Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Lionel Messi, Argentina continue wait for major title after heartbreaking loss vs. Chile

1 Comment

UPDATE [1:30 a.m. ET]: Lionel Messi announces international retirement following Argentina’s Copa America loss to Chile.

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. –  Moments after Chile secured its defense of the Copa America title in a pressure-filled penalty shootout, Argentina’s star players including world-beater Lionel Messi stood in the middle of the field trying to come to terms with a third consecutive final defeat.

It didn’t matter that Copa America organizers were creating a concert just a few feet away. The players laid on the pitch, trying to move past letting yet another opportunity to end the country’s now 23-year wait for a major trophy slip out of their grasp. Considering how La Albiceleste had played throughout the tournament, it almost appeared as if it was destiny that they would win. That Messi would finally live up to his legacy as Diego Maradona’s successor and come home as a champion. Instead, the wait continues and the 29-year-old will have to face even more criticism.

After Arturo Vidal saw the opening penalty saved by Argentina’s Sergio Romero, Messi had a chance to give his side an early advantage but he messed up on his run up to the spot and sent his shot wide left. The miss was so heartbreaking that he couldn’t stand next to his teammates on shooting line and laid motionless next to them before being pulled up. But this loss, like the previous final losses in both last year’s Copa America and the 2014 World Cup again doesn’t fall on his shoulders.

Gonzalo Higuain appeared to receive a gift from the football gods when Gary Medel missed a backpass and the striker was left alone with a golden chance against Chile’s Claudio Bravo. Yet his shot went left just past the post instead of behind goal. If it sounds familiar, that’s because it is.

Against Germany in 2014, Higuain had a very similar chance against Manuel Neuer and also missed. Then he followed suit in Copa America 2015 in both open play and penalties, where he completely missed target, skying above goal. It is questionable whether or not the Napoli striker should have started, considering his track record, with Sergio Aguero sitting on the bench.It’s the type of decision that has left managers like Tata Martino and his predecessor Alejandro Sabella having many sleepless nights. But Higuain wasn’t alone in missing chances.

[ MORE: Chile remain Copa America champions, defeating Argentina on PKs ]

Aguero and Angel Di Maria had their chances through the match but couldn’t find precision against a gutsy Chilean side that appears determined to prove that its success in 2015 wasn’t an aberration. La Roja now has two international titles in two years and one has to believe that bigger successes could be on the horizon. There’s the Confederations Cup next year and likely the the ambition to prove its quality in Russia in 2018. Considering that Vidal and fellow star Alexis Sanchez will still be in their primes, it isn’t a far-fetched expectation.

While Jorge Sampaoli, the manager who led Chile to its first-ever tournament win, is longer around, his successor Juan Antonio Pizzi continues Chile’s disruptive style of play that makes its competitors uncomfortable and at times even agitated. On paper, Argentina appeared to have a stronger squad but its frustration was evident, with several cards handed out to both teams throughout the match. Once La Roja gained a bit of control, it seemed as if they gained the psychological edge on their competitors and that’s ultimately what sealed them the title.

It is a shame to the winners that the focus will fall back on Messi, but that’s what happens when you have a five-time Ballon D’Or winner participating in a tournament. And there were definitely times where he showed that he was finally clicking with an Argentina side where he usually struggles to replicate his outer-worldly Barcelona form. Given a free role, the freedom enabled him to crush most sides in this tournament, even with limited minutes early on. But in the final, Chile managed to contain that threat.

Yet, there was one moment that in the final that struck as symbolic of Messi’s time with Argentina. Late on in the game, Messi dribbled from the halfway mark, trying to find a teammate to pass to. Seeing an opening he continued to drive ahead, cutting past four defenders to finally take a shot that skied above a goal. It was a moment that was brilliant and reminded you of Messi’s magic. But it almost seems like he’ll have to even better than his best just to finally get Argentina its long coveted trophy. At least until his teammates finally decide to lessen the burden.

Lletget and Dos Santos send Galaxy through past Minnesota United

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The fans were buzzing at Allianz Field as Minnesota United got its first playoff campaign under way at home, but the jubilation didn’t last long as the LA Galaxy spoiled the party with a 2-1 win over the wasteful hosts. Sebastian Lletget and Jonathan dos Santos were on hand to lift the visitors on a night to forget for strikers on both sides.

Just seven minutes in the porous LA Galaxy defense parted beautifully for Minnesota, but the home side couldn’t capitalize. On the break a wonderful cross reached Angelo Rodriguez with the goal gaping, but he completely whiffed on the chance with Dave Bingham charging.

The home side produced much of the attacking intent through the first half-hour, and again nearly went in front as Robin Lod blasted over the bar with a glorious chance to smash home the opener. Bingham turned sweeper keeper to smother another chance minutes before the break as a ball long for Ethan Finlay got behind the Galaxy defense.

After the break, Minnesota again had a chance to go in front as Romain Metanire sent in a delicious ball in front of net, but Rodriguez couldn’t head on target, flailing at the ball and ending up with his back to the net when he made contact. The Galaxy’s best chance of the first hour fell to Zlatan Ibrahimovic who found himself all alone near the far post on a corner, but he too flubbed the chance, unable to make solid contact while instead sending the ball skittering out of play off the side of his foot.

With strikers on both sides struggling mightily to make the most of chances, the LA Galaxy went in front against the run of play. Christian Pavon found Zlatan all alone about six yards in front of net, and while his shot was blocked, the rebound fell right to the feet of a charging Lletget who deposited his chance in a game begging for a finish.

Ibrahimovic’s struggles continued as his one-on-one chance with Vito Mannone was smothered by the goalkeeper, but moments later Jonathan dos Santos produced a wonderful curler that Mannone couldn’t reach and put the Galaxy 2-0 up.

There was still hope for Minnesota as they got a consolation with four minutes to go as Jan Gregus pulled one back for the hosts with a vicious low strike that rocketed into the bottom corner for the first real moment of tenacity up front for Minnesota United. Unfortunately, that would be it for the visitors as they sent Mannone forward for a late corner but nothing came of it and the final whistle blew.

The Galaxy move on to a dream matchup with their neighbors LAFC, while Minnesota United falls for the first time in 13 home games and their season comes to an end.

Rumblings that Real Madrid has contact with Jose Mourinho

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Real Madrid sits second in the La Liga table and has only just lost its first league match of the season, but manager Zinedine Zidane is reportedly already on the hot seat.

With a loss to Mallorca this weekend adding to a pair of Champions League disappointments to start group stage play, Zidane’s status is in question. While there is nothing from the more concrete sources, Spanish tabloids have begun to whisper that the club has been in contact with former manager Jose Mourinho, as Florentino Perez has flirted multiple times with returning the Portuguese boss to the Spanish capital over the last 12 months.

El Churingito reports that with Zidane under pressure, Perez has reached out to Moruinho to judge his interest in the position. The two have a history, with Mourinho taking charge of the side from 2010-2013 before a mutual split after what Mourinho called “the worst [season] of my career.” The reports state that Mourinho has a great relationship with Perez which could convince him to return. Rumors of his return are not new, as two months ago another tabloid report claimed an eventual reunion was possible.

Mourinho has been out of the game since he left Manchester United in December, serving as a pundit in a number of different capacities. At Old Trafford, Mourinho was unable to help the Red Devils return to the glory days of Sir Alex Ferguson, plagued by negative tactics and inconsistent results.

This season, Madrid has fallen victim to poor defending and a lack of finishing. Luka Jovic has not enjoyed a flying start to his Madrid career, while Gareth Bale again has found himself injured. Raphael Varane was benched for the Mallorca match in favor of Eder Militao and Dani Carvajal was rested, but a seventh minute Lago Junior goal was enough to down the giants. Carvajal’s stand-in Alvaro Odriozola was sent off in the 74th minute, making things even more difficult. With the club failing to win either of its first two European matches against PSG and Club Brugge, the pressure has risen on Zidane despite his past successes with the club.

La Liga: Sevilla squeaks by Levante, La Real back to winning ways

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Real Sociedad put its two-game losing streak to bed and remained in the mix at the top of the La Liga table, turning around an early 1-0 deficit and winning 3-1 at home over Real Betis.

Lorenzo Moron scored 12 minutes in for the visitors, but a Javi Garcia own-goal leveled the score while Willian Jose and Portu sealed the three points. Martin Odegaard was fantastic again for La Real, constantly proving a threat in the buildup. Man of the Match, however, was Mikel Merino who was active in the midfield and popped up occasionally in the attacking third. The win pushes La Real up to fourth in the table, two points behind second-placed Real Madrid and three back of leaders Barcelona.

Sevilla was held for 86 minutes at home by Levante, but Luuk De Jong gave the hosts all three points as he rose high above Erick Cabaco to head home Jesus Navas’s cross from deep. Sevilla held over 60% possession throughout the match and racked up nine corners to Levante’s one, but didn’t create much in front of net until the final 15 minutes. Chicharito and De Jong both missed within two minutes of each other, and the latter eventually converted to push Sevilla to sixth in the La Liga table.

Alaves picked up a big three points over Celta Vigo with a 2-0 home win on second half goals from Lisandro Magallan and Lucas Perez. The visitors managed just two shots on target and had just one clear cut chance that Santi Mina failed to put on frame seconds out of halftime. Former Newcastle striker Joselu had a bad miss past the half-hour mark but proved a threat for much of the match, ripping off six shots on his own. Alaves also picked up five yellow cards in the match, but ultimately jumped out of the relegation zone and past Celta Vigo into 14th.

Villareal moved to seventh in the table with a 1-0 road victory at Espanyol. Cameroon international Karl Toko Ekambi scored his third goal of the season in the 17th minute and the visiting defense spoiled the Espanyol attack all game long. The hosts put forth 18 shots but managed to get just three of them on target. Santi Cazorla has been stellar all season for Villareal, and he went the full 90 minutes again, not adding much up front but proving a menace in midfield.

Athletic Club drew 1-1 with Real Valladolid as Inaki Williams put Athletic up just after the half-hour mark, but an Inigo Martinez own-goal pegged them back with 20 minutes to go. Athletic popped off 17 shots to Real Valladolid’s seven but Jordi Masip made six saves in net for Real Valladolid to spoil the home side’s day, leaving Athletic in eighth with 13 points.

Fabian downs Red Bulls in extra time, sends Philadelphia to conference semis

Philadelphia Union
Leave a comment

A wild and wacky game saw Philadelphia come from two goals down to force extra time, and Marco Fabian bagged the eventual winner in the 105th minute to put the Union into the Eastern Conference semifinals with a 4-3 win. The victory is the first in playoff action for the Union in club history.

New York held a 3-1 advantage at halftime as Josh Sims, Tim Parker, and Tom Barlow all found the back of the net for the visitors in the opening 45 minutes, while Alejandro Bedoya found the back of the net himself.

After the break, things got even more wild. New York coughed up the lead, with Jack Elliott and Fabrice Picault each striking once despite a solid display from Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles. With the game level, the final 15 minutes were all Philadelphia as the Eastern Conference three seed peppered New York’s penalty area, but Robles made a fabulous save on a Jamiro Monteiro effort from point blank range at the back post.

In extra time, Fabian found the back of the net with what appeared to be a chipped cross that took a slight deflection and snuck into the top corner from a tight angle.

The Union will get a matchup with Atlanta United in the semifinals, after Frank De Boer engineered a 1-0 win over New England.