XI: The Weekend of May 11th

photo credit: Karlinski73 via photopin cc

photo credit: Karlinski73 via photopin cc

-Manchester City won the English title that no one else deserved. Where everyone else seemed to slip up down the stretch, the Citizens mostly stayed the course. That isn’t to knock City, though. From top to bottom, they were the best team in the league, and not as prone to upset as the other title contenders. Yaya Toure is among the City players who have two titles in three seasons, and he proved himself over the course of the season to be the best midfielder in the Premier League. City couldn’t replicate their success after 2011-12; will things be different under Manuel Pellegrini? The most expensive club in the world can’t be content here, surely Sheikh Mansour expects this to be a sign of things to come.

-That devastating 3-3 draw against Crystal Palace might haunt Liverpool and their fans for a long time.  Next season, they will return to Champions League play after a four-year absence. Liverpool’s domestic success this season was accomplished without any European competitions occupying their weekdays. Presumably, John Henry will open up his checkbook over the summer to accommodate a squad capable of handling the joint responsibilities of England and Europe, but it won’t be easy. No one knows how much Henry is willing to spend; can he keep pace with City, Chelsea, or even Manchester United? If he can’t, this may just have been Liverpool’s best chance at a title in the foreseeable future.

-The final day of the Premier League season proved to be something of an anticlimax. The title was the only thing left in doubt (unless you count Europa League spots!), and City made quicker work of it than they did two years ago. But it’s been a wonderful season, even if the last day didn’t quite live up to it. Consider that the gap between first and fourth was just seven points, the smallest margin in Premier League history. Sunderland’s escape from the bottom won’t be soon forgotten. We’d be lucky if every season was this entertaining.

-Not wanting to be outdone, La Liga is providing a remarkable title race. All three contenders suffered missteps over weekend, and Real Madrid paid for their loss to Celta Vigo by being eliminated from the title race. After Barcelona drew at Elche, a win would have clinched the title for Diego Costa and Atletico Madrid, but they too were held to a draw. So it all comes down to Saturday, when Atletico head to Camp Nou, needing just a draw to win the title. Not since Arsenal went to Liverpool on the last day of the 1988-89 season has a major European league been decided with first and second place battling it out. For Barca, it has been an uncharacteristically disappointing season, but they could cap it off with yet another title by beating Atletico.

-The New England Revolution are for real. The Seattle Sounders will point to the fact that they played a game in Seattle on Wednesday night, but it’s hard to explain away the 5-0 annihilation they received at Gillette Stadium. The fourth goal of the first half was the exclamation point on this beatdown: Teal Bunbury fed a beautiful cross-field pass to Diego Fagundez, who controlled it with aplomb and finished for his second goal of the game. It’s three wins in a row (KC, Toronto, and Seattle) and five unbeaten for the Revs, who now find themselves second in the Eastern Conference. New England has done it, for the most part, in the absence of Kelyn Rowe and Jose Goncalves. A blowout of the league-leading Sounders is a statement of intent.

-New York and Chicago played the wildest game of the weekend. After a controversial opening goal, the Red Bulls controlled the first half, taking a 2-1 lead into the break. But the Fire set Red Bull Arena ablaze after half-time, with four goals in the span of fifteen minutes. Harrison Shipp announced his early candidacy for rookie of the year with his first three professional goals and an assist. New York mounted a comeback. Bradley Wright-Phillips, who now leads Major League Soccer with nine goals after scoring a hat trick of his own, nearly equalized in the game’s final seconds. His acrobatic attempt went into Sean Johnson’s hands, and the Fire held on for their first win of the season.

-The Vancouver Whitecaps are loaded with young talent. 23-year-old Erik Hurtado scored his first MLS goal in style as the Whitecaps beat Columbus 1-0. 20-year-old Omar Salgado returned to the pitch after missing all of 2013 due to injury. Matias Laba, 22, has been stellar since coming to the club from Toronto. Kekuta Manneh is one of the league’s most exciting teenagers. Currently the Whitecaps sit fourth in a difficult Western Conference, but their focus will be on overturning a 2-1 deficit in the second leg of their Canadian Championship semifinal against TFC.

-The Western Conference has sorted itself out a bit more than the East at this stage of the MLS season. But among the teams currently on the outside looking in are Portland and LA, both of whom would expect to be much better over the remainder of the season. LA thought they had snatched three points from Providence Park on Sunday when Robbie Keane gave them the lead in stoppage time. But the Timbers found another late goal, this time from Diego Valeri, to come away with the draw.

-Big announcements are coming today: at 1 PM, MLS will announce its new television contracts with ESPN, Fox and Univision. This has the potential to be one of the more important deals in league history. Fox wants to bolster and compliment their World Cup rights in 2018 and 2022, and it seems likely that this deal will extend that long. In return for length, most expect MLS to receive a significant boost in fees over their current contracts, worth about $27 million a year.

-At 3 PM, Jurgen Klinsmann will announce a preliminary 30-player USMNT squad for the upcoming World Cup Camp. The squad will be reduced to 23 players in early June, before the team heads to Brazil.

-Mexico announced its World Cup roster on Friday. Of the 23 players, 15 currently play for clubs in Liga MX. There will come a day when the majority of a USMNT World Cup Squad comes from MLS, but I don’t think it’s today. Liga MX is the best league in North America, as evidenced every year in the CONCACAF Champions League.

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