CONCACAF Champions League Final preview: Should big underdogs Montreal play with fire at Azteca?

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The eyes of Major League Soccer fans are on the Montreal Impact. And with nearly 60,000 tickets sold for the second leg of the CONCACAF Champions League final against Club America next week, many are hoping the underdog Impact can just return from Wednesday’s 9 p.m. ET first leg in a spot to keep possible an MLS coronation.

A CONCACAF Champions League title has eluded the league since the tournament was renamed in 2008, and an MLS side hasn’t won the dang thing since 2000. In fact, Montreal is just the fifth CCL finalist in league history (MLS is 2-2).

[ MORE: UEFA Champions League preview ]

So here come the Impact, holder of a pair of the tournament’s Top Five attendance records and the right to square off with mighty Club America in a two-legged affair beginning Wednesday at Estadio Azteca.

Yes it’s that Club America, the Mexican squadron which has never lost a CCL final and boasts the second-most titles in history (Their five one shy of Cruz Azul’s six). A club led by stars Oribe Peralta and Pablo Aguilar, and a bevy of players to wear the national team colors of Mexico and Paraguay amongst others (including recent USMNT call-up Ventura Alvarado).

They’ll take on the Impact, an international collection of MLS talent itself which includes just a quartet of Canadians, all of them young Homegrown Players, but holds the nation’s club soccer history in its hands. A 50-person traveling party hit Mexico last week, with eight security guards following the Impact around the country. Road fans do have the luxury of $3 tickets, but also the fierce atmosphere of Azteca.

source: APAnd, oh yeah, clear underdog status. Here’s what Montreal head coach Frank Klopas said to impactmontreal.com.

“We know we are the underdog, but we’ve been the underdog since the beginning of the tournament and we are still here. In your career, whether as a coach or a player, you may not get another chance like this, so it’s important that we enjoy the experience as much as possible.”

And how about Canada? The Northern neighbors only have one shot at the CCL every year, as bogus competition rules state that the MLS Cup or Supporters Shield berths do not apply to clubs from Canada. Of course, the three MLS sides from the Great White North also have automatic semifinal berths in their qualifying tournament, the Canadian Championships, so complaints shouldn’t be too loud.

Make no mistake about it, this Impact team is the underdog here. Club America is a two-goal favorite tonight in Mexico, and the odds are nearly the same for a 1-0 Impact win (28:1) as a 5-0 America win (22:1). At least for tonight, this is Rocky and Ivan Drago if the Italian Stallion’s trophy case included a pair of Canadian Championships instead of 10-straight heavyweight title defenses and a won rematch against Clubber Lang.

So how can Montreal do it? That’s the million dollar question for Frank Klopas, but it obviously starts with defending an America attack that was paced by Dario Benedetto (below right) in the semifinal, with the 24-year-old Argentine scoring four goals. Watch America’s display here, as they erased a first-leg deficit to Club Herediano in style.

source: Getty ImagesThe Impact’s best bet may be to somewhat follow the blueprint that led them past Pachuca, a pair of scoring draws including two in the road first leg; Playing with fire could be part of the philosophy.

The problem is America can defend quite well itself, and their back liners do well in possession. After Pablo Aguilar — not to be confused with teammate Paul Aguilar, who also starts in the back — watch out for midfielder Rubens Sambueza.

The 31-year-old Argentine is a complete threat, and will keep Piatti on his toes and, often enough, on the turf. Here’s where having Cup-tied Eric Alexander would be a boon for the Impact, not to mention injured Justin Mapp, but Jack McInerney, Marco Donadel and Piatti will have to do the trick.

With the beloved Canadiens aiming to sweep the Ottawa Senators after a 7 p.m. ET puckdrop in Ontario, how amped up will Quebec be if the Habs complete the task and the Impact can pick up a win or a scoring draw in Mexico? Let’s hope we find out.

VIDEO: Kei Kamara scores superb bicycle kick goal against Sporting KC

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Kei Kamara has scored plenty of goals at Children’s Mercy Park, but none like his bicycle kick goal on Saturday.

The 35-year-old, now in his 16th season, showcased his penchant for scoring right before halftime against his former team. The goal makes 12 for the Colorado Rapids’ forward this season, placing him within the top 10 of the league and two begin his 14-goal season last year.

Overall, Kamara is fifth in the all-time MLS scoring list with 124 goals, second among active players behind San Jose Earthquakes’ Chris Wondolowski.

Enjoy a superb goal from a superb goalscoerer.

La Liga Roundup: Messi, Barcelona stunned by inspired Granada (video)

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Granada’s shocking 2-0 win over Barcelona and subsequent rise to the top of the table headlines Saturday’s La Liga action.

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Granada 2-0 Barcelona

Not even Lionel Messi, who made his season debut on Saturday, was able to save Barcelona against a red-hot Granada.

Granada, who are off to their best start in their 88 years of existence, had a perfect night in front of their supporters, convincingly getting past a Barcelona that dominated possession, but lacked the offensive ingenuity needed to score.

Barcelona’s defense wasn’t noteworthily robust, either.

Two minutes in, the newly promoted side scored through a headed goal from Ramon Azeez, following a defensive turnover from Junior Firpo.

Unable to record a shot on target in the first half and looking to wakeup a dormant attack, Barcelona brought on wonderkid Ansu Fati and Lionel Messi at halftime. Despite the duo connecting on several occasion and generating a shot on target, it wasn’t enough to get past Rui Silva.

In the 66th minute, following video review, substitute Alvaro Badillo converted from the spot, handing Granada their third win of the season.

Atop of La Liga, Granada set their sights on Real Valladolid, while Barcelona, who are off to their worst league start in 25 years, host Villarreal at Camp Nou.

Atletico Madrid  0-0 Celta Vigo

For a second consecutive week, Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid dropped points, drawing with Celta Vigo 0-0 at Wanda Metropolitano.

Tied with league leaders Granada and Sevilla with 10 points, the alarm bells are far from going off in Madrid. However, as Saturday’s performance showed, los Colchoneros are having trouble finishing chances this season, despite fielding an attack with the likes of Joao Felix, Diego Costa and Alvaro Morata.

In five games, Atletico have managed to score only five goals, six fewer than leaders Granada. Against Celta, Atletico registered 20 shots, five on target, but were unable to crack a stellar Ruben Blanco, who registered five saves.

Leveled with Granada and Sevilla, Atletico Madrid look to get back into winning ways as they take on RCD Mallorca. Elsewhere, Celta Vigo, who have won win after five games, host Espanyol next.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Villarreal 2-0 Real Valladolid

Levante 0-0 Eibar

Almeyda, Wondolowski sent off in Quakes’ fall against Atlanta (video)

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The game in 200 words (or less): Melodrama took center stage in Atlanta United’s 3-1 win over the San Jose Earthquakes, as Matias Almeyda, Chris Wondolowski and Cristian Espinoza were all sent off on Saturday. Josef Martinez, six games away from tying Lionel Messi’s world record for most consecutive goals, left the field in 79th minute following an injury, ending his MLS-record run at 15 games. Playing with 10 players from the 34th minute onwards, the Quakes held on to the draw up until the 90th minute. Unmarked inside the box, Emerson Hyndman rocketed the ball past Daniel Vega, who recorded nine saves throughout the night. In stoppage time, Gonzalo “Pity” Martinez was rewarded for his stellar performance with a goal of his own. With a game at hand, Eastern Conference leaders, NYCFC, are three points ahead Frank De Boer‘s side. The Quakes, on the other hand, have internal fires to put out as they have lost six of their last eight, and are only a point above the red line with three games to play.

Three moments that mattered

27′ — Great run by Espinoza, greater ball by Vega  — Daniel Vega and Cristian Espinoza were players that San Jose were desperately missing last season. This sequence says it all.

 

90′ — Emerson Hyndman wins it for the Five Stripes   — Hyndman, with no one near him, seals three points for the home side.

 

90′ + 2 — Martinez takes advantage of broken San Jose  — Martinez’s goal was only salt in San Jose’s fresh wound.

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Man of the match: Gonzalo “Pity”  Martinez

Goalscorers: Meram (4′), Guzan (27′ – OG), Hyndman (90′), Martinez (90′ + 2)

FIFA sees no obstacles for women to attend games in Iran

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ZURICH — Soccer’s governing body FIFA says an inspection visit to Iran has shown “no noteworthy operational obstacles” to lifting the country’s 40-year ban and letting women attend a World Cup qualifying game next month.

After meeting government and soccer officials in Tehran this week, FIFA says it will work with Iran’s soccer body to also open domestic league games to female fans.

FIFA wants Iran to end its ban on women entering stadiums which breaches international soccer statutes prohibiting discrimination.

Global attention on the ban followed the death this month of a 29-year-old activist, Sahar Khodayari, who set herself on fire outside a courthouse. She had been detained for dressing as a man to enter a soccer stadium in Tehran and faced six months in prison.

Ahead of Iran hosting Cambodia at the 78,000-capacity Azadi Stadium on Oct. 10, FIFA says the visit on Thursday focused on “international relations, security and ticketing matters.”

Iranian officials were told of FIFA’s “firm and clear position that women need to be allowed to enter football matches freely” with tickets sold to as many who wanted to attend.