MLS

Philadelphia to face LAFC in MLS Cup after stunning second-half rally downs NYC

By Sports Desk October 30, 2022

The best in the East and the West will face off in the MLS Cup after Philadelphia Union launched a stunning 11-minute second-half rally to defeat reigning champions New York City 3-1 on Sunday.

Union will take on Supporters' Shield winners LAFC in the season decider on November 5 at Bank of California Stadium, with Steve Cherundolo's side easily accounting for Austin 3-0 earlier on Sunday.

Philadelphia had lost to NYC in last year's Conference Finals but a burst of goals from Julian Carranza, Daniel Gazdag and substitute Cory Burke sent them into their first-ever MLS Cup.

NYC had silenced the Subaru Park crowd when they went ahead in the 57th minute from Maxi Moralez's low strike after a cushioned pass from Santiago Rodriguez.

MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Andre Blake prevented a second NYC goal when he made a one-handed save to deny Alexander Callens' header.

Union capitalized on Blake's brilliance almost immediately, with Carranza slotting in a 65th-minute equalizer from Jakob Glesnes' quickly-taken free-kick.

Two minutes later Jack McGlynn's brilliant cross-field ball was headed down expertly by Carranza, splitting two defenders and setting up Gazdag to fire home for 2-1.

Burke, who had been brought on in the 62nd minute, burst forward with speed and strength to lash in a left-foot strike for 3-1 in the 76th minute.

LAFC's win over Austin was less complicated, with Cristian Arango nodding them ahead in the 29th minute, before a second-half Maximiliano Urruti own goal and Kwadwo Opoku strike settled their Conference Final.

Philadelphia and LAFC had both been top seeds in the Eastern and Western Conferences respectively, having finished the regular season equal on points.

LAFC won the Supporters' Shield due to recording more wins across the regular season. Both clubs will be aiming for their first-ever MLS Cup titles.

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    Cristiano Ronaldo has scored many famous goals.

    Undoubtedly, though, one of his most celebrated strikes came 15 years ago, on January 30, 2008.

    On a winter evening at Old Trafford, Harry Redknapp's Portsmouth rocked up in fine form on the road, having won seven of their 12 away games in the Premier League.

    Yet Ronaldo, in the midst of a 31-goal season in the top tier, was the difference. 

    Having put Manchester United ahead in the 10th minute, Ronaldo stepped up, just under 30 yards out from goal, three minutes later.

    His free-kick, taken in what would become his trademark style, went up, over the wall and swerved remarkably into the right-hand corner. David James, the Portsmouth goalkeeper, had no chance.

    That goal is often thought of as the typical Ronaldo free-kick. Power, panache and pinpoint accuracy.

    But is Ronaldo actually as good as a free-kick taker as that goal might suggest? Using Opta data, Stats Perform has taken a look.

    Quantity, not quality?

    Since that goal against Portsmouth up until the day his second spell at United ended (November 23, 2022), Ronaldo had more shots from direct free-kicks than any other player in Europe's top five leagues.

    Of the 645 shots Ronaldo had, 41 resulted in a goal. That is from 700 club games, across stints at United, Real Madrid and Juventus.

    On the face of it, that goal tally does not stand out as particularly impressive, at least given the fact that Ronaldo netted 619 times in total.

    Yet he is behind only Lionel Messi (who else?) when it comes to goals from direct free-kicks, with the Barcelona great scoring on 51 occasions from such situations.

    That gives Messi an 8.1 per cent conversion rate from free-kicks in that timeframe, in contrast to Ronaldo's 6.3 per cent.

     

    Naturally, given their status in the game, Ronaldo and Messi will almost always pull rank when it comes to set-pieces, especially at a free-kick in a dangerous position.

    Miralem Pjanic, who ranks third for direct free-kick goals and was a club-mate of both players at Barca and Juve respectively, boasts better conversion rate than either (nine per cent).

    Neymar's 13 goals from 147 attempts gives him an 8.8 per cent success rate, while James Ward-Prowse's 12 per cent (15 from 125, though this figure of course does not account for his strike against Everton earlier in January) is close to double what Ronaldo managed.

    Indeed, when ranked against players from Europe's big five leagues that scored 10 or more direct free-kicks between January 31, 2008 and November 23, 2022, only Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Dani Parejo had lower conversion rates than Ronaldo.

    Club by club

    So, having established that Ronaldo's free-kick finishing was somewhat erratic following that stunner against Portsmouth, let's check on how he stacked up at each club.

    Across his career in Europe's top five leagues, Ronaldo netted 48 free-kicks in all competitions, from 782 shots (6.1 per cent).

     

    Thirteen of those goals came at United, with five each in his final two seasons of his first spell at the club.

    Indeed, Ronaldo's peak when it came to free-kicks was definitely between the 2007-08 season and the 2013-14 campaign, when he scored 35 times from that type of dead-ball situation.

    His best single season tally was six, in the 2009-10 season – his first at Madrid.

    From 2014-15 onwards he did not manage more than three free-kick goals during a season, while he scored only twice from 86 such attempts while at Juve, and managed no goals from four free-kicks in his second stint at United.

    One of the greats?

    As well as his effort against Portsmouth, Ronaldo has many other memorable free-kicks in the bank.

    His stunning, 40-yard strike against Arsenal in the 2009 Champions League semi-final; a mesmerising hit from even further out in a Madrid derby in 2012; and who can forget that spellbinding, hat-trick sealing effort that secured a last-gasp draw for Portugal against Spain in a 3-3 thriller at the 2018 World Cup.

    Ronaldo might have gone off the boil from dead balls since the halcyon days either side of his move from Manchester to Madrid, yet there's no doubting that when he hits them true, there's not much any goalkeeper can do.

    While he may not go down as one of the greatest free-kick takers in history statistically, he has definitely been a scorer of some great free-kicks down the years.

    And who knows, maybe there'll be more to come in Saudi Arabia.

  • Liverpool 'nowhere near good enough this season', says Robertson after FA Cup exit Liverpool 'nowhere near good enough this season', says Robertson after FA Cup exit

    Liverpool wanted a fresh start in 2023 but Andrew Robertson says the Reds have been "nowhere near good enough" this season and played "worse" since the World Cup.

    The Scotland international captained Jurgen Klopp's side at Brighton and Hove Albion as Kauro Mitoma's last-minute strike dumped the FA Cup holders out in the fourth round.

    Liverpool had taken the lead through Harvey Elliot before Lewis Dunk's fortuitous first-half equaliser paved the way for Mitoma's deserved late winner in Sunday's 2-1 triumph.

    Klopp's men are out of both domestic cups and sit only ninth in the Premier League, having won just eight of their opening 19 top-flight games.

    Having lost nine times already in 31 outings across all competitions this campaign, Robertson bemoaned Liverpool's abject performances that have continued after the World Cup break.

    "This season has been nowhere near good enough," Robertson told ITV Sport.

    "At the start of the year, we wanted a fresh start, but that hasn't happened – we've been worse. In the league, we haven't been good enough and now we're out of both cups."

    The Reds' downfall may have appeared somewhat of a surprise after falling narrowly short of an unprecedented quadruple last term.

    Liverpool missed out in the Champions League final to Real Madrid and saw Manchester City secure the Premier League title on the last day of the season, though they lifted the FA Cup and EFL Cup.

    Sadio Mane's sale to Bayern Munich and Roberto Firmino's diminishing role should be factored in, while Mohamed Salah has failed to hit his usual lofty heights after scoring just nine goals in 19 league games.

    Luis Diaz has been out injured after a promising first campaign at Anfield and signings Darwin Nunez and Cody Gapko are still settling in, yet Robertson struggled to explain why Liverpool continue to falter.

    The left-back added: "It's really disappointing. You can't put your finger on one thing that's gone wrong. It's more than that. It's about trying to put a performance together where all these things click and that's proving difficult right now.

    "You can tell we're not as confident in front of goal, and defensively we're still a wee bit open in certain areas.

    "We were on the back of two clean sheets, which was positive, but today, two disappointing goals and they had a couple of big chances as well.

    "We need to try and get the confidence back. It's easier said than done but that's the only way we can pick up results. You have to be able to score goals and you have to be able to keep clean sheets.

    "We're not managing that just now and we need to do it. We keep saying that and it doesn't help the fans. I feel sorry for them, the way we're putting on a show for them just now.

    "We let them down again and we're obviously disappointed to be falling out of the cup."

  • Galtier not worried by PSG's mid-season blip Galtier not worried by PSG's mid-season blip

    Christophe Galtier insisted he was not worried with Paris Saint-Germain's poor form since the return to action after the World Cup.

    Folarin Balogun's last-gasp equaliser for Reims at the Parc des Princes on Sunday left the defending champions with just one win from their past four Ligue 1 matches.

    PSG's lead at the summit has been reduced to just three points as a result, a gap that could have been even less had Lens and Marseille not also been held to a draw on Saturday.

    Galtier's side have a quick turnaround before Wednesday's trip to Montpellier and he is pushing for a response from his squad.

    "Worried no, disappointed yes. We are not going to hide behind the post-World Cup calendar," he said after the match.

    "It's been a few weeks since our performances were not at the same level as in the first part of the season. We must work, we must find solutions, and reconnect.

    "A crisis of confidence? I don't think so. Maybe a crisis of complacency, all the demands we had.

    "It went haywire for different reasons. It's hard to restart. I have high-level players who cannot accept to be at this level since the beginning of 2023."

    With just a few days remaining until the mid-season transfer window slams shut, Galtier confirmed the club intend to be active in order to bolster the squad.

    "There are 48 hours left. The club is working on the arrival of at least one player. There are significant constraints with financial fair play," he added.

    "We want reinforcement. Will it happen? I don't know. We cannot hide behind the absence of a player. We have quality players in the squad. Everyone must find their level very quickly."

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