Seattle Squeaks Past Undermanned Tigres to Advance to CCL Semifinals

It came against a reserve-heavy side—and one that took a 1-0 lead (2-0 aggregate) before going down to 10 men just before halftime—but Seattle’s 3-1 win over Tigres last night at CenturyLink Field was a slab of history nonetheless. The victory marked the first time an MLS team had eliminated a Mexican side from the CONCACAF Champions League in the competition’s current format.

Get a load of the series-tying goal by new Seattle signing Djimi Traoré:

The Sounders created chances in the early going, but couldn’t put any of them away, and their wastefulness was punished in the 23rd minute, when former Chivas USA defender Jonny Bornstein started a counter for Tigres that led to a goal by Elias Hernandez. Down 2-0 on aggregate, Seattle would need three goals in the next 70-odd minutes to survive.

A second yellow card to Tigres midfielder Manuel Viniegra opened a door, and the Sounders barged through. Nineteen-year-old DeAndre Yedlin, a Seattle native and Sounders FC academy product, started the rally with a 30-yard volley. Traoré followed with his golazo, and striker Eddie Johnson capped the rally with a blazing run behind the Tigres defense in the 75th minute.

Seattle then survived a stoppage-time scare and held on for the huge win.

Complete highlights here:

The Sounders now advance to the semifinals of the CCL, where they will meet the winner of the Santos Laguna–Houston series, which wraps up tonight (Fox Soccer, 8:00 pm ET). The Dynamo hold a 1-0 lead heading into that second leg in Torreon, Mexico.

U.S. U-20s Rally Against Canada, Clinch World Cup Berth

Two years after their predecessors fell short of qualifying for the 2011 U-20 World Cup and one year after the American U-23 side failed to qualify for the London Olympics, the current U.S. U-20 side made some amends on Friday, knocking off Canada 4-2 to advance to the CONCACAF Championship semifinals and secure a berth in this summer’s U-20 World Cup in Turkey (June 21-July 13).

With former U.S. youth and senior international star Tab Ramos holding the coaching reins, the young Yanks rallied from a 1-0 deficit in the do-or-die game, reeling off three goals in 17 minutes to take a 3-1 lead into the break. A fourth came just after the intermission to all but wrap up the game. Canada pulled one back in the 63rd, and then the teams traded chances the rest of the way.

To the highlights:

U.S. fans can take satisfaction on several levels from this result. The team got the job done without midfield star Marc Pelosi (who broke his leg playing for Liverpool’s U-21s) and center backs Walker Zimmerman and Will Packwood. The U.S. was also missing defender John Anthony Brooks, a German-American who has played for both nations’ U-20 teams.

The side performed in pressure-packed circumstances (WC qualifying, with the above-mentioned previous failures hanging over their heads) and in a hostile environment (Puebla, Mexico, where the locals jeered just about every U.S. touch).

Additionally, a few players stood out as potential candidates for the USMNT a few years down the line, including stocky, speedy striker Daniel Cuevas, goal-poacher Jose Villareal, and Real Salt Lake playmaker Luis Gil.

One other notable element was that Ramos did not hesitate to shift his team out of the Klinsmann-mandated 4-3-3 formation when game situations warranted it. The team looked much more comfortable in a 4-2-3-1 (with two holding midfielders), and they controlled games in that setup, whereas in the 4-3-3 they were overrun in midfield. Something to consider going forward (and something U-23 coach Caleb Porter did not do in his team’s failed Olympic bid).

Here’s some postmatch reaction from Ramos and his players:

The U.S. will meet Cuba in the (much-less-meaningful) semifinals on Friday (6:00 pm ET, Fox Soccer), but with qualification already assured, a number of players, including Cuevas and Gil, will be heading back to their club sides.

U.S. U-20s Get Off to Shaky Start at CONCACAF Championships, Narrowly Edging Haiti, 2-1

USu20s

They took an early lead, and they got significant contributions from their two biggest guns, Real Salt Lake midfielder Luis Gil and Santos Laguna striker Daniel Cuevas, but the U.S. U-20s raised more questions than they answered in their CONCACAF Championship opener yesterday in Puebla, Mexico.

After Gil and Cuevas gave the team a 2-0 lead within the first half hour, the Americans started to come unglued. They gave up a goal five minutes after the break and spent the remainder of the game on their heels trying to keep Haiti at bay.

They ultimately succeeded in doing that, but it was quite a ways away from convincing.

Click here for the highlights

The U.S. backline, which had several players playing out of position due to the absences of Walker Zimmerman, Will Packwood (both injured), and John Anthony Brooks (club commitment), was at sea for most of the second half. Not helping matters in that department was the midfield’s inability to keep the ball in the second session.

Tab Ramos’s boys have plenty of room for improvement, and if they do advance to this summer’s U-20 World Cup (June-July, in Turkey), they can only hope that players like Zimmerman and Packwood are back and ready to go, along with midfielder Mark Pelosi, a very talented player who had his leg broken in a Liverpool U-21 match this past Sunday.

As for Brooks, an athletic, six-foot-six defender who plays for Hertha Berlin in the Bundesliga2, he has appeared for the U.S. U-20s four times, but he holds citizenship in both the U.S. and Germany, and could commit to either side. He has participated in U-20 camps for Germany and appeared in one game for them in 2012.

The U.S. returns to action on Friday against Costa Rica (6:30 pm ET, Fox Soccer).

Haiti faces the Ticos tomorrow in a tough turn of the schedule for the island nation. If Haiti loses to Costa Rica in that match, they’ll be out and the U.S. will advance to the CONCACAF quarterfinals.

Aston Villa’s Rough Season Hits Another Low As Fourth-Tier Bradford City Knocks them Out of the League Cup

Soccer - Capital One Cup - Semi Final - Second Leg - Aston Villa v Bradford City - Villa Park

With US goalkeeper Brad Guzan and Yank defender Eric Lichaj watching from the bench, Premier League strugglers Aston Villa could only muster a 2-1 win over fourth-tier side Bradford City in the second leg of their League Cup semifinal at Villa Park today.

The result was not enough for the Villans to overcome a 3-1 first-leg deficit and thus eliminated Villa from the tournament and made Bradford City the first fourth-division team to reach the League Cup final since 1962. They’ll play either Chelsea or Swansea City in the final on Feb. 24 at Wembley.

Villa owned 72% of possession in the first half today, and created three clear chances before Christian Benteke put them ahead 1-0 in the 24th minute. They couldn’t translate their dominance into more goals, though, and in the 55th minute, Bradford striker James Hanson (above left) headed in a Gary Jones corner kick to make it 1-1 and restore the lower-level side’s two-goal aggregate advantage.

Hanson nearly scored again just minutes later and Bradford rattled Shay Given’s crossbar in the late stages before Villa’s Andreas Weimann bagged one in the 89th minute to set up a tense finish. But the heavy favorites could not find that crucial third goal, which would have sent the tie into extra time, and the visitors, who dispatched Arsenal in the previous round, were soon celebrating an historic win.

So which is more humiliating for Villa, this defeat to a League Two team, or December’s 8-0 thrashing by Chelsea? Tough call, but it’s probably this one.

The Villans return to Premier League action on Jan. 29, when they host Newcastle in a relegation battle. Villa is currently in 17th place, one point above the drop, while Newcastle is in 16th, two points clear.

Beckham Goes Out in Style as Galaxy Win MLS Cup Chock Full of History (And Our Prediction Comes True)

BexTrophy

The Los Angeles Galaxy sent David Beckham out a winner, locking down a 3-1 victory over Houston in the MLS Cup final this past Saturday, and giving the Englishman—who had announced that this game would be his last in the league—his second U.S. domestic title in six seasons.

That was only the most high-profile chunk of history carved out at the Home Depot Center. Landon Donovan, who may be headed elsewhere as well, won a record-tying fifth MLS championship and became the league’s alltime leading scorer in all competitions when he scored the Cup-winning goal from the spot, giving him 146 career goals (regular season and playoffs).

The win delivered Los Angeles its fourth MLS Cup title, tied with D.C. United for the most ever.

There was also coach Bruce Arena’s fourth title—two more than any other coach in MLS history—and a second consecutive one for Irish international Robbie Keane, who who iced the game with a penalty in stoppage time, scoring his sixth goal of the playoffs, tied for second-most alltime in a single postseason.

Twenty-four year-old center back and budding U.S. national team prospect Omar Gonzalez completed his return from a torn ACL (suffered in January) by winning the game MVP award.

Also historic, if only for its Halley’s Comet–like rarity, was our spot-on—3-1 LA—pregame prediction (scroll down for it).

To the highlights, which really should be run in sepia tones:

Still can’t believe Donovan missed that sitter in the first half.

Adding to the end-of-an-era, history-making aspect of the game was the talk afterward about this Galaxy team’s place in the MLS pantheon. Are they best team in the league’s 17 years?

They’ve been to three finals and won two. They’ve won two Supporters’ Shields (and narrowly missed a third), and they suit up the league’s best player all-time in Donovan, its most galvanizing in Beckham, and one of its deadliest strikers ever in Keane.

Still, for over all balance and accomplishment, we’d give the nod to the D.C. United teams from 1996 to ’99.

They appeared in four straight finals, won three, and featured Marco Etcheverry and Jaime Moreno in their primes, alongside U.S. national teamers Eddie Pope, Jeff Agoos, John Harkes, Roy Lassiter, Carlos Llamosa, Ben Olsen, and Richie Williams.

That D.C. dynasty also won the 1998 CONCACAF Champions Cup, a precursor to the CONCACAF Champions League, and, most impressively, the ’98 Copa Interamericana, a competition between the winners of the CONCACAF Champions Cup and the South American Copa Libertadores.

The Black-and-Red defeated Brazil’s Vasco da Gama to win that trophy, and it’s probably the most impressive competitive notch on MLS’s belt in 17 years as a league.

This Galaxy side is a good and historic one, but they’re a shade behind that D.C. club.

They do have one thing in common with them, though: coach Bruce Arena.

Houston, Los Angeles Advance, Set Up Rematch of 2011 MLS Cup Final

We’ve been buried with day-job stuff this week but we’re back now with a few words and pictures on this past Sunday’s eventful MLS Conference Final second legs, which set up a rematch of last year’s championship game between the Galaxy and the Dynamo.

In Sunday’s opener, Houston took a 3-1 first-leg lead into D.C., and got a pivotal goal just before halftime from Oscar Boniek Garcia* to all but kill off the series. Brad Davis set up Garcia with an incisive solo run down the right channel before stabbing it back to the Honduran with his favored left foot.

D.C. pulled one back late to make it 4-2 on aggregate, but this was Houston’s game, and series. They looked wholly professional, and will be a formidable opponent in the final.

Highlights:

In the nightcap, the Galaxy took a 3-0 first-leg lead into Seattle’s jam-packed CenturyLink Field, where the hosts would look to get off to a fast start against an LA team resting Landon Donovan (hamstring) and Juninho (Achilles).

The Sounders did just that, threatening early and often through Eddie Johnson and Fredy Montero. Johnson had a goal called back (incorrectly, replays showed) in the 11th minute, and then scored the opener in the 12th.

When Zach Scott powered in a near-post header in the 57th minute to make it 3-2 on aggregate, it was game on.

And then, well … click here for the highlights of what came next. (We’d embed the video, but it was an ESPN game and the WWL is a little stingy when it comes to posting stuff to the WWW.)

Click here to see the piece we wrote on the handball controversy for the MLS site.

Seattle’s 2-1 win was not enough to overturn their aggregate deficit, and LA advanced with a 4-2 total-goals victory. They’ll meet Houston on Saturday, Dec 1, at the Home Depot Center (ESPN, 4:30 p.m. ET) to try to win their second straight MLS Cup title and send David Beckham out in style (more on that shortly).

*Garcia’s parents gave him the middle name Boniek in honor of legendary Polish player Zbigniew Boniek (check his Juventus highlights here). We will never tire of how cool that is. The back of Garcia’s Dynamo jersey reads “Boniek.”

U.S. 2, Russia 2: Michael Bradley Is the Best American Player Right Now

The U.S. got a stoppage-time goal from Mix Diskerud to tie Russia 2-2 in Krasnador today in one of the more undeserved draws in USMNT history.

The Americans struggled to connect passes, were prone to fundamental mistakes (especially coming out of the back), and gave up several golden chances to the hosts.

If not for a few routinely great saves from goalkeeper Tim Howard, they would have lost by several goals.

But there was this from New Jersey-born Roma midfielder Michael Bradley:

Mama mia, what a strike. But over all, this was not the U.S. team’s best work. Here are three thoughts on the game:

• Bradley was fine in the first half, but he simply took over the U.S. effort in the second, making himself available all over the field, winning balls, marshaling possession, and attacking. In addition to his goal, he played in the long ball that led to Diskerud’s late equalizer. He got stronger as the game went on, and, well, see header above.

Fabian Johnson once again confirmed that he’s the solution to the U.S.’s longstanding left-back problem. He’s skilled, he’s athletic, and he doesn’t panic. Several times in the first half he extricated himself from tricky situations where a turnover would have been costly, and he was also a threat going forward. Second-best U.S. field player today.

• It might be a mental issue with Jozy Altidore when it comes to playing for the national team. Either that, or the Dutch league is just not as good as it’s cracked up to be. (Could be a little of both.) He did do a lot of the grunt work that Klinsmann wants his forwards to do, and, in the first half at least, he held the ball up a few times and allowed his teammates to get involved. But his second half was a washout. He gave the ball away too often and way too easily, and he failed to control a terrific pass in the box from Johnson that would have been a great goalscoring chance.

Then Juan Agudelo and Terrence Boyd came in and helped create both goals with athletic knockdowns to teammates. Here’s the second one, from Boyd to Diskerud (and in off a Russian defender):

One final thought: Klinsmann needs more skill in his midfield. Williams had a poor game (and not just because of his blatant error), and Jermaine Jones, while he worked hard, is a blunt instrument in the final third. He initiated several offensive forays but then killed them with poor touches in the box. He should have scored late on a cutback from Altidore but skied his attempt. He’s not an attacking player.

Klinsmann doesn’t need both Williams and Jones in addition to Bradley. One will do, and free him up to add another, more dangerous piece to the U.S. attack.