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Seattle Sounders Spoil Toronto FC’s party by Winning Penalty Shootout 5-4 to Claim First MLS Cup title



TORONTO — There was nothing right about Saturday night.

The Sounders, standing atop a stage at midfield, lifting MLS Cup having not produced a shot on target over 120 minutes.

Seattle’s first attempt on goal didn’t arrive until the match was close to three hours old — when Brad Evans converted his penalty kick.

Six spot kicks later, after Toronto FC’s Michael Bradley and Justin Morrow missed their attempts, Seattle’s Roman Torres converted to Clint Irwin’s right to give the Rave Green their first title.

It was the moment when Toronto’s dream season ended; the last kick of Major League Soccer’s 21st season.

But the final kick in the gut might have been watching ex-TFC goalkeeper Stefan Frei claim Player of the Game honours after saving Bradley’s penalty.

It had to be gut-wrenching for TFC’s captain, who didn’t hit his attempt with enough pace or direction. There will be questions as to whether it was his last kick in a TFC kit amid speculation there’s interest in Europe.

“I know Michael will be disappointed,” TFC coach Greg Vanney said. “At the end of the day, it’s a penalty. Those things happen. I thought he was fantastic for the whole game.

“He gave us a great chance to win the game. I would never beat somebody up for missing a PK. That happens. I’m sure he’s disappointed, but our guys gave everything they had to the game.”

Morrow had an opportunity to save TFC’s MLS Cup dream only to see his spot kick come back off the crossbar to the delight of the 1,500 Sounders fans tucked neatly in the northeast corner of BMO Field.

Then came Torres, the most unlikely of penalty kick heroes. The Sounders’ Panamanian defender banged home his sudden-death penalty to stun fans who braved sub-zero conditions.

All Toronto can do now is regret all the missed opportunities. The Reds outshot their opponent 19-3 through 90 minutes of regulation and a half-hour more of extra time.

They didn’t deserve to win Saturday night, but the Reds put in maybe one of the most dominating performances in MLS Cup history only to come away with nothing.

“A game like that needs a goal to loosen up one of the teams defensively,” Vanney added post-game. “The longer it went on, the longer they were protecting their goal and looking for moments.”

They Sounders might have been looking, but they didn’t find any. Sometimes soccer teams survive on the road.

The Seattle Sounders didn’t just survive. There was only one team on the field in terms of chances and quality opportunities.

The visitors didn’t have an attempt at goal before the game was 80 minutes old. They’re the only team in MLS history to not produce an attempt on goal during a final.

The Reds, on the other hand, were dominant in a first half that saw them outshoot Seattle 7-0.

“I thought we played like the team that wanted to win the championship,” Vanney added. “(My players’) heads are down now, but they’ll come back fighting when we come back for pre-season.”

Jozy Altidore, the hero during the second half of TFC’s season, the scorer of big goals throughout these playoffs, nearly produced a dream start for Toronto in front of 36,045 fans.

The U.S. international raced in along the left edge of the penalty area minutes into Saturday night’s MLS Cup final before watching his left-footed low drive deflected just wide of the back post.

Jonathan Osorio had Toronto’s next best opportunity, when on 15 minutes, the Canadian latched onto laid-off pass from Altidore before turning from inside 10 metres and hitting his open look directly into Frei’s arms.

All the while, the Sounders were heroic in their defending of Sebastian Giovinco. The Atomic Ant was bottled up almost from start to finish by Torres and Chad Marshall.

The Italian, who didn’t look 100 per cent in certain moments during these playoffs, was made to look like a fraction of the player he was during the regular season.

Altidore had another chance to put the Reds up on the half-hour mark when he skied above the Rave Green’s Joevin Jones to meet Morrow’s cross only to see Frei dive to his left to deny the attempt.

The Sounders, meanwhile, couldn’t conjure up anything the other way. Bradley was immense in shutting down Uruguayan playmaker Nicolas Lodeiro, who was a non-factor throughout regulation.

Anchored by stalwart Drew Moor, TFC’s back three didn’t give an inch to strikers Jordan Morris and Nelson Valdez. The Sounders were holding on for dear life during portions of this final.

Giovinco’s lack of sharpness on Toronto FC’s most important night shown minutes after halftime when Osorio played him in along the right side of the box. But the Atomic Ant put his open look from an angle into the netting.

As the game grew older, things began to tighten. The Reds failed to connect passes amid miss-touches that saw them struggle to create any quality opportunities.

The Reds had one final chance in second-half stoppage time when a corner was headed down to the back post, where Altidore was lurking to potentially score the MLS Cup-winning goal.

But there was Frei, quick off his line to sacrifice his body in a big collision that saw him deny Altidore’s diving header attempt to send the game into extra time.

Toronto’s Benoit Cheyrou, the hero in last week’s semifinal win over Montreal, produced Toronto FC’s best chance in the first half of extra time.

The Frenchman burst through midfield in the 95th minute before lining up a right-footed grass-cutter that again called Frei into action. Shots were 16-3 at that time.

After replacing Giovinco in extra time, Toronto’s Tosaint Ricketts had the game on his foot in the 107th minute only to see his volley from the penalty spot skip tantalizingly wide of the right post.

Minutes later, Toronto’s former ‘keeper produced one of the great saves in MLS Cup history when he sprawled across the goal line to get a hand to another Altidore header.

“I thought that ball had eyes for the corner,” Vanney said. “I thought (Frei) was maybe caught in the middle of the goal. But it was looping. It gave him enough time to set his feet and get across the goal.

“It was one of the great saves that I’ve seen in a big moment.”

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Up and Coming Sports Stars to Look Out for in 2020



Every year, a raft of exciting new players come onto the scene across all of the major US sports. With the MLS season getting underway and the NFL and MLB drafts not too far away, now is a great time to look at the young sports stars that could have a very bright future ahead of them, and the ones that are already proving they are destined for greatness.

Theo Bair (MLS)

This MLS season is looking like it could be one of the best yet, with David Beckham’s Inter Miami team adding some extra dazzle to the league. Whilst Beckham might be able to attract a lot of new players to his MLS team, there are a lot of young stars on their way through such as Theo Bair at Vancouver Whitecaps. Bair has already made an impact on the first team and after impressing at under-20 and under-23 level for the national team, he has made two appearances for the senior team, well before his 21st birthday. This year could see Bair make a real name for himself in the MLS.

Source: Pixabay

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (MLB)

Montreal-born Vladimir Guerrero Jr has one MLB season under his belt but it looks like the best is still yet to come from him at the Blue Jays. He was heavily backed to take the league by storm but he failed to live up to the hype that surrounded him. Without the pressure of being the top-ranked prospect, this season could see Guerrero play with some weight lifted off his shoulders. He has been working very hard on his fitness over the offseason, something that his manager Montoyo has been quick to comment upon.

Baseball by andrewmalone, on Flickr

Baseball” (CC BY 2.0) by andrewmalone

Connor McDavid (NHL)

McDavid has already established him as a top hockey player but at 23, he has the potential to go on to do so much more. The player was born in Ontario and was the first overall draft pick, showing how much expectation was already on him at that stage but he has gone on to prove that he is one of the best players in the NHL. McDavid could go on to be one the NHL’s best-ever hockey players and this season could be the year that he shows the world, not just the NHL.

Chuba Hubbard (College Football)

The Oklahoma State Cowboys running back has been making the headlines for several years now. He continues to improve and grab more attention for his impressive stats and performances. He was close to being a sprinter and nearly made the Canadian Olympic team before switching over to football. He is passing up the 2020 NFL draft to play his senior season at Cowboys. He should give them a good chance of winning the College Football Championship, though they’re trailing at the seventh spot in the latest American football odds at +2400.00, with Clemson as the current betting favorites.

2020 will definitely be a very exciting time with some of these young stars looking to breakthrough in their respective sports and show the world what they are capable of.

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Bob Baffert is back at the Kentucky Derby – and looking to break the Curse of Apollo



Bob Baffert is back at the Kentucky Derby with early favourite Justify after watching the race from his sofa in Southern California last year.

The Hall of Fame trainer’s ability to produce Derby contenders year after year is an enviable feat and why his absence a year ago stood out. It was just his second since 2009 and occurred because his lone candidate got hurt.

Baffert will saddle Justify and 30-to-1 shot Solomini in Saturday’s Derby.

Justify is one of the greenest colts Baffert has brought to Churchill Downs. He’s won all three of his starts by a combined 19 lengths. If Justify wins, he’d be the first to do so since Apollo in 1882 without racing as a two-year-old.

“The thing about the Kentucky Derby, you have to have the right horse. It just happens. You can’t force it,” Baffert said. “All of a sudden, you have good horses and you’re there. So I’ve been really fortunate to have some really good horses.”

Baffert’s four victories are tied for second-most in Derby history. He’s finished second three times, too, including in 2012 with Bodemeister, also the last time he had two starters in the same year.

Like Justify, Bodemeister didn’t race as a two-year-old. He set a blistering pace and led the Derby until the final 150 yards when I’ll Have Another overtook him to win by 1 1/2 lengths.

Magnum Moon, the 6-to-1 third choice, also is unbeaten and didn’t run as a two-year-old.

“It’s going to happen,” Baffert said, referring to the curse being broken. “Whether it happens this year or whatever, but it will happen because Bodemeister almost got away with it. But I don’t really worry about that.”

Baffert almost had a third starter this year until McKinzie developed a hind-end issue that knocked him off the Derby trail.

“When McKinzie got hurt, I wanted to throw up,” he said. “I really think McKinzie would probably be second choice here. We’d really have a 1-2 here.”

Justify cleared the biggest pre-Derby hurdle by drawing the No. 7 post. Jockey Mike Smith can use the colt’s early speed to position him well for the long run to the chaotic first turn. Solomini ended up in the No. 17 post; no horse has ever won from there.

Baffert turned 65 in January, making him eligible for Medicare and retirement at most other jobs. However, he entertains no such thoughts.

“I work hard at it. I just don’t give up,” the white-haired trainer said. “I’m constantly meeting people. They’re sending me horses. If you don’t have success, you’re not going to get those opportunities.”

After a successful run in the quarter horse ranks, Baffert switched to thoroughbreds. He started with one horse.

“After 25 years, I’m finally getting horses that I don’t have to buy,” he said. “The big guys are sending me horses.”

None was bigger than American Pharoah in 2015. The colt swept the Derby, Preakness and Belmont to become racing’s first Triple Crown winner in 37 years.

Baffert has compared Justify to American Pharoah, citing the colt’s imposing physical presence and big stride. Still, Justify has yet to encounter the kind of traffic the Derby’s 20-horse stampede creates and the talent as he’ll run against on Saturday.

“I’d rather have a really talented horse than one who’s seasoned and just on par with the rest of them,” Baffert said.

Early on, Baffert knew Justify had the goods.

“The first time I worked him at Santa Anita, I knew he was a really good horse,” he said. “The track was really deep that morning, and he went around there effortlessly. His first race, he ran incredibly and showed how special he was.”

That kind of intuition is what separates Baffert from his rivals, fellow Hall of Famer trainer D. Wayne Lukas said.

“Bob’s got a great feel for it,” he said.

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Matthews ready to return to Maple Leafs lineup after missing a month



NASHVILLE — The hurtin’ tune that Auston Matthews has been singing for the past four weeks finally can be put in the remainder bin in Music City.

The Maple Leafs’ top centre on Wednesday declared himself set to return to the lineup after recovering from a right shoulder injury.

Wonderful timing, of course, considering the Leafs will take on the No. 1 club in the National Hockey League, the Nashville Predators, on Thursday night.

“In my mind, I think I’m ready to go and taking it as I’m getting ready to play (Thursday),” Matthews said after resuming his normal role, between William Nylander and Zach Hyman, during practice at Bridgestone Arena.

“It felt good, nice to get in all the reps and everything. (Wednesday) was a good step forward in that process, going through the line rushes.”

It seemed probable that the Leafs also will have defenceman Nikita Zaitsev, who missed the past five games as he recovered from an illness, against Nashville. Zaitsev was paired with Jake Gardiner, his regular partner, at practice.

For Matthews, it has been 10 games as a spectator with his latest injury, his third of the 2017-18 regular season after he missed four games in November with a back issue and then sat for six in December because of a concussion.

Thursday will mark four weeks since Matthews was hurt when he was sandwiched by the New York Islanders’ Cal Clutterbuck and Adam Pelech in a game at the Air Canada Centre.

A major bonus for Matthews in his recovery has been the fact he has been able to skate though much of his recuperation. That was not the case when he was out with his previous two injuries.

It’s worth noting that Matthews scored two goals versus the Montreal Canadiens upon returning on Nov. 18 from his back injury; in his first two games upon coming back from a concussion, he scored a goal in each.

Mike Babcock said a final decision on the participation of Matthews and Zaitsev against the Predators would be made on Thursday morning, but the Leafs coach was talking as though it would be a rubber stamp.

“This is going to be the best opportunity for (Matthews) because he has been able to skate and compete,” Babcock said. “The other times he was not able to do anything.

“To get him back … it’s still going to be going way faster than he has been practising, so there is going to be an adjustment period, but he’s a good player and he will figure it out.”

Defenceman Morgan Rielly didn’t think Matthews will take long to find his footing. Rielly missed six games in late January/early February with an arm injury, so knows what Matthews could be feeling.

“You’re nervous and you just want to get back into it,” Rielly said. “You play your first shift a bit hesitant, but after that it’s important you get back to yourself.

“It’s never easy, but Auston is one of those guys that I will imagine it won’t take long for him to get back into a rhythm.”

And there’s the trickle-down effect through the forward lines with Matthews in uniform.

“Guys are used to playing with certain players and when everyone is healthy, I think you get better chemistry throughout the entire lineup,” centre Nazem Kadri said. “Certain guys don’t have to play with different guys constantly and it’s just more of a set group, so I think it’s going to help us.”

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