Seattle Sounders have qualified for their third straight US Open Cup final having defeated FC Dallas in Tuesday’s all-MLS clash. They will meet Chicago Fire in October’s showpiece match in America’s knockout competition who beat lower league Richmond Kickers by the odd goal in three.
Seattle Sounders have been victorious in the last two US Open Cup competitions defeating Columbus Crew and DC United in 2010 & 2009 respectively. Tuesday’s semi-final was played in front of a noisy crowd at the Starfire Sports Stadium in Tukwila, as opposed to their usual home at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, and the change of venue didn’t deter the Sounders from reaching their third consecutive final. Freddy Montero’s 40th minute strike proved the difference between the Sounders and FC Dallas who were hoping to reach their first final since 2007 but whose title drought remains having won this competition for the only time in 1997. As for the Sounders they are hoping to become the third team to win the US Open Cup three years running and follow in the footsteps of the elaborately named New York Greek American, who won the cup from 1967-69, and the long forgotten Stix, Baer and Fuller Football Club who were the first team to accomplish this feat from 1933-35.
If Seattle Sounders are to make history then they will have to beat Chicago Fire in the final on October 4th but the Sounders will have the advantage of playing at their home stadium. Chicago Fire had a tough semi-final match against Richmond Kickers, a team from the third-tier USL Professional League, eventually coming out 2-1 winners. The Fire took a two goal lead thanks to goals from Sebastián Grazzini (32nd minute) and Dominic Oduro (61st minute) but the Kickers, who had knocked out MLS clubs Sporting Kansas City and Columbus Crew in the previous two rounds, pulled one back in the 68th minute through Yomby William. Sadly for the Kickers they were unable to get a crucial equalizer and Chicago, who have won more US Open Cups than any other MLS team with four victories, will hope to clinch a fifth title in their first final since 2006.
The winners of the cup will gain a place in the preliminary rounds of the 2012-13 CONCACAF Champions League.
Four games into the new Argentinian football season and a surprise name currently tops the table. Atlético de Rafaela, newly-promoted outfit from the town of Rafaela in Santa Fe province, have started off with three wins and a defeat in the 2011-12 Torneo Apertura and will obviously have to do a lot in order to stay there especially as traditional clubs such as Boca Juniors, Racing Club and defending champions Vélez Sársfield are hanging on their coat tails.
The new boys won at the weekend at home to Club Olimpo by three goals to one and it is games such as those against teams at the bottom of the table that Rafaela will have to win if they are to progress in the top flight. The club last played at this level in 2003-04 where, having finished 19th in the Apertura and 12th in the Clausura, Rafaela had to face a two-legged play-off against Huracán de Tres Arroyos and they were unable to reach the first division again until last season. The only blemish on their record so far is a 3-1 home defeat to Arsenal de Sarandi but it’s the three victories over Olimpo, All Boys and Banfield that will have done the team a lot of good upon their return and if the strike force of Darío Gandín and Alexis Castro, who have scored five of their eight goals so far, can keep up that ratio then it is feasible that the club can perform well this season although it would be asking a lot for them to be considered championship contenders just yet.
It also helped that many of the front runners were unable to win any of their games at the weekend and hand the early-season initiative over to Rafaela. Boca Juniors had the chance to top the table yesterday at home to San Lorenzo but could manage a 1-1 draw. Racing Club and Lanus also blew their opportunities on Saturday night when drawing 0-0 at home to Arsenal and Tigre respectively whilst defending champions Vélez Sársfield lost out in a surprise 1-0 defeat at home to All Boys so the early season gods seem to be smiling upon Rafaela at the moment.
Interest in the Argentinian second tier has increased significantly due to River Plate’s relegation and the Millionarios have begun their 2011-12 campaign well with three straight victories, the only team to have done so in the Nacional B division. Their latest win came at home to Sportivo Desamparados with a 3-1 victory coming courtesy of goals from Lucas Ocampos, Carlos Sanchez and Alejandro Dominguez.
The semi-final places have yet to be decided in the CAF Champions League and the CAF Confederation Cup and with four of the six matchdays completed it seems likely that the next round of games will be the most important played in this year’s competitions so far.
Group A could’ve seen Nigerians Enyimba FC (4 games, 8 points) seal their place in the last four at the weekend but they were held to a goalless draw away at bottom club Raja Casablanca who gained only their second point of the campaign. Second place Al-Hilal Omdurman could also have sealed their semi-final place but they remain one point behind the leaders following their 2-0 away defeat at Cameroonians Coton Sport who overtook Raja Casablanca into third place on the back of the win with four points. The spotlight will be on the top two on Matchday 5 with Al-Hilal hosting Enyimba in Sudan’s second city and the winner guaranteeing themselves a semi-place.
There was an obvious lack of goals in this weekend’s Group B encounters. Top two clubs Espérance and Wydad Casablanca (both 4 games, 6 points) faced off in Tunis for their Matchday 4 clash but had to be content with a point following a 0-0 draw. The same can also be said of third and fourth place Al-Ahly and MC Alger with the former frustrated in their efforts to overtake the top two into top spot. As a result of their match Al-Ahly close the gap on the top two to just one point with the Algerians rooted to the bottom of the group with two points. Both Espérance and Wydad will hope to seal their progress into the semi-finals on Matchday 5 with both teams having home matches against MC Alger and Al-Ahly respectively. A win for both sides would mean guaranteed qualification to the next stage.
The CAF Confederation Cup remains open this year with any of the four teams in Group A still able to qualify for the semi-finals whilst Group B sees the top three separated by just one point. Group A saw victories on Matchday 4 for Inter Luanda and Kaduna United, both of whom triumphed 2-1 at home against Club Africain and ASEC Mimosas respectively. Inter Luanda (4 games, 7 points) hope to seal progression at home to Kaduna United (5 points) on Matchday Five whilst Club Africain (5 points) can effectively eliminate ASEC Mimosas (4 points) from the competition should they win their encounter next time out.
Group B hasn’t been a happy adventure for Algerian side JS Kabylie this year. The two-time African champions have struggled in the second-tier competition losing all four matches in the group stage so far, the latest a 2-0 away defeat at the hands of Congolese side Motema Pembe who are now in joint second place with Nigerian outfit Sunshine Stars (7 points) who drew 1-1 at home to group leaders MAS Fez (8 points). While Motema Pembe and Sunshine Stars must face off in a fortnight’s time, group leaders MAS Fez will be quietly confident of progression on Matchday 5 as they travel to JS Kabylie.
The Campeonato Brasileiro has reached the halfway stage and it once again is proving to be a tightly fought contest with six teams at the top of the standings separated by just five points.
Corinthians currently lead the way with 37 points from 19 games but they have already lost four games this season including yesterday’s 2-1 defeat at the hands of Palmeiras who, as a result of the victory, maintained their sixth placed position and are not far behind the league leaders. Just as well for Corinthians that the big Rio de Janeiro derby between Flamengo and Vasco da Gama finished goalless especially as a win for the former would’ve seen the Rubro-Negro jump to the top of the standings whilst a win for the latter would’ve seen Vasco join Corinthians at the top with the same number of points.
Third place São Paulo were ten minutes away from joining Corinthians at the top but they let a one goal lead slip to draw 1-1 away at Copa Libertadores champions Santos FC who have recovered domestically following a terrible start and now lie 14th in the standings after taking seven points in their last three games. Fifth placed Botafogo are also looking like potential title challengers and their Saturday night 2-1 win away at defending Brazilian champions Fluminense will certainly have a the front runners looking over their shoulders. Fluminense have had an average season up to now, lying in eleventh place and twelve points behind Corinthians, and look unlikely to defend their crown at the moment.
At the bottom of the standings things are looking bad for the city of Belo Horizonte with América propping up the table with thirteen points gained so far whilst neighbours Atlético Mineiro are just one place and two points ahead of them. Both sides were on the receiving end of crucial home defeats at the weekend with América and Atlético losing to Goianiense and Cruzeiro respectively by a similar 2-1 score line.
Pre-season expectations have been dampened in North London as both Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal FC succumbed to heavy defeats by Manchester clubs City and United respectively with the two northern giants beginning to look the most likely candidates to fight it out for the English championship crown.
Tottenham Hotspur began the weekend at the bottom of the Barclays Premier League table but they had only played one game due to their opening home match of the season against Everton FC being called off due to the recent rioting that affected England’s capital city. Despite performing well in the UEFA Europa League qualifying stages, Spurs’ first match of the domestic campaign saw the White Hart Lane club lose 3-0 away at champions Manchester United while yesterday’s 5-1 hammering at the hands of Manchester City compounded the misery further for coach Harry Redknapp and his club whose ambitions to fight for the title already look shattered even at such an early stage of the season.
The only consolation for Tottenham was that their bitter rivals Arsenal FC have had just as traumatic an opening to the new season. Before yesterday’s soul-destroying 8-2 defeat to Manchester United, Arsenal had only picked up a point from their opening two Premier League games away at Newcastle United and at home to Liverpool. Despite the consolation of scoring their first Premier League goals of the season reality is surely hitting home for coach Arsene Wenger who increasingly looks ill-equipped to do anything about the situation.
Indeed it’s been a difficult summer for both Redknapp and Wenger, both of whom have had to deal with a deluge of questions regarding want away players such as Luka Modric, Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri. Modric started for Spurs in yesterday’s defeat and it has emerged that the player himself had asked before the game not to be featured. With the transfer window due to finally close on Wednesday it is looking like Modric’s proposed departure to Chelsea would be best for everyone concerned. Arsenal’s enforced parting of Fabregas (FC Barcelona) and Nasri, who linked up well with Bosnian striker Edin Dzeko in his first game for Manchester City yesterday, have shown that Arsenal are yet to do anything about addressing their major weaknesses. The sad fact of the matter for Wenger, however, is that he has continually sold some of his club’s best players in recent years without finding adequate replacements. It was obvious to everybody last season that the club lacked quality at the back and a leader in the midfield and these concerns still remain in the air and is beginning to make many Arsenal fans doubt Wenger’s ability to carry on in the job.
At the top of the table the two Manchester clubs continue to go from strength to strength and they are the only clubs in the English Premier League to have a 100% record after three games. Manchester United got most of their pre-season targets and the likes of Ashley Young, Phil Jones and David de Gea are starting to fit in nicely at Old Trafford. Manchester City, meanwhile, have spent countless millions on propping up an already talented squad of players and with new signings Kun Aguero and Samir Nasri featuring so prominently already in their fledgling City careers then it is clear to see that the future looks bright for the Eastlands club. The two Manchester giants won the league (United) and the cup (City) between them last season, the first time this had occurred since 1955-56, and with the talent and the money at both clubs’ disposal then the immediate future looks bright for them and seemingly bleak for everybody else. Even Chelsea and Liverpool, who have both started off well with two wins and a draw in their opening three league games, still seem a bit off the pace but those clubs do at least have more reason to be optimistic than the likes of Arsenal and Tottenham at the moment in light of recent performances.
There are 35 games to go and fortunes can turn around quickly in football. However the minimum that both north London clubs want at the end of the season is to qualify for the UEFA Champions League but with decline seemingly setting in at Arsenal and the increased competition for the top four spots for the likes of Tottenham to worry about, things are definitely looking better if you’re a Mancunian rather than a Londoner at the moment.
The first classic of the season took place in the Belgian Jupiler League this weekend with Club Brugge and Anderlecht fighting it out on Matchday 5 of the 2011-12 campaign.
Despite being reduced to ten men in the 74th minute when goalkeeper Colin Coosemans was sent off for a second bookable offence it was the Flanders side who took the lead with just five minutes remaining after Vadis Odjidja-Ofoe struck from the penalty spot. This was all the more remarkable given that Anderlecht had missed two earlier spot kicks and it seemed that the luck would ultimately be enjoyed by Brugge in front of their home supporters. However their joy would be short-lived as record champions Anderlecht struck in stoppage time after Milan Jovanović, signed from Liverpool FC in the pre-season, turned the ball home from close range to give his side a share of the points.
The draw denied Club Brugge top spot as they now lie in fourth place just one point behind joint leaders Gent, Cercle Brugge and KV Mechelen, all of whom have ten points each. Anderlecht, meanwhile, are a point further back but lie as far down as eighth place due to clubs such as Kortrijk and Standard Liege having a better goal difference.
New Anzhi Makhachkala signing Samuel Eto’o has made an instant impact for his new club by scoring the equalizer in a 1-1 draw away at FK Rostov.
The signing of the Cameroonian international has raised many eyebrows throughout the world of football especially given the huge wages that he is reported to be earning, something akin to 20 million euros a year. Eto’o came on as a substitute just before the hour mark with his side struggling to break down the home side who have been rooted inside the bottom half of the Russian Premier League this season.
Things took a turn for the worse for the visitors when FK Rostov took the lead in the 72nd minute through Timofei Kalachev but Eto’o made sure that his debut would not end in a defeat by grabbing the goal which restored parity in the 80th minute. For a man who has won a host of honours for FC Barcelona, Internazionale and Cameroon over the years, Eto’o is now hoping to steer his new team to greater things with the ambitious club hoping that his presence will begin a legacy of success.
Anzhi currently lie in fourth place in the Russian Premier League, eight points behind leaders CSKA Moscow, whilst FK Rostov are in fourteenth place in the sixteen team league just two points ahead of bottom club Krylia Sovetov Samara.
FC Barcelona won the UEFA Super Cup in Monaco last night beating FC Porto by two goals to nil. It is the second trophy already this season for the Catalans who had also won their domestic super cup against Real Madrid less than a fortnight ago.
The spirited Portuguese started the game sharper and had some good early chances against the favourites. However a passback from Fredy Guarín provided Messi with a one-on-one opportunity against Porto keeper Helton and the Argentina superstar, who was awarded UEFA’S Best Player in Europe award at the Champions League group stage draw on Thursday, rounded him with relative ease and squeezed the ball home from an acute angle with six minutes of the first half remaining. New signing Cesc Fabregas sealed the deal in the second half after coming on as a substitute; Lionel Messi looped the ball over to Fabregas who controlled the ball with his chest before firing home with his right foot from close range to secure a 2-0 win and yet another trophy for the Blaugrana.
The win was FC Barcelona’s fourth title in this competition, just one behind record winners AC Milan, and was the sixth time that a Spanish club had won the trophy in the last decade.
The draw for the 2011-12 UEFA Europa League group stage was made in Monaco today. 2009 winners Atlético de Madrid are arguably the biggest club involved in this season’s competition and they will have been relatively pleased with a draw which placed them in Group I alongside Italian Champions League drop-outs Udinese Calcio, French side Stade Rennais and Swiss side FC Sion.
The surprise package of the draw is, without doubt, Irish part-timers Shamrock Rovers whose 3-2 aggregate defeat of Serbian giants Partizan Belgrade ensured their place in the group stage for the very first time. They have been given a tough draw in Group A with English two-time UEFA Cup winners Tottenham Hotspur, two-time Russian champions Rubin Kazan and Greek side PAOK Thessaloniki.
Here is the full draw for the 2011-12 UEFA Europa League group stage:
GROUP A: Tottenham Hotspur; Rubin Kazan; PAOK; Shamrock Rovers
GROUP B: FC København; Standard de Liège; Hannover 96; Vorskla Poltava
GROUP C: PSV Eindhoven; Hapoel Tel Aviv; Rapid Bucharest; Legia Warsaw
GROUP D: Sporting Clube de Portugal; SS Lazio; FC Zürich; FC Vaslui
GROUP E: Dynamo Kyiv; Beşiktaş; Stoke City; Maccabi Tel Aviv
GROUP F: Paris Saint Germain; Athletic Bilbao; Red Bull Salzburg; Slovan Bratislava
GROUP G: AZ Alkmaar; Metalist Kharkiv; Austria Wien; Malmö FF
GROUP H: Sporting Braga; Club Brugge; Birmingham City, NK Maribor
GROUP I: Atlético de Madrid; Udinese Calcio; Stade Rennais; FC Sion
GROUP J: Schalke 04; Steaua Bucharest; Maccabi Haifa; AEK Larnaca
GROUP K: FC Twente Enschede; Fulham FC; Odense Boldklub; Wisła Kraków
GROUP L: RSC Anderlecht; AEK Athens; Lokomotiv Moscow; Sturm Graz