Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Rooney, Ibrahimovic leading in-form playoff charges in MLS

Leave a comment

Teammates at Manchester United two seasons ago, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Wayne Rooney are tempting postseason glory on different American coasts.

DC United has control of its Eastern Conference playoff destiny after beating the Montreal Impact on Saturday, while LA Galaxy topped the Vancouver Whitecaps to put a charge into a congested Western Conference race.

[ MORE: Saturday night MLS recap ]

Both players scored braces in their teams’ wins, and both have multiple iconic moments for their new clubs. Zlatan has one of the all-time goals, period. Rooney’s hustle play against Orlando City reverberated across continents.

Skill is more important than swagger, but not by much, and Ibrahimovic has both.

Playing his 24th MLS game, the LA Galaxy man bagged his 19th and 20th goals of the season to boost his side’s postseason hopes.

Giving some credit to interim coach Dominic Kinnear, Ibrahimovic had a warning for the opposition after LA waxed Vancouver 3-0 on Saturday night. From LAGalaxy.com:

“We’re not doing it by luck or complicating. I said it last time we’re a threat for every team if we play like this. I bet you whatever you want, nobody wants to get us in the playoffs because we are dangerous if we do what we do like we do it now.”

“Just hope for them we don’t make it to the playoffs,” Ibrahimovic said.

LA’s final three matches are away to Sporting KC, away to Minnesota United, and home to Houston.

Western
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
FC Dallas 30 15 9 6 49 38 11 9-5-1 6-4-5 54
Sporting KC 29 15 6 8 54 36 18 9-3-2 6-3-6 51
Los Angeles FC 30 14 8 8 58 46 12 8-6-1 6-2-7 50
Portland 31 13 9 9 46 45 1 10-4-2 3-5-7 48
Seattle 30 14 5 11 41 32 9 8-2-5 6-3-6 47
Real Salt Lake 30 13 6 11 49 49 0 10-4-1 3-2-10 45
Los Angeles 31 12 8 11 60 59 1 8-4-4 4-4-7 44
Vancouver 30 11 7 12 47 59 -12 6-5-4 5-2-8 40
Minnesota 30 11 3 16 45 58 -13 10-1-4 1-2-12 36
Houston 30 9 8 13 50 45 5 8-3-5 1-5-8 35
Colorado 30 6 6 18 32 59 -27 5-3-7 1-3-11 24
San Jose 31 4 8 19 47 66 -19 2-5-8 2-3-11 20

Meanwhile, Rooney now has seven goals and six assists in 15 games with DC United following a 5-0 demolition of Montreal.

The Black-and-Red are rising after spending the first half of the season playing a sparse and road-heavy schedule. Now Rooney and Co. are two points back of sixth with two matches-in-hand on the sixth-seeded Impact.

“The last few weeks we’ve been unlucky not to win the New York game, the win against Atlanta, the draw against New York City away, we’ve been building momentum at the right time,” Rooney said. “We put ourselves in a great position.”

FIFA extends men’s age limit for Tokyo Olympics due to virus

Photo by Stuart Franklin - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images
Leave a comment

GENEVA (AP) FIFA has extended the age limit for the men’s soccer tournament at the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics due to the coronavirus pandemic.

[ MORE: UEFA threatens Belgian league with European expulsion ]

The amended Olympic rule on Friday retains the “players born on or after Jan. 1, 1997” standard for the Tokyo Games following a one-year postponement agreed last week by the International Olympic Committee and Japanese authorities.

It means players eligible for the intended under-23 tournament in 2020 can still play in Japan at age 24 next year. Men’s soccer kicks off ahead of the July 23, 2021 opening ceremony in Tokyo.

FIFA also postponed two women’s age-group World Cups due this year in Central America and India, and confirmed no international games for men and women will be played in the early June dates protected for national team call-ups.

Soccer’s world body said “health must always be the first priority and the main criteria in any decision-making process, especially in these challenging times.”

The Olympic decision was made by a FIFA panel of soccer officials worldwide, created to address the soccer shutdown during the health crisis.

The 16 men’s teams at the Tokyo Olympics next year can also select three over-age players in their rosters. A stellar lineup includes Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany and Spain.

Two women’s World Cup tournaments — the Under-20s hosted by Panama and Costa Rica in August and September, and the Under-17s in India in November — are postponed. No new dates were announced.

[ MORE: Report: Serie A could resume training May 2, games late in month ]

Until the COVID-19 outbreak, national team games scheduled in June included the 2020 European Championship, World Cup qualifying games in South America and Asia, and qualifiers for the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations.

After Euro 2020 was postponed for one year, UEFA hoped to schedule playoff games in June to confirm the last four places in a 24-nation lineup. Those playoffs were postponed indefinitely this week.

World Cup qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar now face uncertain scheduling in a congested calendar in Europe, South America and Asia.

FIFA said on Friday it would “organize bilateral discussions” with continental governing bodies “to finalize a revised match schedule pending health and safety developments.”

FIFA plans to direct hundreds of millions of dollars from its cash reserves to support a global emergency fund, and has agreed to appoint one official from each of the six soccer continents to coordinate the work.

Arsenal want season completed ‘to maintain integrity’ of PL

Photo by TF-Images/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Arsenal remain in support of finishing the 2019-20 season in order to “to maintain the integrity” of the competition, despite Friday’s unanimous vote that the Premier League cannot resume at the start of May as previously hoped due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

[ MORE: UEFA threatens Belgian league with European expulsion ]

The Gunners, who currently sit ninth in the PL table with 10 games left to play (one more than the majority of clubs around them), were five points back of fifth-place Manchester United for qualification to next season’s UEFA Champions League thanks to Manchester City’s two-year European ban.

In a statement released on Friday, Arsenal reiterated their stance that the current season should be played to completion rather than called to completion at things stand or abandoned altogether.

We are in full support of the objective for all remaining domestic league and cup matches from the 2019-20 season to be played, in order to maintain the integrity of each competition.

We also fully agree with the principle that any return to action will only be with the full backing of government and when medical guidance allows.

The restart date is under constant review as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic develops and we continue to work together with all stakeholders through this very challenging time

Premier League rivalries: The Merseyside derby

Leave a comment

While the Merseyside derby has been dominated by one side of late, that has not detracted from the spectacle of the most historic matchup in English top flight history.

Uninterrupted in top flight play since 1962/63, the two sides are situated less than a mile apart, with the proximity feeding an already intense matchup.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Despite the incredibly close geographic proximity, the derby is sometimes known as the “Friendly Derby” as there are often families with split allegiances. Still, the matchup has the most red cards in Premier League history with 21, including 17 of those in the especially heated timeframe between 1997 and 2008.

Unfortunately for Everton, the rivalry has become one-sided over the past decade, with the Toffees failing to win since October of 2010. Liverpool has won 11 of the 21 games, with the other 10 ending in a draw. That has somewhat deescalated the vicious nature of the matchup, especially since Liverpool has gone on to become one of the most formidable sides in Europe over the past few years while Everton continues to challenge for a top-half place in the league.

Still, the 228 all-time matches between the clubs continues to fuel one of the great matchups in the English domestic landscape, and sooner or later this rivalry will regain its venom to bring the bite back to this matchup.

Bayern Munich signs coach Flick as permanent boss

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Bayern Munich has locked down interim head coach Hansi Flick as permanent boss, signing the 55-year-old on through the summer of 2023, the club announced on Friday.

Flick took over on an interim basis for Niko Kovac when the Croatian was let go in early November with the club fourth in the Bundesliga table. He impressed during his time as interim manager, leading the club back to the top of the table thanks in large part to a current 11-match league unbeaten run that features 10 wins and a draw.

That streak includes a 0-0 draw with then-second placed RB Leipzig that kept Bayern atop the table, plus a dominant 5-0 win over then-fifth placed Schalke. Successive 2-1 defeats to Borussia Monchengladbach and Bayer Leverkusen are the only real blemishes on his record in charge so far, coming way back in late November and early December.

“I’m looking forward to taking on the upcoming tasks along with my staff and the team,” Flick said in the official team release. “The talks with Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Oliver Kahn and Hasan Salihamidžić were very good and in a spirit of good faith. We’ve determined the direction for the upcoming years. I’m sure we can achieve a lot together.”

Flick has also kept the club’s pristine Champions League record alive this season, with wins over Red Star Belgrade, Tottenham, and Chelsea by a combined 12-1 scoreline. The 3-0 first-leg win over Chelsea in the Round of 16 has the club primed to reach the quarterfinal round should the competition eventually resume.

Speaking to Flick’s adaptability, he also kept the club rolling in the recent absence of in-form striker Robert Lewandowski, working 6-0 and 2-0 wins over Hoffenheim and Augsburg without his lead frontman who began a long absence with a broken tibia.

“Bayern are very satisfied with Hansi Flick’s work,” said Bayern’s chief executive Karl-Heinz Rummenigge in the release. “The team has had a very good development under him, plays attractive football which is reflected in results. We are the only club still competing in all three competitions.”

Sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic added, “Hansi and I know in which direction we want to develop the team. We believe that Hansi is also the right head coach for the current time.”