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′)

De Gea limps off for Spain ahead of Man Utd-Liverpool tilt

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Here’s the good news for Manchester United supporters: David De Gea played incredibly well for Spain in its EURO qualifier on Tuesday as La Furia Roja clinched a place in EURO 2020.

The bad news? The performance was truncated, with De Gea limping off the pitch and replaced by Chelsea’s Kepa Arrizabalaga in the 60th minute.

[ MORE: EURO qualifying wrap ]

De Gea appeared to injure himself while attempting a goal kick of all things, as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be wondering what fresh hell awaits him next.

Perhaps that’s simply the fact that Liverpool visits Old Trafford on Sunday in a match that Solskjaer previously said was perhaps ideal for his reeling Red Devils.

Solskjaer would turn to Sergio Romero should De Gea been unable to play at the weekend. Lee Grant is United’s third goalkeeper with Dean Henderson on loan to Sheffield United.

United was already going to need a lot of help to beat back the unbeaten Reds.

EURO qualifying wrap: Spain earns place in stoppage time

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Spain clinched a spot in EURO 2020 via a last-minute equalizer, but the rest of the picture only got murkier thanks to dramatics in Romania and Switzerland.)

[ MORE: How should USMNT line up? ]


Sweden 1-1 Spain

A Marcus Berg header had Sweden on the verge of a significant home win against nearly unbeatable David De Gea and Spain, but Valencia forward Rodrigo delivered a stoppage time goal to give Robert Moreno’s men a place in EURO 2020. But Sweden can breathe a little easier thanks to a stoppage time goal across the continent.

Bad news for Manchester United, though, as De Gea’s strong day ended early due to injury.

Romania 1-1 Norway

New York City FC’s Alexandru Mitrita added another beauty to his collection in scoring for the second successive qualifier, but it wouldn’t stand up thanks to former Crystal Palace striker Alexander Sorloth‘s stoppage time equalizer.

Switzerland 2-0 Republic of Ireland

Terrible from the Irish, who trailed after 16 minutes and then went down to 10 men when Seamus Coleman was shown a red card in the 76th minute. Former West Ham man Edimilson Fernandes put it to bed in stoppage time as the Swiss out-attempted Ireland 20-9.

The Irish are tied for the lead in the group with 12 points but that’s about where the good news ends. They do not have an automatic spot in the playoffs while Denmark does and has 12 points. Switzerland has 11 and has also played one fewer match.

Ireland will need to beat Denmark next month and hope for help on the out-of-town scoreboard when Switzerland meets Gibraltar and Georgia.

Finland 3-0 Armenia

Norwich City striker Teemu Pukki continued his fine year with a pair of goals after Fredrik Jensen staked the Finnish side to a lead in Turku. Group J second place side Finland has a five-point lead on chasing Armenia and BNH.

Elsewhere

Faroe Islands 1-0 Malta
Gibraltar 2-3 Georgia
Greece 2-1 Bosnia and Herzegovina
Liechtenstein 0-5 Italy
Israel 3-1 Latvia

Lloyd: Coming off bench at World Cup “rock bottom of my entire career”

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The upper echelon of the USWNT player pool, especially the veteran generation, just swims in a different competitive gene pool.

Comments from a recent podcast featuring Carli Lloyd are the latest evidence of this, as the USWNT legend calls not starting regularly at this summer’s World Cup “the worst time of my life.”

[ MORE: How should USMNT line up? ]

She says she was happy to be a part of it and happy for her teammates but doesn’t back down from the “worst” diagnosis. Yeah, you read that right.

“I’m not going to lie and sugarcoat it,” Lloyd said on Julie Foudy’s Laughter Permitted podcast. “It was absolutely the worst time of my life. It affected my relationship with my husband, with friends. It really was rock bottom of my entire career. But somehow, you see light at the end of the tunnel, and I can honestly say I’m having more fun now playing than I ever have in my career. I think I just learned a lot throughout it.”

To be fair, Lloyd hasn’t backed up anyone in almost a decade and has since won a Ballon d’Or. Not many elite athletes get used to being second (or fourth) fiddle, especially on a major stage like that.

The personalities on this team are as big as any produced by Ronaldo’s Brazil or Zidane’s France. Some may laugh at this, but it shows what a tremendous job Jill Ellis did in marshaling the team to two-straight World Cups, the first with Abby Wambach in a sub’s role and the second with Lloyd.

It also shows the marvelous competitive nature of Lloyd and the resilience of players who know they’d start for any number of teams in the world. Lloyd says in the podcast that she believed she was playing at near her best level despite being moved from midfielder to forward.

Obviously no player prefers a sub’s role to starting, but — wow — if it isn’t bewildering to hear Lloyd talk about her supporting role at age 37 being the worst time of her life. Different types.

Liverpool’s Alisson, Matip return to training

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Premier League leaders Liverpool have been handed a huge boost ahead of their massive clash at bitter rivals Manchester United on Sunday (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Remember: Liverpool are eight points clear atop the table and United sit in 12th, so Jurgen Klopp‘s men are keen to rub salt further into the wounds of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s Red Devils.

Alisson and Joel Matip both returned to training at Melwood, with Alisson recovering from a calf injury which he suffered on the opening day of the season.

The Brazilian goalkeeper has been missing after limping out of the 4-1 win against Norwich City on Aug. 9, and his return to full fitness will bolster this already stingy Liverpool defense. Adrian has performed admirably, albeit with a few errors, in Alisson’s absence but it is now time for the superstar goalkeeper to return to action.

As for Matip, the towering center back suffered an injury against Sheffield United and missed Liverpool’s UEFA Champions League win against Red Bull Salzburg and their narrow Premier League victory against Leicester City.

Joe Gomez and Dejan Lovren have both come in for Matip but neither have been solid enough and the former Schalke star will slot straight back in alongside Virgil Van Dijk and bring a steadying influence to the entire defensive line. Matip has been sensational this season, just as everyone expected Gomez to take his starting spot.

Another situation to keep an eye on is the fitness of Mohamed Salah, as he trained on his own at Melwood. Salah was caught with a rash challenge by Hamza Choudhury at the end of Liverpool’s win over Leicester and suffered an ankle injury.

Klopp was incandescent with rage about the foul on Salah and it appears the Egyptian winger is in a race against time to be fit for the clash against Man United, although he is reportedly looking good to play at Old Trafford on Sunday.

With the fitness of Paul Pogba, Luke Shaw Anthony Martial, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and others a constant struggle for United in recent weeks, Solskjaer hasn’t had much help in that department.

Having Alisson and Matip back is great news for Liverpool and Klopp.