Sounders FC Comes ThisClose to Miracle Rally

Even though they lost two players to injury in the first 20 minutes of the game, Seattle’s plan for rallying from a 3-0 aggregate deficit was on track against Real Salt Lake late in the second leg of their Western Conference semifinal last night at CenturyLink Field.

Sixty minutes in, they had scored two goals, and had the game exactly where they wanted it: They were up 2-0, piling on the pressure, and seemingly on the brink of getting the goal that would tie the aggregate score at three and force the series into extra time.

Lamar Neagle scored the second goal (Osvaldo Alonso got the first, from the penalty spot) and he came close to getting the third on several occasions during the home team’s furious push down the stretch.

They ultimately fell short, losing the series 3-2 on aggregate, and sending legendary U.S. goalkeeper Kasey Keller to his retirement a little earlier than he’d expected.

Click here to watch the highlights.

And here for Keller’s thoughts at the end of his 21-year career:

At Livestrong Sporting Park, Kansas City downed an injury-depleted Colorado side 2-0 to win their Eastern Conference semifinal 4-0 and advance to the conference final, which they will host, against either Philadelphia or Houston, on Sunday.

For more on both games, see here.

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Blazer to Step Down in December

Claus-like figure Chuck Blazer, who has been CONCACAF’s general secretary since 1990, announced yesterday that he will resign his post at the end of 2011.

Blazer has been involved with U.S. Soccer since the mid-1980s, when he was in charge of the U.S. national teams. (He launched the women’s U.S. national team that year.)

In his 21 years with CONCACAF, he is credited with boosting the organization’s revenues from $140,000 to $40 million, according to Soccer America.

He started the Gold Cup, the regional tournament contested every two years, and he founded the CONCACAF Champions League, the regional club championship whose winner qualifies for the FIFA Club World Cup.

In May of 2011 Blazer made headlines by accusing his former boss, ex-CONCACAF president Jack Warner, and former Asian confederation head Mohamed bin Hammam, of attempting to bribe numerous Caribbean delegates to vote for bin Hamman in the FIFA presidential election.

Blazer’s accusations set off a farcical chain of events in which Warner’s interim successor, Lisle Austin, attempted to fire Blazer and was subsequently suspended by CONCACAF’s executive committee.

In Warner’s and Austin’s world—which has apparently sent an envoy to Blazer’s Wikipedia page—the controversy continues. But for most U.S. soccer types, the scandal has been put to bed and now is a time for reflecting on Blazer’s impact—as Soccer America’s Paul Kennedy does here—and speculating about his future.

In addition to his regional position, Blazer is a member of FIFA’s executive committee, a post he will retain at least until his current term ends in 2013.

According to the AP, Blazer said he would entertain the idea of working for a club, but had no comment “on the possibility that he could join one of the groups bidding for Major League Soccer’s 20th team, which MLS would like to place in the New York area as a rival to the Red Bulls.”

The current leader among those groups is the one that bought the rights to the New York Cosmos name and has installed Eric Cantona and Cobi Jones as executives.

Jimmy Conrad to Announce Retirement Today

Major League Soccer is losing one of the best defenders and possibly the liveliest personality in its history today, as Chivas USA defender Jimmy Conrad will announce his retirement in a press conference at the Home Depot Center this afternoon.

Conrad suffered a concussion on March 26 and has had persistent headaches since the injury. He cited those, along with concerns about his future, in his decision to hang ’em up at age 34, after 12 seasons in the league. He will join the Chivas USA coaching staff.

A former walk-on at UCLA, Conrad is, with the exception of Jay DeMerit, the most self-made U.S. soccer star of the past two decades. He went undrafted by MLS, despite being a member of the Bruins’ 1997 NCAA championship team, and latched on with the San Diego Flash of the A-League. From there, he scraped and clawed his way into MLS, onto the U.S. national team, and into the 2006 World Cup, where he appeared in the U.S.’s 1-1 draw with eventual champions Italy, and went the full 90 in a 2-1 loss to Ghana.

Conrad captained the U.S. team twice and made 27 appearances in total, scoring one goal.

Here’s Chivas USA coach Robin Fraser talking to ESPNLA’s Scott French about Conrad:

“It seems like this is a sad thing, that Jimmy’s retiring. But really it’s a celebration of a fantastic career. You talk about your self-made players, he’s just worked and worked and worked and gotten himself to where he’s been one of the best defenders in league history, went to a World Cup.

“You just can’t say enough about his career. The fact that he is choosing to leave on his own terms is fantastic.”

We had the chance to interview Conrad on a couple of occasions, including this one right here, when Conrad was in camp with the U.S. national team in January 2010.

He talked about the young U.S. players on the rise, the difference between club games and international play, and of course the Goonies, Mikhail Gorbachev’s forehead birthmark, and Diff’rent Strokes.

Please go give it a read, in salute to a player who embodied the best of MLS in its first two decades.

Kovalenko to Retire, Will Not Be Missed

A red?! For me? What?!

According to the Washington Post’s Soccer Insider blog, MLS veteran Dema Kovalenko, 33, has decided to hang up his boots.

Since those boots were involved in many a reckless challenge in his 12-year career, including two that broke players’ legs (Brandon Pollard in 1999 and Ronnie O’Brien in 2003), we can’t say we’re sorry to see him go.

A blocky, 5-8 midfielder born in Ukraine, Kovalenko emigrated in 1992 to Rochester, New York, where he attended Greece Arcadia High School and drew the attention of D-I college scouts after an outstanding high-school career. He played three years of college ball at Indiana, helping the Hoosiers win the 1998 NCAA title and earning first-team All-America honors that season.

He played for the Chicago Fire in his first MLS season, and made stops in D.C. (where he won an MLS Cup in 2004), New York, Salt Lake, and Los Angeles, for whom he made nine appearances last season.

Kovalenko also did two brief stints abroad, with FC St. Pauli in 2001-02, and Ukrainian side FC Metalurh Zaporizhya in 2006.

He gained a reputation as a feisty central midfielder—or thuggish, depending on who was doing the talking. Dallas fans and execs definitely fall in the latter group. Both Pollard and O’Brien were Dallas players. Pollard’s career was effectively ended by Kovalenko’s bone-breaking tackle, and while O’Brien returned to action, he told the Dallas Morning News that Kovalenko threatened to break his leg again after a challenge during a game the following season.

Here’s reporter Steve Davis:

D.C. United tough guy Dema Kovalenko has added yet another layer of contempt between himself and the Burn by allegedly threatening to break Ronnie O’Brien’s leg again. O’Brien said something as he got up when Kovalenko quickly approached him and, according to O’Brien, responded with, “I’ll break your leg again.”

Kovalenko retires as MLS’s all-time leader in playoff yellow cards with 13.

Taylor Twellman Calls It A Career

Citing concussions that kept him off the field for much of the past two MLS seasons, New England Revolution striker Taylor Twellman announced his retirement this afternoon.

He leaves the league in sixth place on the alltime scoring list, and first in the strike-rate category, with an exceptional 101 goals in 174 MLS appearances.

Here’s one of his best:

Landon Donovan called Twellman “the best American goal-scorer this league has ever produced” yet the 30-year-old from St. Louis—for a variety of reasons, not all of them his fault—was never able to completely establish himself on the U.S. national team.

He scored six goals in 29 appearances for the U.S., but never played in a World Cup, narrowly losing out to Brian Ching for a spot on the 2006 team—despite scoring a hat trick in an international friendly against Norway earlier that year.

Twellman played in four MLS Cup finals with the Revs (all losses), and helped the team hoist the 2007 U.S. Open Cup trophy.

Regarding today’s decision, and the seven concussions he’s suffered in his career, he said, “When you’re told if you want to live your life and be healthy, then soccer needs to stop, then the decision is made for you.”

MLS Warhorses Hanging ’Em Up: Moreno, Brown, Klein, Lewis

We’re getting a steady stream of late-season retirement news this week, as we continue to witness the end of an era in Major League Soccer following the announcements of Cint Mathis, Mike Petke and Brian McBride earlier in the year.

Along with veteran LA midfielders Chris Klein and Eddie Lewis, DC United legend Jaime Moreno and Chicago’s charter centerback, C.J. Brown, also declared that this season would be their last.

• Klein, 34, played 13 seasons in MLS, suiting up for Kansas City and Real Salt Lake before joining the Galaxy in 2007. The former Indiana University star earned 22 caps for the U.S. national team, scoring five goals. He holds the MLS records for consecutive starts (118) and appearances (141), and is fifth alltime in games played, with 332.

• The 36-year-old Lewis (whose announcement came a while back but was made official on Wednesday) began his career with San Jose in 1996 and then made the jump to England in ’99, playing with four teams (Fulham , PNE, Leeds, and Derby County) before returning to MLS, and the Galaxy, in 2008. He has 82 caps and 10 goals for the U.S., which he represented at the 2002 and 2006 World Cups.

• Brown, 35, joined Chicago in 1998, the same year the Fire entered MLS as an expansion team, and he has been the club’s starting centerback ever since. He’s the only remaining original member of the club. Brown has 15 caps for the U.S., and was on the field for two of the more surprising results in U.S. history, the 1-0 win over Argentina in a June 1999 friendly at RFK, and the 2-0 defeat of Germany in the Confederations Cup later that summer.

• Moreno, a 36-year-old striker from Bolivia, is the last remaining MLS original in the league. (McBride and Lewis were both part of MLS during its first season, but not continuously to the present day.) He’s also Major League Soccer’s alltime leading scorer, with 132 career goals. Jeff Cunningham of Dallas equaled Moreno’s total recently, and both men will look to increase their totals this weekend.

In addition to his career-goals record, Moreno has four MLS Cups and five Best XI selections to his name. He’s been a cornerstone of the DC franchise, the most successful team in MLS history.

All of these players have been pivotal builders and sustainers of the league, which was a far different place when they began playing in it. There were no Beckhams and Henrys back then—and no Andy Najars and Tim Reams, either.

But now, thanks to players like these outgoing veterans, MLS is a thriving league with big-name foreign stars and promising youngsters alike—and three new teams set to join the fold in the next two years.

What’s with the In-Season Retirement Announcements?

We’re a little late to this but wanted to make note: First it was Red Bull defensive warhorse Mike Petke, then U.S. soccer icon Brian McBride, and on Tuesday, longtime New York holding midfielder Seth Stammler announced that he, too, would hang up his boots after the season. (Beloved MetroBull striker Johnny Wolyniec announced his retirement, also, but he’d already been waived by New York.)

Obvioulsy, it’s the player’s call, but we wonder: Doesn’t this take a little steam out of the season, especially when all three players are (or potentially are, in Petke’s case) key parts of their teams’ playoff pushes?

Isn’t it a potential distraction/motivation dampener?

Seems to us that after the season is a more optimal time for these announcements, but in any case, yeah, those three stalwarts will be calling it a career come late October.

• Petke, who played college ball at Southern Connecticut State, did two tours with MLS’s New York franchise, and is the club’s alltime leader in minutes played, as well as a member of its alltime Best XI. He also suited up for DC United (with whom he won an MLS Cup in 2004) and Colorado in his 13-year career. He earned two caps for the U.S. national team.

• University of Maryland grad Stammler, who will turn 29 at the end of September, decided to retire to attend graduate school at the University of Chicago. He joined New York in 2004, and is second on the club’s alltime list for games started. He has scored seven goals in his career, most of which has been spent as a tenacious holding midfielder. He earned four caps with the U.S. U-23 team in 2003 and ’04.

• McBride was the No. 1 overall pick of the MLS Inaugural Draft back in 1996, going to Columbus. He starred at St. Louis University before joining the A-League’s Milwaukee Rampage (for whom he scored 17 goals in 18 appearances), and then doing a stint in Germany with Wolfsburg.

He was an immediate success in Columbus, and finished his eight-year career there with 62 goals and 45 assists in 161 games.

In 2000, he launched a career in Europe, first with Preston North End, then Everton and Fulham, where he became captain and a legend among Cottagers fans, scoring 40 goals in 153 appearances, and being named Player of the Year in both 2005 and ’06.

In 2009, Fulham announced that the sports bar at Craven Cottage would be renamed “McBride’s.”

His career with the U.S. national team is the stuff of legend as well. He hit the net 30 times in 96 appearances, including two huge World Cup goals against Portugal and Mexico in 2002. He was the first U.S. player ever to score in two World Cups (1998 and 2002). Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan have since joined him in this exclusive club, but the U.S. has yet to find a target forward with qualities comparable to those of McBride, who retired from international play after the 2006 World Cup.

He was also a tough hombre, as the following highlight reels illustrate: