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Saturday, May 26, 2018

Ailing Toronto FC still can’t get on track, loses to FC Dallas

Posted By: Valentin Valica - 5:12 AM
Sportsnet.ca
Ailing Toronto FC still can’t get on track, loses to FC Dallas
Ailing Toronto FC still can’t get on track, loses to FC Dallas
• FC Dallas 1 (Urruti 11’), Toronto FC 0
• TFC loses 7th MLS game of 2018; only lost 5 in 2017
• Reds have kept 1 clean sheet in 11 games this season

TORONTO – When do the alarm bells sound for the MLS Cup champs?

Not yet. Not even after Toronto FC’s disappointing 1-0 loss to FC Dallas on Friday night before 27,549 spectators at BMO Field.

The loss was the Reds’ seventh of the campaign – they only lost five times in MLS in 2017. But their poor 3-7-1 record comes with an asterisk. Specifically, injuries have decimated this club, especially at the back where at one time this season Toronto was minus its top four central defenders. No team, not even a TFC side reputed to be the deepest in MLS, can survive that.

To be sure, things don’t look good at the moment for Toronto, sitting ninth in the Eastern Conference, three spots and seven points out of a playoff berth. Are the reigning MLS Cup champs in crisis mode, though?

No. Only a third of the campaign is in the books, and you have to think that once TFC gets healthy, with its quality, they’ll turn things around.

Captain Michael Bradley admitted that injuries have been an issue this season, but he refused to offer that as an excuse for the club’s losing record.

“I’m not sure I’ve seen anything like it. [Injuries have] been a killer… But even with all of that, there’s no way we should lose the game tonight, regardless of who’s healthy and who’s not,” Bradley stated.

He later added: “It’s been a challenge. But again, it’s not an excuse, not in any way. Nobody here will use it as one. Even with all [of the injuries], we have a damn good team, and a team that can and should find ways to win on most days.”

It’s difficult to envision Toronto finishing in the top two in the East, thus earning a first-round bye in the playoffs, after this laboured start to the year. But let’s hold off on writing the obituary on their season for a little while longer. It’s May 25, after all. MLS campaigns aren’t defined by where you are in the spring, but rather in the fall, and there’s a lot of soccer to be played from now until October.

Injuries aren’t the only problem at the moment for TFC, who continue to squander scoring opportunities with alarming regularity.

“Primarily, [tonight] was about missed chances and giving up a soft goal. We had 23 shots, and zero goals. … Goals change games, goals change the flow of games, goals change the approach of the opposition, they change a lot of things,” coach Greg Vanney said.

“At the end of the day, it’s execution. We put together 621 passes to 272 [for Dallas]. We played three quarters of the game in their half of the field. We had 23 chances on goal, a lot of them good chances. Gotta execute. You don’t execute, you don’t win games – doesn’t matter how you play or how many passes you put together.”

Toronto’s next five matches are against Eastern Conference rivals, with three of them on the road. It’s an important chance for TFC to respond “in a big way,” according to Bradley.

“We have to look pretty closely at ourselves and continue to understand where things need to improve, and where we have to pick things up. Our margin for error is becoming slimmer and slimmer with every game. There’s a lot of games left, we still feel like we have a good team; we have a team that can win on a lot of days. But the reality right now is that we’re letting games slip away from us too consistently,” Bradley stated.

TFC goalkeeper Alex Bono was away with the U.S. national team, which meant backup Clint Irwin started on Friday. Also missing were forward Jozy Altidore (foot), left fullback Justin Morrow (calf), defenders Drew Moor (quadriceps) and Ashtone Morgan (hamstring), and midfielder Nico Hasler (quadriceps). Defender Eriq Zavaleta, and midfielders Marky Delgado and Ager Aketxe all had minor injuries and did not dress.

With so many defensive absences, Bradley shifted from his regular spot in central midfield into the middle of Toronto’s three-man defence, flanked by Gregory van der Wiel and Chris Mavinga. Star forward Sebastian Giovinco returned to the starting line-up after being suspended for the Reds’ last match. There was also a rare start for 20-year-old Canadian midfielder Liam Fraser.

Toronto started the game brightly with Giovinco earning a free kick in the opening 20 seconds. The Italian sent a beautiful curler on net, but Dallas goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez made a super diving save. Shortly after, Gonzalez came up a bit to deny Giovinco again, parrying away his half-volley attempt from inside the box.

Dallas opened the scoring off a simple throw-in. Santiago Mosquera managed to get in behind Bradley far too easily, scampered down the left wing and to the end-line before cutting the ball back into the middle. Maximiliano Urruti deflected Kellyn Acosta’s shot past Irwin to give Dallas a surprising lead.

“We lose a challenge on the sideline and it ends up going to our end-line, and then a cross into the box off a counter-attack. You can’t give that up,” Vanney offered.

Giovinco earned a penalty just moments later as he was hauled down by Matt Hedges after a gorgeous give-and-go sequence with Tosaint Ricketts. Again, Gonzalez thwarted Giovinco when the Italian stepped up to the 12-yard spot.

The Dallas goalkeeper wasn’t finished. In the 34th minute, Auro Jr. played a dangerous cross into the box for Victor Vazquez to head on goal, only for Gonzalez to make another stunning stop. He couldn’t hold onto it, but Ricketts couldn’t bury the glorious rebound opportunity.

Mavinga limped out of the game late in the first half with a hamstring injury. He was replaced by fellow defender Nick Hagglund, who last played and started in an MLS game on March 17 after being out injured. The introduction of Hagglund saw coach Greg Vanney go to a four-man defence, with Auro Jr. dropping into the back line.

Not to be outdone by Gonzalez, Irwin made an important kick save on Michael Barrios from in close just before the halftime break.

Toronto continued to be wasteful in front of goal at the start of the second half. Giovinco delivered a cheeky free kick along the ground and under the defensive wall that whispered past the post with a beat Gonzalez rooted to his goal-line.

NOTES: Dallas leads the all-time series against Toronto, with 10 wins and five draws in 17 meetings… Canadian midfielder Jonathan Osorio played in his 150th MLS regular season game on Friday, and made his 184th appearance for TFC in all competitions. Both are franchise records… Toronto returns to action next Saturday on the road against the Columbus Crew.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Criticism of Whitecaps super-sub Brek Shea has been overstated

Posted By: Valentin Valica - 3:57 AM
Sportsnet.ca
Criticism of Whitecaps super-sub Brek Shea has been overstated
Criticism of Whitecaps super-sub Brek Shea has been overstated

Every Thursday/Friday, Sportsnet.ca will chat with Sportsnet 650 radio commentator Dan Riccio about the big stories and issues surrounding the Vancouver Whitecaps.

SN: What did you make of Vancouver’s comeback in last week’s 2-2 draw away to FC Dallas?
RICCIO: The Whitecaps were very lucky to walk away with a point in Texas. You could replay that match 100 times over at 2-0 down, and the Whitecaps likely wouldn’t complete the miraculous comeback again. Now, good on them for continuing to fight and not just play out the string, but this isn’t sustainable. They’ve now allowed the first goal in nine of the 13 matches they’ve played this season. In those games, they have just one victory. It isn’t hard to figure out why this Vancouver team is struggling to collect wins and valuable points. 

A few weeks ago you called Anthony Blondell the Whitecaps’ “X-Factor,” but also said you’d like to see more from him. What have you made of the Venezuelan’s play since then?
Unfortunately, the return of Kei Kamara to full fitness has diminished Anthony Blondell’s role and opportunities. He’s been an intriguing option in attack, but it is difficult to see how coach Carl Robinson fits both Blondell and Kamara on the field together. Robbo has no reason to try and force it, since Blondell couldn’t convert the many scoring chances he had while getting the bulk of the playing time. The lack of polish in his game has continued to haunt him, and until he cleans that up it will be an issue. 

What does Jake Nerwinski have to do to win back the job as Vancouver’s starting right fullback?
It’s a bit surprising that Jake has had less playing time of late. He’s largely been the same player he was last season when he earned a spot into the squad and almost reached 2000 minutes as a rookie, which doesn’t happen often in this league. Sean Franklin hasn’t been the answer for the Whitecaps at right back, so it really is only a matter of time until Jake finds his way back into the starting 11. This should be a good lesson for a young player who may just need a reminder that his spot in the eleven isn’t guaranteed. 

Brek Shea is someone who comes in for a lot of criticism from fans and media. Is that fair? What, if anything, does he bring to the table for the Whitecaps?
Brek is always going to be a polarizing figure where ever he plays. It’s reached a boiling point here in Vancouver because he is one of the club’s two designated players. How many teams in MLS have a DP that doesn’t regularly start? He is being utilized as a super-sub despite being one of the highest paid players on the team, but he has looked decent this year as the Whitecaps’ second leading scorer. For that reason alone, I think the criticism has been overstated. 

What things will you be looking for in Saturday’s home game against the New England Revolution?
It will be Kendall Waston’s final match before leaving for the World Cup, which will leave an already struggling defence shorthanded for the coming weeks. It isn’t a must-win for the ‘Caps by any stretch of the imagination, but you can tell the players are starting to feel the pressure of having just two wins in their last 11 MLS matches. I expect to see a desperate performance from Vancouver on Saturday because a win will go a long way to shoring up their confidence as they head into the summer months.  

Be sure to listen to Dan Riccio on a daily basis on Sportsnet 650. You can also follow Dan Riccio on Twitter

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Leeds sell minority stake to San Francisco 49ers’ investment group

Posted By: Valentin Valica - 3:30 AM
Sport: : BreakingNews.ie
Leeds sell minority stake to San Francisco 49ers’ investment group
The Sky Bet Championship club have received fresh investment from the company behind the NFL franchise.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Toure open to Manchester United switch & wants to play with Pogba

Posted By: Valentin Valica - 5:09 AM
Soccerway.com
Toure open to Manchester United switch & wants to play with Pogba
After spending eight years with Manchester City, club great Yaya Toure says he would be open to joining Manchester United.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Takeaways: MLS season slipping away from Montreal Impact

Posted By: Valentin Valica - 3:27 AM
Sportsnet.ca
Takeaways: MLS season slipping away from Montreal Impact
Takeaways: MLS season slipping away from Montreal Impact
• Los Angeles Galaxy 1 (Kamara 75’), Montreal Impact 0 GAME RECAP IN A SENTENCE

Zlatan Ibrahimovic was sent off late in the first half, but the Galaxy managed to spoil the Impact’s 25th anniversary festivities with a win over a hapless Montreal side on a sunny afternoon at Stade Saputo.

MAIN TALKING POINTS

1. Season slowly slipping away from Montreal
Monday marked the 25th anniversary – to the exact date – of the first home game in Montreal Impact franchise history. What a shame that the Impact put in another dire and uninspiring effort before a sellout home crowd.

Monday’s result marked the Impact’s third straight loss, and seventh in their last eight matches. Montreal sits second last in the Eastern Conference with a 3-9-0 record and have conceded a league-high 27 goals this campaign.

Just as worrisome for the Quebec club is how the goals have dried up. The Impact’s three straight losses have all been shutouts, and they’ve gone 292 minutes without a single goal.

It’s still only May, and there are 24 games remaining on the schedule, so it’s way too early to write off Montreal’s playoff chances. Still, the Impact are every bit as bad as their anaemic record suggests, and there’s been very little that I’ve seen during this year that indicates they are underperforming or even capable of offering anything more.

No doubt, the Impact have been decimated by injuries on the defensive end. That has hurt them, as players have been asked to play out of position.

But aside from Ignacio Piatti, this team doesn’t appear to have any other dangerous attacking threats. Canadian forward Anthony Jackson-Hamel is coming off a decent 2017 but, for some reason, manager Remi Garde has sparingly used him this season.

Slowly but surely, the MLS season is slipping away from Montreal. Unless Garde can quickly light a fire under this team, especially on the attacking end, they’re going to slip even further down the table and out of the playoff race altogether.

2. Ibrahimovic sees red
MLS caught its first glimpse of Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s infamous temper on Monday.

Ibrahimovic was sent off in the 41st minute for violent conduct after slapping Montreal defender Michael Petrasso in the back of the head. Petrasso stepped on Ibrahimovic’s foot as he had his back to the Swede, but there wasn’t much in it. That didn’t stop the LA Galaxy from reacting, or in this case, overreacting.

The incident escaped the attention of referee Ismail Elfath, as it happened off the ball and behind the play. Once alerted about what happened by the video assistant referee (VAR), Elfath went to the sidelines to watch a replay. He barely took any time in issuing a yellow to Petrasso and a red card to Ibrahimovic.

VAR has come under heavy criticism in MLS the season, from frustrated fans, coaches and players who aren’t quite sure what can be reviewed, and over apparent inconsistencies in its application.

In this case, though, the system worked flawlessly. The game was only interrupted for less than a minute, and Ibrahimovic deservedly saw red.

KEY MOMENT

75’ GOAL! Los Angeles 1, Montreal 0: LA broke the deadlock on the counter when Emmanuel Boateng flicked on a header into the path for teammate Ola Kamara. The Norwegian did well to beat Impact defender Marco Donadel to the ball, and then slip in between the recovering Donadel and defensive partner Jukka Raitala before slipping a shot through the legs of goalkeeper Evan Bush for his fifth goal of the MLS season.

BURNING QUESTION


Take Our Poll

INTERESTING STAT

Montreal has gone 32 consecutive MLS games without a draw, a stretch that dates back to June 17, 2017 when they battled to a 3-3 draw away to Orlando City.

MAN OF THE MATCH

Ola Kamara, Los Angeles: Aside from scoring the winner, the Norwegian recorded two shots on target and had an overall effective game in causing problems for Montreal’s back line.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Japan World Cup Fixtures, Squad, Group, Guide

Posted By: Valentin Valica - 5:24 AM
News – World Soccer
Japan World Cup Fixtures, Squad, Group, Guide

It wasn't a smooth qualification run, but Japan did what had to be done and qualified for Russia.

Japan World Cup FixturesStill Through: Japan lost their final game to Saudi Arabia, but still qualified in top spot. (Getty Images) It wasn't a smooth qualification run, but Japan did what had to be done and qualified for Russia.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Chelsea need investment insists goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois

Posted By: Valentin Valica - 4:00 AM
Sport: : BreakingNews.ie
Chelsea need investment insists goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois
The Blues finished the 2017-18 season in fifth place.

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