga 80′)

Goals: Peralta (89′)

Montreal Impact: Bush, Toia, Ciman, Soumare, Camara (Miller 66′), Mallace, Reo-Coker (Bernier 76′), Romero, Piatti, Duka (Tissot 71′), Oduro

Goals: Piatti (16′)

Josef Martinez scores 2 more in win, including sensational solo work

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Josef Martinez scored his 25th and 26th goals of the MLS season, and if he challenges his MLS record of 31, he may also stare down soccer royalty.

The Venezuelan striker scored two more on Wednesday in a 2-0 defeat of FC Cincinnati in Ohio to give him goals in 15-straight league contests.

He now has 76 goals in 80 MLS games, which is good.

[ MORE: Champions League wrap ]

On the season, he’s six goals shy of matching the Major League Soccer record he set with last season’s 31 regular season goals.

According to MLSSoccer.com, he’s six games shy of tying Lionel Messi’s world record for consecutive league matches with a goal.

Even that’s a little tricky: Messi scored in 21-straight games in which he was eligible for selection, but 19-straight before missing two matches for injury. In that remarkable run of 21, he also had a run of six-straight braces.

It’s not really worth it to attempt to compare the two streaks: If Martinez gets to 21 (or even 19), it’s amazing stuff and worth celebrating on a worldwide level. Everyone has a bad game every now and again, but Martinez still finds the score sheet in ’em.

Look at the magician’s tricks he used for this one, including a back heel first touch and two freeze-frame cut moves. That’s not even mentioning the finish.

USWNT announces final matches of World Cup-winning year

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CHICAGO (AP) The Women’s World Cup champion U.S. team will wrap up 2019 with matches against Sweden and Costa Rica.

U.S. Soccer announced Wednesday that the U.S. will face Sweden in Columbus, Ohio, on Nov. 7 and Costa Rica in Jacksonville, Florida, on Nov. 10.

[ MORE: Champions League wrap ]

The team is wrapping up its World Cup victory tour next month with matches against South Korea on Oct. 3 in Charlotte, North Carolina, and on Oct. 6 in Chicago.

Coach Jill Ellis is stepping down following the match in Chicago after leading the team to a pair of consecutive World Cup titles.

The United States is 15-1-2 this year and currently riding a 14-game winning streak.

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

Report: Mane to get big raise, Liverpool contract through 2025

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Liverpool’s Senegalese sensation looks set to stay at Anfield deep into his 30s.

Sadio Mane is in talks with the Reds hierarchy over a new deal that will run through 2024-25, and pay him more than $15 million per season.

[ MORE: Champions League wrap ]

Mane, 27, currently has a deal through 2023, but surely wouldn’t mind a raise. And Liverpool will be happy to tie him down on Merseyside a bit longer.

He’s scored six times in seven matches this season, also grabbing an assist. That’s on a better pace than his 26 goals and five assists over 50 appearances in 2018/19.

Mane has 70 Premier League goals at the moment. Do you tip him to eclipse 100 while still at Anfield? 125?

Europa League preview: Man Utd, Wolves, Arsenal begin group stage

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The Europa League begins its group stage on Thursday, with the three Premier League combatants taking on clubs from Kazakhstan, Portugal and Germany.

Manchester United’s kids are gonna get some playing time when Astana visits Old Trafford on Wednesday.

Teenager Mason Greenwood and 21-year-old Axel Tuanzebe will start, and Sergio Romero will be between the sticks.

[ MORE: Champions League wrap ]

And the Manchester Evening News notes that Tahith Chong and Angel Gomes could also start at Old Trafford, meaning the veterans in the fray will be quite important.

Enter Fred, the forgotten $68 million man from Shaktar Donetsk. The 23 minutes he played last week versus Leicester City account for his lone time on the pitch this season.

Here’s Ole Gunnar Solskjaer:

“I’m sure we’ll see more and more of Fred. We spoke about it earlier, he’s had some great games in midfield with Scott against PSG and Arsenal, for example, and we’re just waiting for that to flourish.”

Fred had an odd record under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer last season, barely in the squad when the team started hot but trusted against PSG and Barcelona in the Champions League.

Speaking of little-used midfielders, Arsenal boss Unai Emery is getting a little grief for leaving Mesut Ozil behind for the Gunners’ trip to Germany for a big match with Eintracht Frankfurt.

Ozil made his first start of the season in Arsenal’s 2-2 draw with Watford at the weekend, playing 71 minutes and departing with the club up 2-1.

So why not even bring him abroad? Rest.

“Because we are going to play another match on Sunday,” Emery said, via The London Evening Standard. “My decision is because he played and also I’m thinking tomorrow the focus and the first 11 and after that I decided who are the players who can be the best for tomorrow and also the players not and that is Sokratis and Mesut.”

Sokrastis Papastathopoulos is also out, having played a big role in the embarrassing performance at Watford.

There have been tough times for Wolves as well, who sit in the relegation zone after five matches of the Premier League season.

They’ve been quite good in Europa League, though, dispatching a pair of minnows before winning both legs against Serie A side Torino.

Why the inconsistency? It’s not fixture congestion, according to Ruben Neves:

“I don’t think fatigue has anything to do with it, Neves said, via The Birmingham Mail. “We’re all top players, we’re used to it, we’re used to playing a lot of games in quick succession. I don’t think the Europa League has (anything) to do with our position in the Premier League. Obviously, we haven’t had the start that we’ve wanted, but it’s been a beautiful journey into the Europa League. This is a historic moment for Wolves and we’re going to do our best in this competition.”

Nuno Espirito Santo‘s men are in Portugal to meet Braga, one of three tricky opponents in Besiktas and Slovan Bratislava.

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CFR Cluj v. Lazio
LASK v. Rosenborg
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Basel v. Krasnodar
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Copenhagen v. Lugano
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Qarabag v. Sevilla
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Rennes v. Celtic
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3 p.m. ET
Wolfsburg v. Oleksandriya
Espanyol v. Ferencvaros
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Partizan v. AZ Alkmaar
AS Roma v. Istanbul Basaksehir
Gent v. Saint-Etienne
Manchester United v. Astana
Wolves v. Braga
Ludogorets Razgrad v. CSKA Moscow