LAFC clinch Supporters' Shield after 95th-minute Bouanga winner, Sounders' 13-year playoffs run ended

By Sports Desk October 02, 2022

LAFC secured the Supporters' Shield for the second time in four years with Sunday's 2-1 win at Portland Timbers after Denis Bouanga's 95th-minute winner.

The Californian club capitalized on Philadelphia Union's 4-0 loss to Charlotte on Saturday, with Sunday's win moving them three points clear with one game to play. The MLS uses most wins as the first tiebreak if points are equal, with LAFC (21) ahead of Union (18).

Bouanga's maiden goal for LAFC came deep into second-half stoppage time and was the moment that clinched silverware, with the Gabon international jinking into the box before firing home a low shot.

Carlos Vela had a goalbound shot cleared off the line by Claudio Bravo in the 33rd minute, but the Mexican would not be denied with a curling left-foot strike from the edge of the box in the 51st minute.

Dairon Asprilla equalized with a powerful header from Bravo's 81st-minute cross, but Bouanga had the decisive intervention to clinch the Supporters' Shield for the visitors.

LAFC head coach Steve Cherundolo said: "These type of emotional endings in games seem to be a habit in this league, not quite sure why. We're ecstatic. We had a goal this year and we've achieved the first one."

Portland's loss meant Nashville clinched a playoffs spot for the third straight year despite losing 2-1 at home to lowly Houston Dynamo, for whom Sebastian Ferreira scored a double.

Seattle Sounders lost 1-0 at Sporting KC, confirming they will miss the playoffs for the first time in their 13-year history, marking the end of an era.

Reigning MLS Cup winners New York City made it back-to-back wins with a 2-1 home victory over Orlando City, who are hanging on for a playoffs spot.

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    Lionel Messi will walk out the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium tunnel on Saturday with the expectations of millions on his shoulders when Argentina face Australia in the last 16 of Qatar 2022.

    That is nothing new, of course, for this will be the 1,000th match of a remarkable career that may yet to have peaked – though that will depend on whether Messi can inspire his country past Australia and all the way to World Cup glory.

    Now aged 35, Messi has already accepted this will be his final chance to lift the most famous trophy of them all, a little over a year on from helping La Albiceleste end their 28-year wait for a major title with Copa America success.

    Ahead of the seven-time Ballon d'Or winner's milestone match, Stats Perform looks at the numbers behind his previous 999 appearances for club and country – and why the next two weeks could yet define his career.

    Barca Breakthrough

    October 16, 2004. It would not be hyperbolic to suggest this was a day that football as we know it changed, with a 17-year-old Messi replacing Deco from the substitutes' bench in Barcelona's 1-0 win over city rivals Espanyol.

    In a sign of the mini maestro's longevity, he has since played alongside two players born after his Barcelona debut – Warren Zaire-Emery and El Chadaille Bitshiabu, born in March 2006 and May 2005 respectively.

    Both teenagers are on Paris Saint-Germain's books, where Messi is now plying his trade after ending his two-decade association with Barcelona in emotional circumstances in August 2021.

    Unsurprisingly, the majority of Messi's career appearances came during his 17 seasons at Camp Nou. He featured 778 times for Barca, scoring a staggering 672 goals and assisting 265, which amounts to 937 direct-goal involvements.

    He made more appearances against Real Madrid than any other opponent, playing 47 times against Barca's fiercest rivals.

    Good times under Guardiola

    Barcelona's inability to offer Messi a new contract due to their dire financial situation allowed PSG to pounce. After an underwhelming first campaign in Paris, the superstar forward has found his form this term.

    Messi has featured 53 times for the Parisians to date and has scored (23) and assisted (28) a combined 51 goals – just short of one goal involvement every match on average.

    He has already had two different managers at the Parc des Princes, with Christophe Galtier having replaced Mauricio Pochettino in the hot seat. That takes the number of head coaches Messi has worked under to 19.

    It was under Pep Guardiola at Barcelona, between 2008 and 2012, that Messi played his most games as he featured on 219 occasions under the Catalan and scored 211 times.

    Luis Enrique is next on that list (158 games), followed by Ernesto Valverde (124) and Frank Rijkaard (110), the man who gave him his debut against Espanyol.


    1,000 not out

    Some 18 years and 48 days on from that first appearance comes match number 1,000 for club and country – and what a truly huge occasion it is for Messi and Argentina, who recovered from a slow start in the group phase to advance.

    Messi has featured in 22 previous World Cup matches – one more than Diego Maradona as the most ever for an Argentina player – scoring eight times and assisting six more. 

    Incredibly for a player of his game-changing quality, Messi has yet to score in the knockout stages of the World Cup – 23 efforts, zero goals. Interestingly, the same is also true of archenemy Cristiano Ronaldo (25 shots without a goal).

    The aim for Messi will be to put that right against Australia on what will be his 169th senior cap, 17 years on from his senior international bow against Hungary, which came just 10 games into his career for club and country.

    And while it will be a special occasion for Messi, the man many consider to be the greatest of all time will hope to make it to 1,003 matches before Argentina's Qatar campaign concludes.

    Should that be the case and Argentina go on to lift the World Cup for the first time since 1986, a centre-stage Messi will have the defining moment of a truly special career that still has some way to go yet.

  • England's Henderson says big-stage near-misses will make Three Lions stronger England's Henderson says big-stage near-misses will make Three Lions stronger

    Jordan Henderson is convinced England's experience of coming within touching distance of glory can make them better equipped to go the extra mile – because it is a process he knows all about from playing for Liverpool.

    Defeat to Italy in the Euro 2020 final at Wembley was a crushing blow to England, who felt they were on the brink of a first major title in over 50 years.

    Gareth Southgate's team also went mightily close to reaching the 2018 World Cup final, missing out after losing to Croatia in the semi-finals.

    They are getting close repeatedly, and this is relatable for Henderson given his 11-year Liverpool career has seen its ups, downs and close calls.

    The Reds finished as runners-up in the Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League during Henderson's time at Anfield before laying their hands on each of those trophies, and he can see why England's situation is comparable.

    "I suppose you could see similarities in terms of getting so close and just failing at the last bit until we ended up winning," Henderson said.

    "I don't like to make comparisons with other teams, and especially club football, but I do feel like when you go through experiences together, especially good ones, but at the end you don't get what you want, that can make you really stronger as a team.

    "I keep my runners-up medals. Not many players get to cup finals so I'll always respect the process of getting there. But when you just miss out on your dream then it can hurt a lot and that is what drives you to get better."

    Henderson, an FA Cup and EFL Cup winner as captain of Liverpool last season, said complacency "won't be a danger" when England tackle Senegal in a last-16 tie on Sunday.

    His former Liverpool team-mate Sadio Mane was ruled out by the Africa Cup of Nations champions just before the tournament began, after a cruel injury blow, but Senegal still beat Ecuador and Qatar in the group stage.

    They are a team to be taken seriously, and Henderson, quoted in the Guardian, said: "We can say they are missing Sadio Mane, but they got into the knockout stages without him and they will be feeling confident.

    "They are used to winning. We have just got to keep focused on what needs doing, not get too carried away, not look too far ahead."

  • Klopp's agent distances Liverpool boss from Germany role as pressure mounts on Flick Klopp's agent distances Liverpool boss from Germany role as pressure mounts on Flick

    Jurgen Klopp's agent has ruled out the prospect of the Liverpool manager replacing Hansi Flick as Germany boss following their surprise World Cup exit.

    Kai Havertz's brace, as well as goals from Serge Gnabry and Niclas Fullkrug, ensured Germany secured a 4-2 win over Costa Rica on Thursday, but their efforts were in vain as Japan staged a remarkable comeback to beat Spain and join them in escaping Group E.

    Germany's group-stage elimination – their second in as many World Cup tournaments – has led to stern criticism of the side, with some questioning Flick's suitability for the role of head coach.

    Former Germany international Dietmar Hamann has called for Flick to depart after overseeing a "pathetic" campaign in Qatar, and Liverpool boss Klopp – as well as former Chelsea coach Thomas Tuchel – has been touted as a potential replacement.

    However, Klopp's representative Marc Kosicke told Sky Sports in Germany his client would not be interested in the role, saying: "This is a media topic. 

    "Jurgen has a contract at Liverpool until 2026 and he intends to fulfil it."

    Flick signed a three-year contract to lead Germany last year, which is set to run through their Euro 2024 campaign on home soil.

    The former Bayern Munich boss will be cursing Germany's finishing after they were eliminated from the World Cup despite generating the highest expected goals (xG) tally at the tournament (10.4), three more than the total managed by the competition's second-most creative side (France with 7.4 xG).

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