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Has Didier Drogba played his final game as a professional?

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LOUISVILLE, KY — Didier Drogba‘s dazzling, star-studded career may have come to an end Thursday night under the bright lights of Lynn Stadium, in front of a packed house of 7,025 fans for the USL Cup final.

With eight league or cup titles and dozens of individual awards, the Chelsea legend was unable to add one final trophy to his mantlepiece, as Louisville City scored on a goal-mouth scramble off a corner kick and held on to win its second-straight USL Cup title. Drogba finished the game with six shots, but just one on target, a 40-yard free kick from the center of the field that Louisville City goalkeeper Greg Ranjitsingh parried away.

[READ: How will the teams line up for the Manchester derby?]

It’s a setting he likely never expected he’d finish his career in, even when he signed with Phoenix Rising in 2017 and became part of the team’s ownership group. Phoenix looked mired for a poor finish before Rick Schantz took over as coach in June, leading the team into the playoffs and on a magic run to the final, which included three goals from Drogba in the playoffs.

It looked as though the USL script writers were bringing the drama to a crescendo, with Drogba adding a USL Cup to go with his four Premier League titles, four FA Cups and UEFA Champions League trophy, among others.

Unfortunately for Phoenix Rising, and perhaps more fortunately for Louisville City, Drogba’s touch was off on Thursday evening. Four of his free kicks went flying over the crossbar and he failed to fully connect on a late-game, audacious bicycle kick attempt. Drogba also earned a frustration yellow card for a tackle from behind.

“Look, you can see as the game goes on, we were down 1-0, his desire to get the ball, his desire to be involved (is there),” Schantz said. “He’s 40-years old playing against 20-somethings in a league that’s up and coming. It’s not easy. The opportunity I got to coach him this year blows me away that I was able to share the field with one of the best players in the sport.”

Even in defeat, Drogba remained humble and gracious, staying on the field to watch the trophy ceremony with his team, congratulating the squad and coach for making it to the final and telling them to keep their heads up.

“It’s been incredible,” Phoenix Rising goalkeeper Carl Woszczynski said following the match. “His talent on the field speaks for itself but the biggest thing I take, the level he’s been at and everything he’s won, he’s one of the best people you’ll ever meet. He’s invited us to his house for team barbecues, opened his doors, cooked for us for hours, treated everyone as an equal, with respect.

“That says a lot considering the guys he’s played with. Coming to USL and treating us like that, teaching us everything he’s learned, that’s one of the most valuable things I’ll take, No matter what level you get to, you can still be humble and treat everyone with respect.”

While Drogba took much of the spotlight ahead of the game, it was a trio of unsung players who shut him down all evening; Midfielder and Louisville City captain Paolo DelPiccolo and centerbacks Paco Craig and Alexis Souahy. For all the experience LouCity returned with DelPiccolo, Craig and others, Souahy is just a 23-year-old rookie playing in his first cup final. And yet, the young defender from France who was released from Le Havre’s youth academy four years ago played as well and resolutely as he had all season. Craig, a West Ham academy alum and USL First-Team XI honoree, was strong as always against the Ivorian, and DelPiccolo and Drogba each had their share of battles in midfield.

“(They were) so good, so good,” Hackworth said about his defenders performance on Drogba. “Especially, Paco, he’s first team and everyone knows how good he is, but Alexis is a star on the rise and we might be hearing his name for a long time to come at a high level.”

Not to be lost in the talk about Drogba is the incredible achievement for Louisville City to win a second consecutive title. Louisville City lost its coach, James O’Connor, to Orlando City at the end of June, and the team ended up going with a triumvirate of player coaches for the next 6 weeks of action: DelPiccolo, George Davis and the USL Cup MVP Luke Spencer.

John Hackworth took over in mid-August and after making some little adjustments – tightening the defensive line and introducing more high pressing to force turnovers – LouCity found its rhythm. Even with five coaches this season, the team was steady all year long until down the stretch, when LouCity put on the after burners. The club finished the year winning its last ten games, including the final four in the playoffs to take the USL crown.

“The way they competed in training, and then went back in the locker room, I thought I was going to have to settle some fights,” said Hackworth, noting he knew this team could make a run for the title within the first couple days of practice. “But they’re a brotherhood. They have this high standard, they want to be pushed, they want to be coached. I thought, ‘if we can get this right…if we can clean up some things, it’s going to happen.'”

Drogba didn’t speak to the media following the match, but at the pre-match press conference, he revealed that after Phoenix Rising’s 2-1 win over Orange County for the Western Conference title, he received a few phone calls about continuing playing. He then hinted that perhaps the USL Cup final wouldn’t be the finale to his career.

When asked if Drogba revealed anything to him following the match, Schantz deadpanned and said, “That will be a separate press conference.”

Louisville City wins second-straight USL Cup

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Luke Spencer’s second half goal off a scramble in the box sent Louisville City past Didier Drogba‘s Phoenix Rising to win the USL Cup title with a 1-0 win at Lynn Stadium on Thursday.

Lou City become the first USL team to win back-to-back USL Cups, having knocked off Swope Park Rangers last season.

The match is set to stand as the final one of Drogba’s celebrated playing career.

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The Seattle Sounders and Rochester Rhinos both won league titles when it was called the A-League.

Xavier product Spencer, 27, played 67 minutes in the 2017 final but was the unquestioned star on Thursday.

Chelsea players love that Morata is back in form

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After a full summer taking serious heat, Alvaro Morata has finally begun the process of coming good on his move to Chelsea.

The Spaniard has four goals in his last four games, including a pair last time out in a 3-1 win over Crystal Palace. With Chelsea fans still missing the production of Diego Costa and Didier Drogba, Morata has faced brutal comparisons through the first year-plus of his tenure at Stamford Bridge, but Cesar Azpilicueta believes those are ridiculous.

“I don’t like comparisons,” Azpilicueta told the Evening Standard. “Everyone has to work his own path. [Drogba and Costa] had different qualities and personalities. It’s unfair to talk about those two big players and Álvaro. Álvaro walks his own path. He came to a new country and I’m sure, with the way that he is working, he will get the reward.”

“The goals help a lot because we know strikers — they live for goals,” Azpilicueta said. “We know that gives him more confidence, he has been playing well, finding opportunities. Sometimes the ball does not go in, but I’m happy with his work, his progress. We know that last season was a tough one for him, but he is a very important player for us.”

Meanwhile, Morata’s attacking partner Pedro echoed Azpilicueta’s sentiment that ultimately strikers like Morata will be judged by the goals they score, and therefore Morata’s double is big for his future.

“He’s in good condition and he had a very good performance,” Pedro told the official Chelsea website. “He has the mentality to score goals and help the team, that’s the best way for him. We are happy because he’s a very good striker. He runs a lot and scores goals, now he’s in a very good moment so this is the way for him. Scoring goals is very important for him and the team.”

Finally, the striker himself wants a no-nonsense approach to the rest of the season. “In football, physical condition is very important, but the head is the most important thing,” Morata said after the Crystal Palace match Sunday. “If you don’t have the head, if the mentality is not good, then you are in trouble. I had a period where everything – if it is raining, I’m angry because it’s raining. If I miss, it’s because the pitch is too wet. It was only excuses. It is not good. Everyone can have a bad period in their life, but we are famous, we have a lot of things. Sometimes people think we are not human, with no feelings, with no problems.”

The Spaniard knows he needs to continue to improve his mentality, as manager Maurizio Sarri honestly said Morata is “is a little bit fragile from the mental point of view.”

USL Playoffs: FC Cincinnati, Phoenix’s Drogba stage farewell tours

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The last three clubs to participate in the USL Cup Final are still alive in the 2018 edition of the USL Cup Playoffs, but all eyes are a fourth club.

FC Cincinnati hasn’t lost a match since May 26, the soon-to-be MLS club kickoff off a 24-match unbeaten run with a win over New York Red Bulls II a week later.

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Those two sides meet in the quarterfinals on Saturday, a match-up of the top team in the league and a Red Bulls side which won the cup in 2016.

The winner will meet either No. 2 seed Louisville City or No. 6 Bethlehem Steel. Louisville is led by USL Golden Boot winner Cameron Lancaster, a 25-year-old Londoner who made a single 12-minute appearance for Tottenham Hotspur against Wigan in 2014.

Out West, there’s another Premier League experienced player who plenty more neutrals have known for some time. Didier Drogba returned after four months off to play three of Phoenix Rising’s final four regular season matches, turning on the juice with a goal in the first round of the playoffs as Phoenix blew out Portland Timbers 2.

Phoenix faces No. 7 seed Swope Park Rangers, which has lost the past two USL Cup finals and should not be overlooked.

The fourth quarterfinal sees Orange County SC and Reno 1868 FC meeting in Irvine. OC is paced by former Akron University standout Aodhan Quinn, who has 11 goals and 15 assists. Former Southampton man Jos Hooiveld is also on the squad, and may be tasked with shutting down Jamaican striker Brian Brown.

Ranking the next MLS expansion cities

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After Cincinnati, Ohio was awarded a Major League Soccer franchise on Tuesday, FC Cincinnati will become the 26th MLS team.

MLS Commissioner Don Garber is fast approaching his stated target of having 28 teams in the league, which means the mad scramble for the final two spots is well and truly on.

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Speaking to the local newspaper in Cincinnati on Tuesday, Garber specifically mentioned to the Enquirer that cities such as Sacramento, Detroit, San Antonio, San Diego and Las Vegas are in the mix but didn’t set out a specific date for further expansion.

“Very productive discussions with Sacramento, as well as in Detroit where we’re working with that ownership group on possible modifications of Ford Field that could, perhaps, make that city more MLS ready than it is today,” Garber said. “There’s a lot of engagement going on in San Diego. Recent news out of Las Vegas, who has a thriving USL team and their mayor reached out to us very recently. San Antonio remains on our list and we have great respect for what the NBA ownership team has done there.”

With two of the 12 cities, Nashville and Cincinnati, who applied for MLS franchises back at the start of 2017 now awarded franchises, plus David Beckham’s Miami franchise unveiled (again) in a glitzy ceremony, now seems like a good time to take a look at the remaining cities.

Detroit and Sacramento were finalists alongside Nashville and Cincinnati to get a franchise last time out, so, naturally, they have a very good chance of arriving in MLS next time around.

Of course, all of this is made a little more complicated by Columbus Crew potentially being moved to Austin, Texas by owner Anthony Precourt in the coming months, but let’s take a look at things as they stand.

Here is how we rank the current race for MLS expansion for teams 27 and 28.


  1. Detroit – The bid did appear to be hurt substantially when a deal for a stadium downtown collapsed. Yet Garber has mentioned the possibility of Ford Field being redeveloped and look how successful Atlanta United have been in an NFL stadium. If it’s done properly, it can work well. The Ford family have no problem coming up with the reported $150 million franchise fee, plus lower-tier Detroit City FC get big crowds and so too do international friendlies played at nearby Michigan Stadium. Something seems to be brewing in Motor City…
  2. Sacramento – Okay, so they should have really arrived in MLS a few years ago but Sacramento Republic continue to have problems with their ownership group and are still searching for a lead investor. They said on Tuesday that they remain in talks with MLS. USL success and big crowds are all well and good but they need a new investor to take them to the next level. If they get that then they’re in.
  3. Las Vegas – Well, Vegas weren’t one of the 12 cities to submit a formal bid for an MLS franchise but it appears they could well be moving to the top of the list after failed plans for a team in the past. The Las Vegas Lights drawing big crowds (close to a 8,300 average) in their debut season in USL is promising. Given the success of Vegas’ first-ever Major League Sports franchise, the Golden Knights of the NHL, it appears MLS want a slice of the pie in Sin City.
  4. San Diego – Again, another city mentioned specifically by Garber on Tuesday which is always a good sign that they’re heading in the right direction. Plenty of big names are involved in the MLS bid (hello, Landon Donovan with plenty of his friends getting involved to promote Soccer City too) but it all hinges on the Mission Valley stadium site. With LAFC arriving, SoCal may be a little congested but creating another local rivalry for MLS would be very special.
  5. San Antonio – Garber mentioning San Antonio could push them up the list but with Columbus potentially moving to Austin, that impacts this bid. Toyota Field is ready and big crowds for international games are impressive but it’s all about the Crew and what happens to them.
  6. Phoenix – Financial backing is there, Didier Drogba remains on board (and scoring goals) and stadium plans are in place. Phoenix remain an outsider but are an intriguing possibility.
  7. Tampa Bay/St. Petersburg – Expensive redevelopment of Al Lang Stadium key to this bid. The Rowdies have a strong, loyal fanbase and the move from NASL to USL has solidified that. An outside chance, especially given MLS heading to Miami soon. Can Florida sustain three MLS franchises?
  8. Raleigh/Durham – NASL’s problems mean NCFC moved to USL and although Garber didn’t mention them in his comments, they remain hopeful of a franchise. On Tuesday they released a statement in which they said “MLS has indicated that North Carolina Football Club continues to be in consideration for one of the two remaining expansion spots.”
  9. St. Louis – If they can get a stadium deal one day, you feel like MLS beckons but nothing has really changed in STL.
  10. Charlotte – No public financing or funding for a stadium deal has seen this bid stall. Competing with Raleigh/Durham was ill advised.
  11. Indianapolis – Indy Eleven have moved to the USL too and despite a loyal following, they lack the funds to support an MLS expansion franchise. Bit of a pipe dream, as things stand, especially with Cincy and Nashville getting teams not too far away in the Midwest.