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Nations League: Ronaldo’s Portugal looks for another title

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PORTO, Portugal (AP) The inaugural UEFA’s Nations League reaches its conclusion this week with the competition’s Final Four in Portugal, when Cristiano Ronaldo will try to lead the hosts to another European title.

For England, it’s a chance to lift an international trophy for the first time since the 1966 World Cup, while a revamped Netherlands squad and Switzerland will also be fighting for the title.

Portugal meets Switzerland in the first semifinal on Wednesday in Porto, while England takes on the Dutch on Thursday in the nearby city of Guimaraes in northwestern Portugal. The winners play the final on Sunday in Porto, with the losers meeting in the third-place match in Guimaraes.

Ronaldo, who led Portugal to its first major title at the 2016 European Championship, took some time off from the national team after its elimination in the round of 16 of the World Cup last summer, but he is back at full strength for the inaugural Nations League at home. He didn’t play in any of the team’s matches in the competition last year, though he was back for the European qualifiers earlier this year.

“We want to win it not only because we are playing at home, but because we want to win titles,” Portugal coach Fernando Santos said. “And winning the first edition of the Nations League would be great.”

UEFA launched the Nations League to try to give national teams more meaningful games and reduce the number of friendlies. The creation of yet another UEFA competition attracted a lot of criticism at first but eventually it produced some exciting games.

With a format in which only the group winners advanced, and which included relegation between leagues, there were several matches with high stakes involved, especially in the final rounds. England needed a late winner by Harry Kane against World Cup runner-up Croatia to eliminate Spain and seal the team’s spot in the Final Four.

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“Some people were skeptical against the Nations League, especially the clubs. They didn’t think this could be an interesting competition,” Switzerland coach Vladimir Petkovic said, through a translator. “But it’s the contrary. Every single team in every single league wanted to win. We are happy to be here, and I think in the future we will see that this competition might become even more interesting.”

The tournament also gave smaller nations a better chance of qualifying for the 2020 European Championship, as all group winners in the four leagues were guaranteed a place in a qualifying playoff.

For a team like England, though, the competition is mainly another opportunity to win an official title, something it hasn’t done it in more than five decades since that World Cup at home.

The Englishmen have been on a roll recently, having made it to the semifinals of the World Cup last year. They followed that up with convincing wins over Spain and Croatia in the Nations League, and began the year with a 5-0 rout of the Czech Republic and a 5-1 victory over Montenegro in European qualifying.

Switzerland is yet to win an international trophy, and the Netherlands hasn’t won a title since the 1988 European Championship when current coach Ronald Koeman still played for the national team. The Dutch eliminated World Cup-winner France and Germany in its Nations League group.

“You are playing for a trophy,” Dutch forward Memphis Depay told UEFA’s website. “That’s very important for us. We need to try to get used to winning trophies if we want to be a successful team, because that’s what successful teams do. And when you’re this close, two games away from the prize, then that’s a great goal.”

The Nations League winner will be taking home a prize of 10.5 million euros ($11.7 million), with 9 million euros ($10 million) going to the runner-up.

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Ibrahimovic scores twice, 10-man Galaxy ties Sounders 2-2

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Carson, Calif. (AP) Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored in each half and the LA Galaxy tied the Seattle Sounders 2-2 on Saturday night despite playing nearly the entire match down a man.

The Galaxy’s Daniel Steres was sent off in the sixth minute for the denial of obvious goal opportunity.

Ibrahimovic tied it at 1 for the Galaxy (13-11-2) with a header in the 45th minute. In the 65th minute, he was taken down by Kim Kee-hee while going for a header in the area and converted the penalty, making it 2-1 with his 20th goal of the season.

LA defender Jorgen Skjelvik scored an own goal in the 82nd minute when he inadvertently deflected goalkeeper David Bingham’s attempted clearance into the Galaxy net.

Raul Ruidiaz opened the scoring in the 42nd minute for the Sounders (11-8-7). Harry Shipp hustled to round up a loose ball and fed it to an open Ruidiaz, who slotted it home.

MLS Wrap: What we learned

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Three unanswered goals from FC Dallas to earn a draw, a late Jozy Altidore goal and Chicago cruises past Eastern Conference leaders Philadelphia Union: Saturday’s early slate of games had it all. Here’s what we learned from the busy action.

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Montreal, Dallas split points in six-goal thriller

The Montreal Impact, up 3-0 in the 56th minute, probably thought they had the game in the bag. Dallas said, ‘not so fast.’

With three unanswered goals – one of those in stoppage time – Dallas did the unthinkable, stunning the Impact and flying back home with a point that tastes like three.

Dallas, like practically everyone else in the West this season, is dreaming of cracking into the final seven. Whether that happens or not is yet to be seen. What was palpable on Saturday, however, is that Dallas played with a lot of determination on the road and with all the odds against them.


Chicago gets by Philadelphia with ease

The Philadelphia Union are good but not good enough to beat the Chicago Fire, apparently.

It could have been the league’s well-known parity, or the fact that the Union were on the road, but the Fire were able to squeeze out the three points, winning 2-0 with 10 men. Nicolas Gaitan earned a straight red right before halftime.

The Union, a proven side time and time again this season, alternatively, have questions to answer and a set of defects that were unearth Saturday (including finishing) to polish up on. But as they shown several times this season after suffering loses, they’ll bounce back under Jim Curtin.

The Fire (33 points) sit one point behind Montreal, Toronto and Orlando, while Philadelphia (45 points) remain clear leaders in the Eastern Conference.


 

NYCFC too much for Cincinnati 

NYCFC had quite the showing.

With Valentin Castellanos and Heber recording a brace each, Allan Cruz’s goal stood no chance. City, who are now third in the Eastern Conference with 41 points (one behind Atlanta), are clearly in midseason form, while FC Cincinnati is yet to win under Ron Jans.

With a defense that has allowed 61 goals – like the one above – Jans’ rest of the season is looking bleaker than brighter. But then again, it’s with a team he purely adopted. It worth noting that New York’s attack has produced eight goals in the last three games, so maybe that was the determining factor.

 

 


 

Altidore earns last-minute draw for Toronto

Like in many other instances, it was Altidore to the rescue for Toronto FC.

Its goal No. 10 for the 29-year-old goal, making it his fourth season with double digit goals. Jonathan Osorio, too, pitched in a goal in the 42nd minute. 26 games in, this is exactly when Greg Vanney needs his big-time players to step up.

The Columbus Crew, in contrast, can’t catch a break. Once again the superior team, a lack of finishing and defensive concentration make it three-straight draws for the Caleb Porter’s men. With seven games to go and seven points out of playoff contention, even a late run might not be enough for a postseason regular.

Sporting KC earn valuable win against Quakes (video)

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The game in 200 words (or less):  While the San Jose Earthquakes continue to drop in the playoff race, Sporting Kansas City are slowly creeping their way into contention after their 2-1 victory against San Jose. The Quakes, who have lost their last two games, are now sixth in the Western Conference and depending on the Portland Timbers’ result, can fall right above the red line. Surely, it’s not what Matias Almeyda desires, despite being the master of overcoming adversity. Peter Vermes’ side, on the other hand, is now six points out of the playoffs, a reachable distance with eight games left. The Quakes had the game in their hands in the first half, though, controlling the pace of the game. The home side’s finishing in the final 45 that got the job done, however. Moving forward, turnaround for both teams will have to be instantaneous as the Quakes travel to LAFC and Kansas City hosts Minnesota United, respectively.

Three moments that mattered

25′ — Wondolowski sets MLS record —

Whatever you do, don’t leave Wondolowski unmarked unless you want to get scored on.

48′ — Feilhaber rips it into the back of the net  —

Benny Feilhaber still has it, obviously.

73′ — Smith seals a massive victory for Sporting  —

Not who one expected to earn Kansas City three points, but soccer is all about surprises.

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Chris Wondolowski sets another MLS record in historic career

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Just months removed from becoming MLS’ all-time leading goalscorer, Chris Wondolowski is putting pen to the record book once again.

The 36-year-old is the league’s first player to ever score 10 goals (or more) in 10 consecutive seasons. His tenth of the season came against Sporting Kansas City, who, for one reason or another, left him unmarked in the box on a corner kick – an imprudent defensive strategy.

Wondolowski’s regular-season tally is now at 154 goals, 31 goals clear of Kei Kamara‘s 123, who is the second highest active goalscorer in the league.

The San Jose Earthquakes captain’s record run began in 2010. He was 27.