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Seattle 3-1 Toronto: Sounders lift MLS Cup again (video)

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The game in 200 words (or less): For the second time in four seasons, the Seattle Sounders are MLS champions by way of defeating Toronto FC in MLS Cup 2019, cementing their claim to one of a select few dynasties in league history (coupled with four U.S. Open Cups in 11 years since joining MLS). 69,274 were in attendance for the tie-breaking title decider at CenturyLink Field (Seattle and Toronto met in back-to-back MLS Cups in 2016 and 2017, with each side winning one). While Atlanta United romped to the 2018 title with exciting, free-flowing soccer, Seattle and Toronto reached Sunday’s final by way of a far more pragmatic approach — one from which neither side deviated, to the disappointment of most anyone not sporting Rave Green.

The game (finally) opened up with Kelvin Leerdam’s 57th-minute goal — which should have gone down as a Justin Morrow own goal — before Victor Rodriguez bagged the eventual winner with a terrific curler in the 76th. Raul Ruidiaz added an insurance goal in the 90th minute, unofficially kicking off what will undoubtedly be a week full of celebrations in the Emerald City. Jozy Altidore‘s 93rd-minute consolation goal could do little to dampen the mood.

[ VIDEO: USMNT’s DeAndre Yedlin talks goal, celebration for Newcastle ]

Three things we learned

1. Clash of styles, adjustments in first half: So often in this game — and throughout the second half of the season — Seattle could be found defending with 10 and 11 players behind the ball, all within 15 or 20 yards of their own penalty area. That was the case once again on Sunday, as all four of Ruidiaz Nicolas Lodeiro, Jordan Morris and Joevin Jones are always ready to track back when Brad Smith and Kelvin Leerdam bomb forward.

They’re far from a bunkering side, though, as the full backs are as much attackers as they are defenders. Few teams in MLS counter-attack with the pace and precision of Seattle, regardless of who wins the ball, regardless of where they win it. TFC want as much of the ball as they can have — they do a fantastic job of controlling the game’s pace with their own possession — and the opened the game with plenty of possession, but every time Seattle won it they were off to the races in the blink of an eye. The Reds realized they couldn’t fend off counter after counter for 90 minutes, causing them to drop considerably deeper after 15 minutes. This meant it was almost all Seattle, as far as the chances went, for the ensuing 15 minutes.

Having now dropped too deep, TFC let the midfield-three of Michael Bradley, Jonathan Osorio and Marco Delgado set the line of confrontation in the middle third. Seattle had no answer for this — at least not in the first half — and TFC looked in complete control, without truly threatening Stefan Frei in Seattle’s goal, until Ruidiaz found himself with the game’s first real scoring chance in the 45th minute. Quentin Westberg was quick off his line to deny the Peruvian’s one-on-one look.

2. A fitting goal: To which you might say, “It doesn’t matter how they scored, only that they scored.” While technically correct, those who tuned in and persisted through the 90 minutes deserved something better than the Leerdam ricochet-goal/Morrow own-goal winner that they got.

3. Rodriguez makes a massive difference: Fortunately, Rodriguez had a moment of magic up his sleeve after coming on just after the hour mark. Smith made way for the Spaniard, a savvy tactical change by Brian Schmetzer to play with greater width down the right side (Morris) and tuck the left (Rodriguez) inside and underneath Ruidiaz. After finding little joy with the original down either side in the opening 60 minutes, Schmetzer’s change opened TFC up to constant goal threats before Rodriguez made it 2-0. Sure, TFC facing a deficit changed their gameplan considerably and forced them to live dangerously, but Seattle remained steadfast in soaking up pressure and hitting on the counter.

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Man of the match: Raul Ruidiaz

Goalscorers: Leerdam (57′), Rodriguez (76′), Ruidiaz (90′), Altidore (90’+3)

Klopp: Liverpool “worked their socks off” in late win

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Jurgen Klopp is loving life after Liverpool gutted out another three points in a thrilling if shaky 2-1 win over Wolves at the Molineux on Thursday.

Klopp gave full marks to Nuno Espirito Santo‘s Wolves, who pushed Liverpool to the brink.

The Reds got a series of fine interventions from Alisson Becker after Wolves equalized through Raul Jimenez in the second half.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

That allowed Liverpool’s Brazilian center forward to deliver the match-winning goal.

Klopp didn’t love the performance, but he enjoyed the resolve.

“The genius moment of Bobby Firmino can help us,” Klopp said. “We won the game, incredibly difficult but who cares?”

“We didn’t panic but it was not like we we completely in the mood I wanted us to be in when we went 1-0 up. You saw then a couple of balls we played into their feet it makes no sense. It’s completely normal. It’s the most difficult thing in football. You start with a complex plan but the development of the game has influence on each individual on the pitch. One sees a chance, sees the space, are not exactly in the same mindset.

“So much to improve for us but knowing if we defend really well like we did in the third system we played tonight. Defending in a 4-4-2, offensively in a 4-3-3. Sadio off doesn’t help. Finishing the game in a 4-5-1. … Everybody worked their socks off. I’m so proud of the boys. It’s incredible.”

Cue more questions about Liverpool’s inevitable first Premier League title and a possible unbeaten season.

“It’s over when it’s over, not before. So why should we really think about it? Let’s carry on. It’s difficult enough. We have to find solutions for the different games then we will see.”

Liverpool visits Shrewsbury Town in the FA Cup on Saturday, then heads to West Ham United on Wednesday before hosting Saints on Feb. 1. The congested schedule won’t ease up unless the Reds get knocked out of some competitions, and you wouldn’t want to bet on that right now.

Tranmere upends Watford in FA Cup; Hosts Man Utd on Sunday

Tranmere upsets Watford in FA Cup
Photo by Richard Sellers/PA Images via Getty Images)
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Paul Mullin scored in extra time to lift League One side Tranmere Rovers over a much-weakened Watford in a FA Cup replay at Prenton Park on Thursday.

Tranmere runs out a 2-1 winner and gets a lucrative home date against struggling Manchester United on Sunday.

The pitch condition still wasn’t great nine days after heavy rains caused a postponement of the tie.

Watford didn’t have many familiar faces on the pitch due to the match being its third match in six days. Jose Holebas, Andre Gray, and Christian Kabasele did start the contest.

Tranmere out-attempted Watford 20-11 and had nearly 60 percent of the ball.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

Kaylen Hinds scored for Watford, his first goal coming in his first match since 2017/18 when the ex-Arsenal academy man was with… Greuther Furth II.

Tranmere took the lead after Manny Monthe swept a ball home after a half-clearance from the box (Can anything be a half-clearance? Self-reporting to the language police).

Manager Nigel Pearson playing a bevy of youth players. The first team will now get nine more days off before a Feb. 1 visit from Everton.

Of course, they would’ve featured Sunday versus Manchester United in the fourth round.

 

Watford leveled the score on a grimy goal in the 18, but Mullin delivered the goods in the 104th minute.

Liverpool overcomes Wolves challenge to win 14th-straight

Wolves v. Liverpool match recap and video highlights
Photo by John Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images
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If this ends up being an unbeaten Premier League season for Liverpool, this one may be called “The Alisson Game.”

Liverpool’s star goalkeeper kept the Reds quest for legendary status alive long enoiugh for Roberto Firmino to supply the winner in a 2-1 defeat of Wolves at the Molineux on Thursday.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Jordan Henderson might like the game’s title role, too, scoring a goal and assisting the 84th minute winner.

Raul Jimenez leveled the score after halftime for Wolves, who stay seventh with 34 points.

Liverpool increases its table lead to 16 points with a match-in-hand on the field.


Three things we learned

1. Alisson’s smart goalkeeping keeps dream alive: Nuno Espirito Santo‘s men have gone behind in eight matches this season, claiming a win in three of them. That would’ve been four if Alisson Becker wasn’t between the sticks for Liverpool. The Brazilian was calm at the back despite being put in several predicaments, his positioning exquisite with plenty of high claims and parries.

2. Henderson has himself a day: Liverpool’s favorite Mackem brings plenty of grit to the side, and his crunching Traore at least thrice in the first 21 minutes shows his tactical duty. But don’t let that take away from his nose for goal. Henderson made sure to back up his motivational “business as usual” post-match interview after beating Manchester United by thundering into the mix to head a Trent Alexander-Arnold corner home after just eight minutes at the Molineux. His alert assist after Salah was dispossessed was plenty pretty, too.

3. Traore puts Reds off balance: As stated above, Jurgen Klopp clearly had a plan for handling Traore when he was in the center of the park. The winger, however, was a much bigger ask for Andy Robertson out wide. Traore blazed down the left to deliver an assist after Robertson’s failed challenge on Jimenez, then won a free kick off Robertson minutes later (Alisson saved the danger).

Man of the Match: Traore. Perfect on contested dribbles and nearly so on 50-50 challenges. A proper menace.


Henderson opened the score when he rose at the near post to head Alexander-Arnold’s cross off Rui Patricio’s hand and into the side netting.

Two of the game’s more lethal finishers were stymied in tight in the 17th and 18th minutes, with Virgil Van Dijk defying Raul Jimenez and Wolves smothered a Mohamed Salah drive.

Sadio Mane limped off with an injury, allowing Takumi Minamino to make a Premier League debut, and Van Dijk was slowed by a 50-50 challenge with Adama Traore before halftime.

Salah drove by two Wolves in stioppage time, but is shot deflected into the air and was corraled by Patricio.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ] 

The Egyptian picked up where he left off in the 47th, stripping Traore and forcing a save out of Patricio.

Salah raced back upfield moments later to block a Pedro Neto shot after Wolves led a promising charge.

Wolves made it 1-1 with a bit of lightning down the right, as Traore raced onto a through ball and crossed for Jimenez to head past Alisson Becker.

Traore then won a free kick and a yellow card for a poor sliding challenge on Traore, but Wolves couldn’t deliver a second goal in five minutes.

Liverpool answered, Firmino pumping a shot into the keeper despite a half-emptty net at the hour mark.

Alisson then made a fine save on a Traore drive in the 65th, blocking a Jimenez shot two minutes later.

That’s not to say the Reds weren’t busy, and Rui Patricio made a fine low save on Firmino in the 82nd minute.

Firmino got his goal in a flash, taking a pass frorm an alert Henderson and burying a shot past Patricio.

Diogo Jota blew a point blank chance to make it 2-2 in the second minute of stoppage after Traore and Jimenez set him atop the six.

Henderson puts Liverpool ahead at half, Mane limps off

Sadio Mane injury
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Sadio Mane walked off the Molineux pitch with an injury in the 33rd minute of Liverpool’s visit to Wolves on Thursday.

The Senegalese winger sat on the turf until the ball was played out by Wolves, then stood up and took a couple of steps before sitting down again.

[ STREAM LIVE: Wolves v. Liverpool ]

It certainly didn’t look like anything major, but Mane’s quick and decisive exit certainly won’t ease the concerns of Reds supporters.

Takumi Minamino took his place, making a Premier League debut with Liverpool leading 1-0 on a Jordan Henderson goal.

[ MORE: Transfer rumor roundup ]

Henderson rose high to nod a Trent Alexander-Arnold free kick towards goal, and Wolves keeper Rui Patricio could get a hand on it to redirect it into the side netting.