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Saturday, November 17, 2012

RSL knocked out of playoffs



Season ends for RSL as Sounders score late to advance in MLS playoffs

(by James Edwards deseretnews.com 11-8-12)

Goals had been elusive for Real Salt Lake over the past month, and that was no different in the club’s playoff ouster Thursday night.

In a Western Conference semifinal playoff series desperate for a goal, it was the visitor and not RSL that finally delivered.

Seattle midfielder Mario Martinez scored a wonder goal in the 81st minute, and the Sounders backed it up with another solid defensive effort to stun Real Salt Lake for a 1-0 Game 2 victory and a 1-0 aggregate series victory.

“If you play good soccer, you have to score the goals. The last five matches, we didn’t score the goals and that’s tough for us,” said RSL midfielder Javier Morales.

Real Salt Lake outshot Seattle 14-9, but Sounders keeper Michael Gspurning came up big — just as he did in Game 1 — with nine saves. It was Seattle’s fourth straight shutout against RSL this season and sends coach Jason Kreis’ team into the offseason without a goal in its last five matches.

The series victory is Seattle’s first in franchise history, and the Sounders advance to the Western Conference final to take on defending champion Los Angeles.

Thursday's decisive moment came late when it looked like overtime and potentially penalty kicks would be needed to determine a winner. A defensive mistake in midfield by Kenny Mansally allowed Seattle to attack with even numbers. After a couple quick passes in midfield, Fredy Montero chipped a ball over RSL’s defense to an unmarked Martinez, who rifled a half volley past Nick Rimando and just inside the far post.

Real Salt Lake threw everything it had forward over the final nine minutes of regulation plus six minutes of stoppage time, but it couldn’t overcome its own struggles in the final third.

“I don’t think we were anxious at all. I think everybody felt and believed we’d get a goal one way or the other. This team has scored a lot of goals over the years. It seems bizarre that all of a sudden we couldn’t find the back of the net,” said RSL midfielder Will Johnson. “A little piece of qualify from them and they’re moving on. In the playoffs it’s a game of inches, a lot more than the regular season.”

It was another disappointing elimination game at Rio Tinto Stadium for Real Salt Lake. It lost the 2008 Western Conference final at home, the 2010 conference semifinal at home, the 2011 Champions League final at home and now the 2012 conference semifinal at home.

Just as in all those other losses, Kreis couldn’t help but feel a bit unlucky afterward. He thought his team created enough opportunities to win, but the counter-attacking team prevailed again.

“I hope that if there’s 100 games played, I hope the team that’s willing to risk more, the team that’s willing to be more bold, the team that’s willing to set the tempo and wanting to set the tempo gets results. As we’ve seen in the past couple of days in our league that’s not happening,” said Kreis.

The four higher-seeded MLS teams who hosted Game 2s this week were all eliminated.

The wind played a big factor in Thursday’s match. The Sounders attacked with the wind throughout the first half and were definitely the more dangerous team, including a Martinez free kick that caromed off the crossbar in the 31st minute.

After surviving the wind and Seattle’s early opportunities, Kreis admitted feeling pretty good at halftime with the score knotted at 0-0.

Ironically enough, Seattle had the best chance again early in the second half on a superb strike from Brad Evans, but Game 1 hero Rimando was equal to the challenge with a spectacular diving save.

Fabian Espindola wasn’t fit enough to start the match because of the hamstring injury he suffered in Game 1, but he entered in the 58th minute for Paulo Jr. Despite his presence, the half chances continued.

“Sometimes we’re like a willow. We bend a little bit and we give away a little bit of possession, but at the end of the day it’s important not to give away the chances,” said Seattle coach Sigi Schmid.


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Goalkeeper Nick Rimando sensational in playoff draw with Seattle Sounders

(by Dan Rasmussen deseretnews.com 11-2-12)

Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando lay face-down on the turf inside CenturyLink Field, writhing in pain and yelling for medical attention.

Up until the 67th minute, when he collided with Seattle midfielder Christian Tiffert and suffered a broken nose and laceration, Rimando had been nothing short of tremendous against the Seattle Sounders in the opening leg of RSL’s Western Conference Semifinal series.

He made two back-to-back saves on back-to-back corner kicks near the end of the first half, and he followed those saves by standing tall as the Sounders, just like the body of water they’re named after, started coming at Salt Lake in waves to begin the second half.

However, when Rimando crumbled to the turf as a result of his collision with Tiffert, there was seemingly no way he could continue with a broken nose and a cut on his right eyebrow that would ultimately require three stitches to close.

Adding maybe the biggest legend yet to his postseason career, Rimando pulled himself off the turf and kept going.

Rimando helped spur RSL to a 0-0 draw with Seattle Friday night in front of 38,356 fans.

RSL coach Jason Kreis didn’t try to hold back on what he thought of Rimando’s performance afterward.

“I think it would have to go down as one of the best individual performances by any player that’s ever worn an RSL jersey,” said Kreis.

The RSL coach and his staff didn’t think there was any way Rimando would be able to continue, but after Salt Lake’s medical staff stopped the bleeding on his eyebrow, Kreis and Co. looked on in disbelief as their goalkeeper played with a broken nose for the last 16 minutes of normal time, plus eight minutes of stoppage time.

“That shows how absolutely committed he is to this team and this effort,” Kreis said.

RSL midfielder Ned Grabavoy echoed those sentiments.

“It’s just pretty unreal,” said Grabavoy. “Nick’s a battler. There’s no question he’s the best goalkeeper in the league, in my eyes.”

Rimando’s effort highlighted the overall effort by RSL.

"Unbelievable effort they put forth tonight,” Kreis said of his players. “They showed just a real desire to be committed and to stay together. It’s fantastic. We had a lot of individual performances that were just incredible. I walk away feeling so proud of my team. They defined the word ‘together’ for me tonight.”

Seattle had indeed been coming at RSL up until Rimando went down, but for what ultimately turned out to be 24 minutes of soccer, Salt Lake kept its cool, kept its composure and kept Seattle from scoring a goal.

“There was a point when Jason said, ‘OK, let’s switch up the formation a little bit and lock this thing up and keep it 0-0, go back home from a tie,’” said Grabavoy.

To that end, Friday’s mission was accomplished. And now RSL turns its attention to its next mission — trying to beat Seattle at home this coming Thursday and advance to the Western Conference Finals for the second consecutive year.

“We didn’t play a perfect game, but we played with a lot of guts and we battled,” said Rimando. “We didn’t come in here just to tie, but we knew at the end of the game it was good enough. And know we’ve got to really go at them and get those three points on Thursday.”

Thursday’s match will begin at 7:30 p.m. at Rio Tinto Stadium before what should be another sold-out crowd.

And RSL will do so with a goalkeeper that will be just six days removed from a broken nose. After they had walked off the field Friday night, Rimando let his coach know what he thought of his newly disfigured nose.

“He told me,” related Kreis, “that his nose now looks like mine.”

Asked what he thought of that assessment, Kreis laughed. “Probably right,” he said.

Recovering Rangers eye move to English Premier League


(si.com 11-16-12)

Scotland's most successful football club is trying to attract potential investors with an eye on someday playing in the English Premier League.

Rangers, a record 54-time Scottish champion, feels less loyalty to its homeland after being forced to start again this season in the fourth tier as punishment for a financial meltdown. And now the re-formed Glasgow club's new ownership believes an exit route from the Scottish leagues is becoming possible as UEFA explores changing cross-border rules.

"The SPL told us face-to-face, `We don't want you, you aren't welcome,''' Rangers chief executive Charles Green said in an interview with The Associated Press ahead of the club's planned flotation on a London Stock Exchange market.

And a planned revamp of the Scottish Premier League and three professional divisions below it could be Rangers' chance to escape. The overhaul was announced during the offseason just as Rangers was going into liquidation with tax debts exceeding $30 million.

"What we understand is that any restructuring will also revisit the taboo,'' Green said. "A bit like, `Don't talk about the war to the Germans.' `Don't mention Rangers and Celtic leaving Scotland.' It was always `Shhh, don't mention that.'

"I think the taboo of that is going to be lifted ... Scottish football without Rangers and Celtic might actually become more competitive within the remaining clubs rather than having these two monsters sat above them.''

Rangers is due to float on London's AIM small-market stock exchange by the end of the year, and Green hopes to raise close to $48 million there. He has been trying to persuade financial institutions this week that the club has a realistic chance of playing in the English Premier League.

Green bought Rangers' assets for $8.7 million, and four months later he is already hopeful of raising about $48 million on the AIM exchange. Fans are expected to invest 21 million pounds about $33 million in shares.

"As a football club, if Rangers were in the Premier League only Manchester United would be bigger,'' Green said. "Because Arsenal haven't got more fans than Rangers ... the fan base is so big.''

But the barriers to joining the world's richest football league are also vast, with the English Premier League already resisting previous overtures from both Rangers and Glasgow rival Celtic.

"I don't believe the Premier League are hostile towards it because I think it's a generalization,'' Green said. "Speak to Manchester United. They are not hostile to Rangers joining.''

But United disputed Green's claims.

"We are not in favor of it at all. We are against it,'' United spokesman Phil Townsend said. "Our view is it's the English Premier League and should remain that way.''

Green, though, pointed to the financial advantages of United being able to play at the 50,000-capacity Ibrox.

"Why would Man United want to play Southampton? Why, when they could play Rangers? Sixty percent of the Premier League don't want Rangers. Of course they don't want Rangers,'' Green said. "Why would Southampton, Swansea, Wigan, Aston Villa? Why would any of them want Rangers or Celtic in their league. Why would they? It threatens their existence ... but if you asked the big clubs, `Would you like Rangers?''

They would, according to Green. Even in Spain.

"Ask Barcelona and Real Madrid if they would like Rangers and Celtic in their league,'' Green said. "They definitely would. Why wouldn't Barcelona want to play Rangers home and away as opposed to playing Getafe? They would sell (those) games out.''

In the presentation to potential investors, Green features a quote from Barcelona President Sandro Rosell highlighting the virtue of playing European rivals on weekends.

"What will change football over 5-to-10 years is this insatiable demand for the big clubs to play each other,'' Green said. "And this is not the insatiable demand from the west Midlands or from north London. This is the demand from the Middle East, Asia, the Far East.''

But the English Premier League said Friday: "There is no appetite from the Premier League to even consider such a move.''

Green is putting his faith in a UEFA experiment that could remove a key barrier to Rangers leaving the Scottish league. European football's governing body has allowed 16 women's teams in Belgium and the Netherlands to form a cross-border league in a three-year trial.

"The difficulty is that historically I don't think Celtic and Rangers would have been allowed to consider leaving Scotland,'' Green said. "What is now going to change things ... is now we've got this cross-border league for women.''

Rangers' demotion removes from the calendar Scotland's only internationally attractive fixture - the Old Firm derby against Celtic.

And at Celtic's annual general meeting on Friday, chief executive Peter Lawwell said he believed expanding leagues beyond borders could become a reality.

"We are committed to the SPL but nothing stays the same,'' Lawwell said. "There are initiatives in Europe. UEFA have opened their mind up to some form of regional leagues.

"I think they recognize the polarization between the top leagues and the smaller leagues in terms of media values. There are very early proposals that may look at regional leagues.''