USL League Two
USL League Two

USL League Two exec: ‘Still our intent to play in 2020’

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The United Soccer League can wait a while to make the wisest decision on the seasons for two of its leagues, but a third carries a running timer.

The fully professional USL Championship and USL League One are delayed through at least May 10, a date that costs the developmental USL League Two only 13 matches.

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League Two operates at the unofficial fourth tier of American soccer and has long been a showcase for top college players wishing to maintain their eligibility. Tim Ream, Graham Zusi, and Geoff Cameron are among a long list of USMNT veterans to have played in L2 — formerly called the PDL — before going pro.

The problem is that the season is played in a tight window between the end of college spring semesters and the recalling of players for fall. And each week that passes in May shrinks the window for clubs, some of whom are filled with a majority of out-of-town players.

Throw in the variety of obstacles for small clubs spread across a gigantic country in the coronavirus era and you’ve got a significant challenge.

The National Premier Soccer League, a fellow “fourth-tier” operation, announced earlier this week that it was “canceling” its 2020 schedule and re-evaluating how it can support its clubs should they want to play this summer. The UPSL postponed its season’s start to May 2, though that’s looking quite early, too.

So we talked this weekend with USL vice president Joel Nash about plans for the summer with League Two. He says a lot of clubs are raring to play once it’s safe, and that they will find the right road together.

“Our first priority has to be the health and wellness of everyone involved with our league, but based on the feedback we’ve received from our owners, it’s still our intent to play in 2020,” Nash said.

He says that some clubs or even entire divisions may find that it “makes sense to forego participation in this year’s competition” and that the USL will support those clubs.

“Our decision-making going forward will be rooted in the information we receive from public health experts.  We’re in regular communication with local, state, and national health authorities, as well as the CDC. We also sit on a national COVID-19 task force comprised of medical, legal, and operational experts from U.S. Soccer, Major League Soccer and the NWSL, to ensure that we are all aligned, and sharing guidance and best practices. Based on the information we receive, and the input of our owners, we’ll continue to make decisions that put the health and safety of our players, supporters and staff first.”

Could that mean an odd league season structure or some unusual competitions? Maybe. This is an atypical time in the world.

“We may have to get creative with our competitive format, but that’s true of everyone in sports at the moment,” Nash said. “We’re in daily conversations about how we can all work together give our clubs as many games as possible. … We are going to prioritize getting the greatest number of games in for the most number of L2 teams that want to play. We will then work with our owners to identify other non-L2 teams that we could supplement for additional games.”

On This Day: Dempsey chip leads Fulham over Juventus in Europa League

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10 years ago today, one of the most incredible and memorable European upsets too place.

Clint Dempsey‘s absurd (and quite frankly, disrespectful) chip capped off one Fulham’s improbable comeback against Juventus in the Europa League Round of 16. Fulham would reach the final of the competition that season, falling to Atletico Madrid in extra-time on a Diego Forlan goal that would break the hearts of Whites fans everywhere.

It’s been all downhill since then for Fulham, but they remember the Juventus comeback fondly.

With the Whites falling 3-1 in the first let in Turin, legendary striker David Trezeguet pounced on a loose ball in the box just two minutes into the second leg at Craven Cottage, meaning Fulham was well on its way out of the competition. That’s when the improbable began.

Bobby Zamora chested a ball down and struck a few minutes later to bring Fulham within a shout, and then Zoltan Gera bracketed halftime with a pair, including the second three minutes after the break from the penalty spot that brought Fulham back level in the match. Then with the match deadlocked on aggregate at 4-4, each with one away goal, Dempsey’s audacious effort lit Craven Cottage alight with eight minutes to go. The goal was the perfect encapsulation of Dempsey’s career, outrageous for anyone to even consider in the circumstances let alone actually pull off.

Making the comeback even more improbable, Fulham’s stalwort captain Danny Murphy was suspended for the match after his late red card in the dying minutes of the second-leg draw against Shakhtar Donetsk the round earlier.

Fulham’s twitter account has been reliving the build-up to the match throughout the day, bringing fans quotes from the players on the day before the game.

Fulham would go on to eliminate German sides Wolfsburg and Hamburg before reaching the final, and while Simon Davies leveled the scoreline at 1-1 to cancel out Forlan’s opener, the Uruguayan bagged the winner in the 112th minute to end the improbable run. Still, Dempsey’s chip will go down as one of the great European moments, especially for an American on one of the biggest stages.

Late strikes, debut wins, and golazos all feature in 2020 MLS opening day

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Major League Soccer got its 2020 season under way on Saturday, and there were plenty of exciting storylines and moments to dot the Leap Day landscape.

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Most notably, Nashville S.C. got a rude welcome to the league as the debutants were dropped 2-1 at home against Atlanta United. Ezequiel Barco struck just nine minutes in on an exquisite Atlanta counter-attack, delivering a low right-footed shot inside the far post. USMNT defender Walker Zimmerman responded just before the half-hour mark, writing himself into the Nashville S.C. record books with the club’s first-ever goal. He rose high to meet a free-kick into the box, and while his header went basically nowhere, he was able to get a foot to it and poke the ball in for the equalizer.

Nashville would be happy to go into halftime level with one of the best teams in the league, but Emerson Hyndman made sure the visitors would enter the break on top, fizzing a blistering volley in for a deserved lead before the break.

Nashville was up for the challenge and had plenty of chances, but each opportunity seemed just a whisker away from being converted. David Accam nearly got to a 53rd minute Dominique Badji cross but his slide was inches away. With 12 minutes to go, Randall Leal smacked the post with a vicious shot.

Unfortunately, while Atlanta held onto the three points, they may have lost far more as talismanic playmaker Josef Martinez went down in a heap in the 67th minute, immediately pointing to his knee. Replays showed he twisted it awkwardly avoiding a challenge, and while the Colombian tried to come back on, he eventually needed to be stretchered off the field.

Elsewhere, the LA Galaxy went ahead early on the road in Houston on a Cristian Pavon golazo, but they were held from there in a 1-1 draw. Houston actually held the lion’s share of possession – 59% worth of it – but only managed to put two of its 15 shots on target.

The Pavon goal was brilliantly worked, coming straight from goalkeeper Dave Bingham who blasted the ball down to Pavon, and the Argentine did the rest, delivering a fabulous curler past Marko Maric.

Houston was able to eventually earn a point, breaching the Galaxy defense in the 54th minute via Mauro Manotas who took a wonderful through-ball from Zarek Valentin and blasted a right-footed effort through a charging Dave Bingham.

Chicharito‘s debut saw the Mexican international take just one shot, coming from outside the box and missing the target. After the match, Chicharito said scoring early may have actually been a detriment. “Football is ironic sometimes, the worst thing was scoring a goal so early because after that I think we let them play, build their confidence and then the game became equal.” Joe Corona had chances for the visitors past the hour mark, but otherwise neither side threatened much.

USMNT defender Jonathan Lewis gave the Colorado Rapids a dramatic 2-1 victory on the road at D.C. United with a 92nd minute winner. Russell Canouse and Kei Kamara had cancelled each other out past the hour mark, but Lewis was on hand at the far post to tap in a scrappy winner late. Colorado may have missed the playoffs last season, but Robin Fraser has them off to a fast start.

Thierry Henry picked up a win in his first match in charge as the Montreal Impact topped the New England Revolution in Canada 2-1. Max Urruti won it in the 80th minute with an absurd goal, chipping Matt Turner with a bonkers poke on a long ball from Saphir Taider.

Teal Bunbury had given New England the early lead 13 minutes in, volleying home a cross from deep onto the right flank to put the visitors up, but Romell Quioto cancelled that out before halftime with a set-piece header. It seemed like Wilfried Zahibo had put New England up with 17 minutes to go, but after a video review it was chalked off for offside. Then Urruti delivered a stunner to seal Henry’s first victory as Impact boss.

The San Jose Earthquakes snatched a late 2-2 draw with finalists Toronto FC thanks to a 95th minute equalizer from Oswaldo Alanis. The 30-year-old Mexican ripped in an absurd free-kick from a tight angle to salvage the draw, the final of two great goals for San Jose. Toronto had worked a 2-0 lead by the 51st minute on relatively cheap goals from Alejandro Pozuelo and Richie Laryea, with Pozuelo’s coming from the penalty spot. Andres Rios got one back for San Jose in the 53rd minute, just two minutes after Toronto doubled its lead, and while the hosts held 63% possession throughout, it took until deep in stoppage time until Alanis found his moment.

Full MLS results

D.C. United 1-2 Colorado Rapids
Montreal Impact 2-1 New England Revolution
Houston Dynamo 1-1 LA Galaxy
San Jose Earthquakes 2-2 Toronto FC
FC Dallas 2-0 Philadelphia Union
Orlando City SC 0-0 Real Salt Lake
Nashville SC 1-2 Atlanta United

Galatasaray wins bonkers derby over Fenerbahce

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Goals. Fights. Red cards. Yellow cards. Horror tackles. Passion in the stands.

The Intercontinental Derby in Istanbul today had just about everything.

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For the first time this century, Galatasaray defeated Fenerbahce in the Turkish Superlig, winning 3-1 on the road. With the victory, Galatasaray moves into a three-way tie for first place in the league. As mentioned above, the game featured 12 yellow cards, VAR reviews, two red cards, and countless other dangerous plays that the officials let go with just a warning.

Max Kruse put the Asia-based Fenerbahce in front off a penalty kick that was confirmed by VAR, but Dutch defender Ryan Donk equalized for the European-based Galatasaray in the 39th minute off a bullit header in the box from a corner.

With both teams trading chances, the tempers exploded in the 77th minute after Henry Onyekuru was taken down on the left side of the box. VAR confirmed that decision as well and former Atletico Madrid star Radamel Falcao powered the penalty in to give Galatasaray a huge lead.

Five minutes later, as Younes Belhanda was coming off the field as a substitution, a scuffle that he started with Deniz Turuc ended with both players getting sent off. Awkwardly, Ahmet Calik had come onto the pitch for Belhanda, but Belhanda’s actions just before he left the pitch meant that Calik wasn’t officially in the game yet and the substitution was cancelled. Calik eventually entered as a sub for Radamel Falcao, while both teams were reduced to ten players on the pitch.

In the 89th minute, Fernando Muslera dived to make an outstanding save on a powerful free kick from Mehmet Ekici, and eight minutes later deep into second half stoppage time, Muslera played provider. His long pass from inside the box found Onyekuru in space and the Nigerian dribbled forward, rounded Fenerbahce goalkeeper Altay Bayindir and scored before going into a slide celebration in the corner.

The game had a couple of Premier League connections. Former Fulham midfielder Jean-Michael Seri and Falcao, formerly of Manchester United, both started for Galatasaray. Goal-scorer Ryan Donk played a decade ago one season for West Bromwich Albion and Sofiane Feghouli played recently for West Ham. For Fenerbahce, Mauricio Isla also played one season for Queens Park Rangers.

Watch the highlights from this wild and crazy – and totally on-point – derby below.

Championship Focus: Promotion favorites West Brom, Fulham drop points; Leeds earn vital win

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Despite major activity on Saturday, little change took place at the top of the Championship table, with only second-place Leeds United managing to earn three points out of all the top-seven sides.

Luke Ayling’s goal in the 16th minute was the lone goal in Leeds’ one-sided match against Bristol City.

Leaders West Brom, who are now only hold a four-point lead on Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds, gave up a leveling stoppage-time goal to fifth-place Nottingham Forest at the Hawthorns.

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Matty Cash’s injury-time strike, snaps the Baggies three-match winning streak and hands them their 12th draw of the season.

No other performance caught eyes as much as bottom-dwellers Barnsley’s 3-0 thumping of third-place Fulham. It’s Fulham’s first 3-0 loss since mid-November – a 3-0 defeat to Hull City.

Barnsley midfield orchestrator Cauley Woodrow bagged a brace, while Jacob Brown added his own six minutes into the second half as the last place side earned just their sixth win of the season.

Saturday’s results

West Brom 2-2 Nottingham Forest
Leeds United 1-0 Bristol City
Cardiff City 2-2 Wigan Athletic
Birmingham 1-1 Brentford
Derby County 1-1 Huddersfield
Sheffield Wednesday 0-3 Reading
Birmingham 1-1 Brentford
Derby County 1-1 Huddersfield
Sheffield Wednesday 0-3 Reading
Charlton 0-2 Blackburn
Fulham 0-3 Barnsley
Preston 0-1 Millwall
Middlesbrough 0-1 Luton Town
QPR 4-2 Stoke City