MLS’s CCL Dream Deferred Yet Again

A team from Major League Soccer will win the CONCACAF Champions League some day. Just not this year.

After Seattle went out to Santos Laguna in a 1-1 second-leg draw on Tuesday night, the LA Galaxy represented MLS’s last hope for a 2013 CCL finalist. Their task was nearly identical to the one Seattle faced on Tuesday: They were playing on the road in Mexico, and they trailed by a goal after the first leg. Indeed, the Galaxy’s degree of difficulty was slightly higher, since Monterrey had scored two away goals in their first-leg win at Los Angeles.

Bruce Arena’s side had been 10 minutes away from taking a 1-0 win down to Mexico for the second leg when the visitors’ two biggest threats, Mexican striker Aldo De Nigris and his Chilean counterpart Humberto Suazo, each struck in the waning moments to send LA to a severely deflating loss. But the Galaxy have Robbie Keane and Juninho and a rounding-into-form Landon Donovan, and their fans had hopes that they could bag the two goals needed in the return match to either win the tie outright or send it into extra time.

LA generated some chances, but Monterrey ultimately showed why they’re the two-time defending champs. Highlights here:

Real Salt Lake’s narrow loss to Monterrey in the 2011 final is looking like a bigger missed opportunity with each passing year. Jason Kreis’s team got a 2-2 draw on the road in the first leg that year, only to fall 1-0 at home in front of an amped-up crowd at Rio Tinto Stadium. Ouch.

Monterrey and Santos Laguna will meet for the trophy in a rematch of last year’s final. The two-leg decider is set for April 24 and May 1.

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Two Yoots: Pair of 19-Year-Old Americans Help Galaxy, Sounders Reach CCL Semifinals

For the first time in the history of the CONCACAF Champions League, there are two clubs from Major League Soccer in the final four. Seattle and Los Angeles both advanced to the semis this week, eliminating Tigres of Mexico and Herediano of Costa Rica, respectively, and both got key goals from 19-year-olds who came up through the clubs’ academies. That’s called living right.

Here’s the Galaxy’s Jose Villareal, who was born in Inglewood, Calif., in 1993. You probably remember 1993 like it was yesterday. Villareal is fresh from a standout performance with the U.S. U-20s at the CONCACAF Championships, where he bagged three goals in four games. Last night versus Herediano, he kept his personal momentum going, scoring the second goal to spark LA to a 4-1 win:

Go ahead, watch it again. See the stepover, the spin-o-rama, and the deadly left-footed finish to the far post. Pure class in a glass, as Ray Hudson would say.

The previous night in Seattle, the Sounders fell behind Tigres’s B squad and looked to be on their way out of the CCL. Their 19-year-old right back, DeAndre Yedlin, was beaten—some say fouled—on the play that led to Tigres’s goal and put Seattle in a 2-0 aggregate hole.

The young Seattle native—in his CCL debut and just his second appearance for the Sounders—quickly made amends, scoring a sweet equalizer and turning in an excellent, assured second-half performance.

Check out his goal:

Yedlin was not part of the U.S. U-2o team that qualified for this summer’s World Cup in Turkey, but if he keeps up his current form—he was named to the MLS Team of the Week last week, becoming the first rookie ever to earn the honor in his professional debut—you can bet that coach Tab Ramos will call him in for the tournament.

Bonus Yoot

Another player who was not part of that U-20 qualifying team, but could play his way onto it, is Villareal’s teammate in LA, 18-year-old Jack McBean of Newport Beach, Calif. A big kid with skill and a nose for goal, McBean is the youngest signing in Galaxy history, having put pen to paper with the team in April 2011 at age 16.

Here he is late in last night’s game against Herediano, taking a quick restart and curling a shot into the far side netting to make it 4-1 LA:

The MLS academy system, founded in 2006 and streamlined in ’08, is starting to bear fruit. The 2011 U.S. U-20 team featured just one academy product; this year’s edition featured four—as well as two (Benji Joya and Daniel Cuevas) who split their youth development between US academy sides and the Santos Laguna (Mexico) youth system.

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.

WAG of the Week: Alexis Montero

MsMonteroSeattle Sounders striker Fredy Montero is about to become ex-Seattle Sounders striker Fredy Montero, and while his impending loan to Colombian side Millonarios is probably regrettable for most SSFC fans (his playoff failures notwithstanding), the deeper loss for MLS fans may be that of Fredy’s missus, Alexis, left.

Born Alexis Immig, she became Mrs. Montero last April. Married life apparently agreed with Fredy, as he bagged MLS career highs in goals (13) and assists (4) in 2012, and helped Seattle to a 15-8-11 record and their fourth straight berth in the MLS playoffs.

But there, again, Montero came up short, failing to score a goal or produce an assist in the postseason for the fourth consecutive season. But enough about Montero’s shortcomings, and back to his better half. Here she is again:

fred:alexis2

And again, on her way to cheer on her man CenturyLink Field:

amontero

It looks like she won’t be doing that in 2013, and the Emerald City will be a little less lustrous for it.

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.”

MLS Playoffs: Rimando, Gspurning Out of Their Heads, Najar Loses His

Seattle and Real Salt Lake have played each other four times this season, and only one goal separates them.

That’s because only one goal has been scored in those four games (in RSL’s 1-0 win in May). Goalkeepers Nick Rimando and Michael Gspurning ensured that on Friday night in Seattle, making nine saves between them, including several of the outstanding variety, in a 0-0 draw.

The game was in keeping with the season series, as attempts on goal finished even at 11-11, shots on target were 5-4 in Seattle’s favor, and possession was an indistinguishable 50.2% to 49.8% for Seattle.

Incredible goalkeeping highlights here:

The decisive second leg of this Western Conference semifinal kicks off on Thursday at Rio Tinto Stadium.

On Saturday night in the nation’s capital, D.C. United played New York to a 1-1 draw in an Eastern Conference semifinal first-leg game that featured an unprecedented (in MLS playoffs) two own goals, a saved penalty, and a moment of madness from United’s 19-year-old wingback Andy Najar.

The rising Honduran star turned a yellow card into a red one by throwing the ball (and hitting) referee Jair Marrufo after being whistled for a professional foul in the 71st minute. He’ll miss the return leg on Wednesday at Red Bull Arena.

See it all here:

The forecast for Wednesday’s game in Harrison, N.J., is calling for high winds and rain. Not exactly what the area needs right now.

MLS Goal of the Week Candidates

Variety was the name of the MLS goal-scoring game this week, as the golazos came in several forms.

Are you a fan of slick, one-touch passing? Check out the build-up to Toronto rookie Luis Silva’s finish against New England (that’s Reggie Lambe and Danny Koevermans with the combination play there).

How about gravity-defying vertical leaps? Vancouver’s Darren Mattocks, also a rookie, has you covered with a Spud Webb–like leap to connect with Jordan Harvey’s cross against Toronto earlier in the week.

Or maybe you enjoy deadly, looping, long-range accuracy? The first of David Beckham’s two goals against Portland showcased those qualities—and we have a feeling the goal-of-the-week voters will appreciate them. (The “bend” in “bend it like Beckham,” by the way, is as much up-and-down as it is side-to-side.)

Here are all five:

For our recap of all the Week 19 action, click here.