Kick Off: Oh, Canada! Cup semifinals produce wild finishes as Toronto FC, Montreal Impact advance
Here are the top 15 soccer stories we’re following today:
1. TORONTO SURVIVE BC PLACE VIA SHOOTOUT
A late night of action in the Canadian Championship saw Toronto FC edge the Vancouver Whitecaps on penalty kicks at BC Place after the teams finished their two-leg semifinal tied 3-3. Toronto head coach Ryan Nelsen believes the manner in which his team advanced will “harden up” his squad for future matches. While TFC won the subsequent penalty shoot-out, via some savvy stutter steps against 17-year-old goalkeeper Marco Carducci, Whitecaps head coach Carl Robinson felt his faith in young players was rewarded, asking the question, “How can I be disappointed with a performance like that?”
2. IMPACT GET SOME HELP IN FINAL SECONDS
Trailing 2-1 to FC Edmonton from the first leg, the Montreal Impact looked like they were cruising through to the final after the MLS side took a 3-0 lead inside the first 47 minutes. Then they looked like they would be headed out on away goals when problems crept back in and they conceded two goals to Edmonton's Frank Jonke. The saving grace? A late and extremely controversial handball call six minutes into stoppage time, leading to a penalty kick which Patrice Bernier tucked home to secure a 4-2 win (5-4 on aggregate). In the chaos that followed, Montreal owner Joey Saputo and Edmonton coach Colin Miller went nose-to-nose.
Looking for a win to prove their detractors wrong, the Philadelphia Union came up with a big one, beating defending MLS Cup champions Sporting Kansas City 2-1 on their own field (watch highlights here). Danny Cruz's goal celebration provided a rallying point for head coach John Hackworth, while on the other side, departing national-team center back Matt Besler summed up Kansas City's performance by stating, “We played like crap.”
4. DEFENSIVE CRISIS FOR SPORTING?
While Sporting Kansas City lose Besler and Zusi to the World Cup now, there could be more absences coming. Aurelien Collin was subbed out of Wednesday's game with what appeared to be tightness in his hamstring, while reports suggest Lawrence Olum has been called up for an international camp with Kenya. That could leave SKC with a serious center-back shortage if he goes, but for those worrying about the more permanent departure of influential midfielder Uri Rosell, head coach Peter Vermes says "nothing's happening there."
5. US OPEN CUP MARCHES ON
The US Open Cup second round is now complete, and in a round that saw amateur teams joined by USL PRO squads, two professional sides were knocked out. Toronto FC's USL PRO affiliate, the Wilmington Hammerheads, became the first professional team to lose to an NPSL squad when they were dumped out of the tournament by Chattanooga FC in front of more than 1,500 fans in Chattanooga. In California, the PDL's Fresno Fuego knocked out the USL PRO's OC Blues. As for MLS-branded clubs, the LA Galaxy II had no trouble with former upstart sCal FC in a 6-1 win, while the New York Red Bulls U-23s were beaten by the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, with former Red Bulls forward Jose Angulo scoring the game-winner.
The winning sides now advance to Round 3, to be played May 28, when the most interesting match-up appears to be a Florida derby between Orlando City and the Tampa Bay Rowdies, MLS teams will enter in the Fourth Round, with games to be played in a nine-day window that runs from June 10-18. In a rather counter-intuitive statement, Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke said he is hoping to play his team's first Open Cup game on short rest so that he can give his players more time off during the World Cup.
6. WORLD CUP PRESSURE IS ON
Perhaps one of the toughest jobs Jurgen Klinsmann faces before the World Cup is picking Jozy Altidore back up after a miserable season with Sunderland. Altidore's Sunderland boss, Gus Poyet, has already done his part, and Klinsmann insists, “We believe Jozy can play a very big World Cup this summer in Brazil.” Another player looking to have a big tournament will be Maurice Edu, who was the first player to arrive at US training Camp on Wednesday. However, if either of these players hope to do well, that will mean getting past Group G opponents Portugal, who Jimmy Conrad takes a closer look at in the latest episode of "The Group of Death."
7. PLAYERS ON THE BUBBLE
While Altidore and Edu look all but assured of their places in the squad, what about those players still fighting for a place? Here’s a good breakdown of seven players who are most likely on the fringe of that final 23-man squad. One player whose bubble already burst is D.C. United forward Eddie Johnson, left off the provisional roster, and while Toronto FC captain Michael Bradley knows Johnson must be devastated, he also suggests “It doesn’t change what he’s all about. It doesn’t change what he’s given our team during the last stretch.”
8. RAPIDS ADD DEPTH
The Colorado Rapids have taken some steps to add yet more depth on defense by signing 20-year-old defender John Neeskens, son of Dutch international Johan Neeskeens, who as well as playing for Ajax and Barcelona, was also a member of the New York Cosmos in the original NASL.
9. O'ROURKE ON TRIAL IN NORTHWEST
With Diego Chara already ruled out for at least two weeks after surgery on his hand, it looks like another Portland Timbers starter will be keeping him company this weekend. Michael Harrington will miss at least one game after rolling his ankle and having to come out early in the game against the LA Galaxy. All of which could help explain why former Columbus Crew defender Danny O’Rourke is currently on trial with the club.
10. BRADLEY’S BROTHER
With nine goals in 10 games this season, Bradley Wright-Phillips is playing like a man possessed and is currently ahead of Clint Dempsey as the league’s top scorer. Could Wright-Phillips’s rebirth in MLS help convince his brother, Queens Park Rangers' Shaun Wright-Phillips, to give MLS a try? No doubt part of that will depend of QPR’s upcoming playoff final and whether or not Shaun can secure Premier League playing time next season but, according to Bradley, “It’s got nothing to do with me and him. In his career, he’d like to play in MLS. That’s no secret. “
11. CREW LOOKING LIGHT ON DEFENSE
Of their three Costa Ricans, the Columbus Crew have only two on the initial World Cup roster. While both Waylon Francis and Giancarlo Gonzalez are obviously excited about the opportunity, that meant disappointment for Jairo Arrieta, although Gregg Berhalter points out, “If he would’ve been scoring on a regular basis, I’m confident he would’ve been on the team, and we tried desperately to give him opportunities to add to his account.” With the two players departing, the Crew chose to recall Kevan George from his loan with USL PRO affiliate Dayton Dutch Lions (who the Crew will face next week in a friendly) in order to add some defensive depth, but George could also be departing for an international camp soon enough.
12. CHIVAS INTERNATIONAL
Chivas USA midfielder Oswaldo Minda has been selected to Ecuador’s provisional 30-man World Cup squad. This means the Goats will now potentially have two players representing them at the World Cup this summer, with Marvin Chavez already confirmed as part of the initial Honduran squad. While Chivas USA could be without both for several weeks, there is also the possible departure of top goalscorer Erick Torres. The striker, whose loan ends in June, has spoken of his desire to once again play for Chivas de Guadalajara. However, the MLS club has an option on his contract.
13. THE ATLANTA LEGION
While David Beckham has not yet settled on a site for his potential MLS stadium, the latest news suggests that, wherever he does decide to build his new facility, he’ll require a public vote on the matter beforehand. Atlanta has no such problems with their new club, as they will be sharing the Atlanta Falcons' new NFL stadium. They appear well on their way to filling the place, at least to soccer capacity, as the latest figures show the club have already received 10,510 season-ticket pledges as they continue their search to find their first president.
14. VIVA LAS VEGAS
Could MLS be on its way to Las Vegas? It’s a rumor that rears its head now and again, so is this time different? According to the city's mayor, plans are definitely in the works, while two companies have revealed their intention to build a 24,000-seat soccer stadium, specifically to help secure an MLS club. MLS president Mark Abbott confirmed that the league had recently met with the main men involved with the bid and stated they were “very impressed with their vision to pursue building a new soccer specific stadium and acquiring an MLS expansion club for Las Vegas.”
15. HOW TO SAVE A LIFE
Two years ago, FC Dallas goalkeeper Chris Seitz did something amazing: He stepped away from MLS and his playing career in order to help save someone’s life. It’s a touching story, and if you haven’t seen the "MLS Insider" video yet, it’s well worth a watch. Now Seitz is back on the field, having played eight games for FC Dallas before Raul Fernandez was inserted for the past few games, and Seitz is planning to meet up with Philip Richiuso, the man whose life he saved, at some point this season. Was it a tough decision for Seitz to make? According to Richiuso, “His trainer said this could be the end of your career. His comment was, 'I want to save a life more than play soccer.'”
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