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Sporting KC 2-3 Portland: Blanco stunner helps Portland to finals

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The home side dominated the opening 45 minutes, but were downed in part by an absolutely stunning goal as Sebastian Blanco‘s incredible long-distance snipe helped send 5th-seeded Portland into the MLS Cup final after a 3-2 second-leg victory over top seed Sporting KC. The victory followed a 0-0 result in the first leg from Portland that left Sporting KC vulnerable to the away goals rule, and that they were, with the third goal from Diego Valeri only coming deep into stoppage time with Kansas City pouring forward knowing they needed another with the score level at 2-all.

The game was a tale of two halves, as Portland was snuffed out in the first half as Kansas City proved the better team. After the break, the visitors turned the game on its head, with Blanco’s stunner the start. Diego Valeri provided the second, cancelling out a pair from Daniel Salloi and Gerso.

Sporting KC was in control across the opening 20 minutes, and earned an opener as a result. With four shots on target already on the board, the hosts took advantage of a trio of defensive mistakes by Portland, with Salloi capping off a scrappy finish. Johnny Russell looked to get around Liam Ridgewell down the right, and the Portland defender accidentally tapped the ball towards the middle of the box. That allowed Diego Rubio to feed Salloi, and his cross to the far post left Jeff Attinella in no-man’s land and saw Salloi finish it off past Zarek Valentin hoping to guard the line.

KC continued its dominant play, and looked to have a second as Salloi headed in off a corner, but it was whistled out for a foul on Ike Opara who attempted to back down Attinella as the ball floated into the far corner.

Diego Valeri had a hamstring scare in the 26th minute, and while he eventually came back on, Portland hardly saw a touch of the ball past the half-hour mark. KC had another goal ruled out in first-half stoppage time as Rubio slammed home a one-on-one finish after Russell fed him through, but the flag correctly went up to pull it back. Salloi was injured in the buildup, drawing a yellow card for David Guzman and leaving the goalscorer in a heap.

After halftime, Portland still needed a moment to get them back into the game, and they got that moment. Blanco unleashed the goal of the playoffs, a right-footed curler with space at the top of the box.

Portland took that moment of brilliance and built on it, flipping the game upside-down and earning a second, shocking the home fans and finishing things off. Valeri was the man to finish it off, with his head after Tim Meila had tapped the ball into the air as Jeremy Ebobisse looked to be through on goal.

On the hour mark, fans at Children’s Mercy Park began to throw trash onto the field, at which point the referee pulled the players off the field momentarily. Kansas City manager Peter Vermes was livid at those in attendance, screaming at fans to cut it out and let them finish the game. They returned to the field a few minutes later, and referee Mark Geiger was then in the spotlight as he awarded KC a free-kick inches outside the left edge of the box after Zarek Valentin fouled Gerso Fernandes, with the home side screaming for a penalty.

The game picked up in pace as Sporting KC needed two goals to advance and the panic set in. A 78th minute long-ball for substitute Gerso but was just out of reach with fellow sub Krisztian Nemeth ready to pounce. They’d draw back level with nine minutes to go as Gerso was the man to even it up . That ignited the game as it charged towards full-time, but it also brought sloppiness as KC became more desperate. Despite nine minutes of stoppage time, they had little left in the tank. A charging Gerso had the best chance, but obliterated the ball miles over the bar. The game was killed off as the Timbers caught the hosts poured forward, and on the break with nobody back, Chara found Valeri free for the third goal.

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.