MLS

MLS Cup play-offs: New York City and Timbers clinch Conference semi-final spots

By Sports Desk November 21, 2021

MLS Golden Boot winner Valentin Castellanos scored as New York City clinched a spot in the Eastern Conference semi-finals with a 2-0 home win over Atlanta United on Sunday.

Castellanos, who netted 17 regular-season goals, opened the scoring in 49th minute with a miscued volley which bounced in fortunately over Atlanta goalkeeper Brad Guzan.

Alexander Callens doubled New York City's lead four minutes later, heading in unmarked from close range after Guzan tipped Maxi Moralez's effort on to the frame of the post.

Atlanta defender Alan Franco was sent off late for dissent to rub salt into the wounds, as New York City secured a fifth semi-final berth in the past six seasons.

New York City will next play Eastern Conference top seed and Supporter's Shield winners New England Revolution.

Sebastian Blanco netted a second-half double as Portland Timbers came from behind to beat Minnesota United 3-1, clinching four consecutive wins and a Western Conference semi-final date with Colorado Rapids.

Franco Fragapane gave Minnesota an 11th-minute lead, but Portland rallied with Larrys Mabiala heading in the equaliser before half-time.

Blanco rifled in a low drive early in the second half before opening a two-goal lead with a spectacular 66th-minute long-range strike.

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    The former defender, widely considered one of Mexico's greatest ever players, won La Liga four times and lifted the Champions League trophy twice with Barcelona between 2003 and 2010. 

    He also won 147 caps for his country and appeared at five consecutive World Cups between 2002 and 2018, making his final professional appearance in El Tri's round-of-16 loss to Brazil in Russia four years ago.

    The 43-year-old is now set to follow in the footsteps of Pep Guardiola and Luis Enrique by coaching Barcelona B, who play in the third tier of the Spanish league system.

    Speaking at an event in S'Agaro, Laporta said: "Rafa in principle had [agreed] to be the coach of Barca Atletic last year, [but] he had a situation that prevented him from doing so.

    "Now this has already been resolved and Rafa will be the coach of Barca Atletic next season. 

    "I am especially happy because I had Rafa as a player, he is a person with a great personality, captain of the Mexican team, and who was part of one of the best Barca [teams] in history."

  • Wimbledon: Nadal swats aside Sonego in outstanding round-three win Wimbledon: Nadal swats aside Sonego in outstanding round-three win

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    For the first time at SW19 this week, there was little evidence of Nadal's recent fitness problems as he completely outclassed his Italian opponent.

    And on this form, the calendar Grand Slam appears a genuine possibility for the Australian Open and French Open champion.

    Indeed, it was hard not to feel sorry for Sonego – and he did appear to have the sympathy of the Centre Court crowd – as Nadal's strokes painted pretty patterns around him.

    The Spaniard remarkably dropped only two points on his own serve in the first set – both to double-faults. It was a similar story in Sonego's service games, too, as he held at the first attempt but then lost the next nine in succession.

    Such was Nadal's superiority a relieved Sonego lifted his arms to salute the crowd as he finally held serve in the fifth game of the second and was given a generous cheer.

    That small victory scarcely slowed Nadal, who wrapped up the second on his own serve and then blasted Sonego away in the opening game of the third to break once again.

    Sonego soon found a more effective way to hold up his opponent, however, appealing at length for the Centre Court roof to be closed and eventually succeeding after a brave hold and a handful of points on Nadal's serve informed officials he was capable of dragging the contest out under fading light.

    So it briefly proved, as Nadal – perhaps irked by the delay – lost his composure and was broken to love after Sonego made a noise as he approached the ball; Nadal deemed the umpire an unnecessary middle man and called Sonego over for a word, clearly upsetting the Italian.

    A fired-up Nadal immediately broke back, and after finally delivering a little drama, the match – and Sonego's campaign – was over.

    Data Slam: Rafa ramping up

    This was Sonego's first meeting with Nadal, and he might have picked a better time to face this fiercely focused great. The 22-time major champion has now won 10 third-round Wimbledon matches in a row, including the past four without dropping a set. Sonego had a hard enough time merely winning a game for much of the match.

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    De Jong, who emerged as one of European football's hottest properties under Erik ten Hag at Ajax before joining Barca in 2019, has been strongly linked with a move to Old Trafford since his former boss took over at United.

    The Netherlands international said in May that his preference would be to remain at Camp Nou, which he labelled his "dream club", but the Blaugrana's financial difficulties have given rise to speculation he could depart.

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    "Frenkie de Jong is a Barca player and is recognised as one of the best players in the world," Laporta told reporters.

    "We know of clubs that want him, not only United, and we have no intention of selling him. The player, I get the impression, wants to stay. 

    "He is comfortable at Barca and I will do what is in my power so that Frenkie stays here, but it is also a salary issue and it would have to be adjusted.

    "What is certain is that the salary levels of some players are not in line with the salary levels that the board of directors that I have the privilege of presiding over have set."

     

    De Jong made 47 appearances for Barcelona during the 2021-22 season, scoring four goals and boasting the best passing accuracy (91.18 per cent) of any of the club's midfielders to play at least 20 games in all competitions.

    Laporta refused to be drawn on Barcelona's interest in Lewandowski, however, only affirming his respect for the Poland international's current club. 

    "He is a Bayern player," he said of the striker, who plundered 50 goals for the Bundesliga champions last season. 

    "Everyone knows that he is a great player, but I would prefer to be reserved because he is a Bayern player. 

    "We know that he has publicly stated that he wants to come to Barca and we are very flattered, but we have respect for Bayern Munich, which is one of the best clubs in the world. Between clubs, we respect each other."

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