Kelly: Toronto FC lost the MLS Cup in the most painful way possible

That the usual soccer tradition didn’t happen was a measure of how hard the
players had taken it.So Toronto FC’s season
ended with Seattle friends and family gamboling around the Toronto FC pitch
taking selfies. Toronto FC was not just the better team in the Major League Soccer Cup final. They can sense better
than most when the tide has begun to turn.“[The game] didn’t have the greatest flow,” Vanney said.Not until then. You don’t often hear
that an hour after a man has raised a trophy.Toronto goalkeeper Clint Irwin didn’t make his first save of the game until
penalty kicks.That’s where it went totally wrong. By the time they’d set up the trophy
presentation, BMO Field was nearly empty.The only Toronto fans remaining were the die-hards in the southeast corner. Altidore’s was the finest, but Tosaint Ricketts scuffed a shot inches wide in the final
moments as well. Toronto quite literally lost a championship by an inch.“I’m sure it will hit me at some point and I’ll break down,” Toronto coach
Greg Vanney said
dully afterward. Every time the Italian got the ball in
space, one or two Seattle players was there to cut him down or tug him to the
ground. What they
remembered was it turning out well in ’92 and ’93.They’d forgotten that it also goes wrong just as often. It is hard not to imagine what might have been if he’d
been one of the penalty takers.That said, Toronto had their chances and missed them. Toronto dimly remembered what winning it all felt like. And, in the moment at
least, that can feel worse that never getting there at all. There were others in regulation that missed by the slimmest
margins.But after those two late misses, something drained out of the crowd. Seattle sealed it
with the next shot. This time,
they were reminded how crushing it can be when it goes the other way. Kelly called it occasionally, but seemed to lose interest as the game
stretched on. For long stretches, it felt as if they were the only team out there.Their opponents, the Seattle Sounders, could not manage a single shot on goal
through 120 minutes of regulation and added extra time. “Right now, I’m numb.”He looked it. Not even close.“I really wish we’d played better,” Seattle’s own coach Brian Schmetzer said afterward. The ball caromed back on him. They were
waiting for the team to come back out and end the season with a proper farewell. Then it had flow – most of it downhill.Morrow is the goat, Kelly is the villain, Bradley is the thwarted hero and
the real loser on the evening is the city writ large.Toronto wanted to feel what it’s like again on the biggest stages. Michael Bradley, easily the best player
on the pitch over most of the night, scuffed his shot. As soon as it ended, they followed Bradley
off the field at a quick march. It had been 23 years since Toronto had experienced that championship-game
feeling in a major North American league.On Saturday, the city was reminded there is more than one variety of
sensation. In the closing minutes, he made one of the
great saves in MLS history off a looping, point-blank Jozy Altidore
header.A close second in the voting was 41-year-old Irish referee Alan Kelly.Kelly allowed the final to become a game of remarkable permissiveness and
occasional brutality. Seattle also missed one,
sending it to the sixth man.For Toronto, that was poor Justin Morrow, a serviceable player who will now
only be remembered for one thing. A
few kids were picking confetti off the grass and tossing it in the air. Staffers
were carrying away a banner that read “One Game to Glory.”It wasn’t much of an end to a remarkable run.The Sounders most valuable player was probably goalkeeper Stefan Frei. The emblematic tackle in the early going was Seattle’s
Nelson Valdez sticking his foot into Drew Moor’s sensitive parts at high-speed. After nearly two hours of abuse, Giovinco left the game in the 103rd minute,
limping with a cramp. He beat the Seattle ‘keeper. It went uncarded.Since Toronto was the only team minded to go forward, that laissez-faire attitude tended to penalize
them.The key victim was Toronto’s best player, Sebastian Giovinco. He could not beat
the underside of the crossbar. They
were largely Torontonians, after all. So did his charges.

Matthews, Hyman help Maple Leafs beat Bruins 4-1

The NHL’s No. 1 overall draft pick last summer took a pass from William Nylander and fired a wrist shot over Rask’s left shoulder.Hyman redirected defenceman Jake Gardner’s shot from the slot, and the puck dipped and fluttered by Rask to make it 2-0 with 4:46 remaining in the period.Marchand took advantage of a turnover behind Toronto’s net, slicing it to 2-1 with 1:21 left in the second. Auston Matthews and Zach Hyman scored in the second period, Frederik Andersen made 32 saves and the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Boston Bruins 4-1 on Saturday night.James van Riemsdyk scored in the third for Toronto, which was 0-2-1 in its last three games. … The first game between the two clubs was just over 92 years ago: Dec. … He had a second chance to clear or cover it, but Marchand beat him to it, circled and put in his own rebound.The Bruins had the best chance in the first period when David Pastrnak’s one-timer from the left point caromed off the left post early into the game.Tyler Bozak’s shot was tipped in by van Riemsdyk midway into the third.NOTES: The Bruins recalled forwards Noel Acciari and Danton Heinen from Providence of the AHL before the game and assigned F Anton Blidh to the AHL. 3, 1924, when the Toronto St. Brad Marchand had the Bruins’ goal, and Tuukka Rask stopped 16 shots.Former Bruins defenceman Matt Hunwick had two assists.Boston lost to Colorado, then-the NHL’s worst team, on Thursday night at TD Garden and followed that by losing to the team that entered as the Eastern Conference’s last-place club.Boston had earned points in 12 of the last 13 meetings against Toronto (9-1-3).After getting just two shots on goal in the opening period, Toronto moved ahead on Matthews’ goal 1:44 into the second. Toronto won the only other meeting so far this season, 4-1 at home on October 15.UP NEXTMaple Leafs: Host Colorado on Sunday in the opener of five straight at home – four against teams from the Western Conference.Bruins: At Montreal on Monday night. Andersen misplayed a clearing attempt, firing the puck off a player where it dropped next to the rear boards. Pats beat the Bruins, 5-3. Connor Brown added an empty-netter and Andersen improved to 6-0-0 in his career against Boston.

Ekblad, Barkov lead Panthers to 4-2 win over Canucks

Troy Stecher shot from the point, and the puck hit Sedin’s stick and was redirected into the net at 11:45 of the third.The Panthers had stretched their lead to 3-0 at 1:05 of the third. Jagr took a shot from above the right circle that was blocked by Markstrom. Aleksander Barkov had a goal and an assist, and Vincent Trocheck and Derek MacKenzie also scored for Florida. Seth Griffith passed from behind the net to Barkov in front, who poked the puck past Markstrom. Roberto Luongo made 37 saves, and Jaromir Jagr recorded an assist and now has 1,883 points, four behind Mark Messier for second on the NHL career list.Daniel Sedin and Jack Skille scored in the third period for the Canucks. Jacob Markstrom stopped 38 shots.With the Panthers clinging to a 3-2 lead, Trocheck scored an empty-net goal with 47.1 seconds left.Trailing 3-0, the Canucks scored twice in the third.Skille took a shot from low in the right circle that got past Luongo on the glove side at 8:06 of the third. 19, a span of 11 games. … Jim Craig, a member of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team that won a gold medal, attended the game.UP NEXT:Canucks: Visit the Washington Capitals on Sunday.Panthers: Visit the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday. … Barkov has points in 11 of his past 12 games.The Panthers went ahead 2-0 on MacKenzie’s goal. … Aaron Ekblad gave Florida a three-goal lead early in the third period and the Panthers held on for a 4-2 victory over the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday night.The Panthers won their first home game under interim coach Tom Rowe. C Jayson Megna was born in nearby Fort Lauderdale. Paul Thompson recorded his first NHL point with the first assist on the goal.NOTES: Canucks D Erik Gudbranson, who was the first-round pick by the Panthers in 2010 and played for the Panthers for five years, received a video tribute and an ovation from the crowd in his first return since being traded to Vancouver last June. Ekblad backhanded the rebound and beat Markstrom on the stick side.Barkov gave the Panthers a 1-0 lead 2:22 in. The win was the Panthers’ first in regulation since a victory over Ottawa on Nov. Skille has three goals in two games.A power-play goal by Sedin made the score 3-2. Panthers D Keith Yandle played his 580th consecutive game, tying Johnny Wilson for the ninth longest stretch in the NHL. G Thatcher Demko was called up from Utica of the AHL because of a lower-body injury to Ryan Miller. … MacKenzie corralled a bouncing puck and pushed it into the net at 9:35 of the second.

Max Pacioretty scores four goals as Canadiens rout Avalanche 10-1

Pacioretty, Paul Byron and Flynn scored on the first four shots against Semyon Varlamov. Lehkonen roofed a backhand from the edge of the crease at 7:12.Varlamov, who allowed six goals on 16 shots, was greeted by Pacioretty’s second of the night on a deflection of Andrei Markov’s point shot at 8:13. Pacioretty completed his hat trick in the second period and added another in the third to give the Canadiens captain seven goals in his last four games.Alexander Radulov and Jeff Petry also scored for Montreal (19-6-3), which has shown no drop-off on attack without injured scoring leader and first line centre Alex Galchenyuk after Thursday’s 5-2 win over New Jersey. Only 28 seconds later, Byron scored on a breakaway. While the 39-year-old didn’t figure into the scoring, he took two minor penalties for throwing punches at Alexei Emelin after the Canadiens defenceman clipped Joe Colborne with a low check with less than four minutes to play.Flynn got Montreal’s biggest offensive output since the Bell Centre opened in 1996 started when he scored on a Daniel Carr rebound at 2:56 and Pacioretty wired a wrist shot past Pickard at 5:13. John’s on Friday night, but neither dressed. Flynn’s pass intended for Carr went in off Colborne’s stick at 13:37.Comeau got one by Carey Price when he deflected Nikita Zadorov’s shot in with 17 seconds left in the first period.Radulov scored on a one-timer 11:35 into the second period and Pacioretty put one in from the left circle at 18:33. The Avs end a four-game road trip Sunday night in Toronto.Avalanche winger Jarome Iginla played his 1,500th NHL game. Montreal was on a power play when Petry’s weak shot from the point eluded Varlamov’s glove with 0.10 seconds left in the period.Pickard was back in goal to start the third and was beaten at 7:28 when Pacioretty jammed in a Torrey Mitchell rebound.Tomas Plekanec had four assists. After getting seven points in the Canadiens’ first 25 games, he has six in the last three.Montreal’s six goals in 13:47 to start a game was not a team record, which is six in 10:35 set on March 10, 1951 against Chicago.Colorado forward Rene Bourque, who celebrated his 35th birthday, was out for the opening faceoff along with Iginla.The Canadiens recalled centre Michael McCarron and defenceman Mark Barberio from St. Montreal outshot the Avs 36-16.Blake Comeau got one late in the first frame for Colorado (10-15-1), which was coming off a win Thursday night in Boston that ended a six-game winless run. Max Pacioretty scored four goals while Brian Flynn tallied twice in a six-goal first period as the Montreal Canadiens routed the Colorado Avalanche 10-1 on Saturday night.Flynn, Pacioretty and Artturi Lehkonen scored as Montreal put three goals past starter Calvin Pickard on 10 shots in the opening 7:12.

Trevor Lewis leads LA Kings’ surge to 4-1 win over Ottawa Senators

Mike Condon stopped 15 shots, and Zack Smith scored for Ottawa, which has lost four of six. Smith’s goal was initially credited to Jean-Gabriel Pageau and wasn’t changed until the following period. The Slovak wing missed the final two months of last season and the first six weeks of this season with injuries.NOTES: Kings coach Darryl Sutter got his 200th victory with the franchise. Devin Setoguchi also returned to the lineup, and the Kings scratched Kyle Clifford and Nic Dowd, who had played in 24 straight games. Carter scored his 12th goal early in the power play on a quick wrist shot, and Martinez scored in the final seconds with a long shot that ricocheted off Condon.Budaj, the veteran goalie who rose from the AHL to take over for injured Jonathan Quick, got an assist on Carter’s goal for his first point since April 4, 2012.Smith trimmed the lead early in the second period by ending his 13-game goal drought, but Lewis connected with 0.5 seconds left in the period, getting his fifth goal of the season.Gaborik then scored on an exceptional shot for his first goal in 10 months. Ottawa F Bobby Ryan missed part of the second period, but returned for the third.UP NEXTSenators: At Ducks on Sunday.Kings: At Sabres on Tuesday. Toffoli returned to the ice late in the first period. Borowiecki fought Matt Greene shortly after getting out of the penalty box. … Andy Andreoff returned to the Kings’ lineup after missing 17 games following an upper-body injury in late October. The Senators struggled to beat Budaj, the long-time Montreal goalie, in the second stop of their swing through California.Veteran forward Chris Neil played his 1,000th game for Ottawa, joining Daniel Alfredsson and Chris Phillips as the only Senators to reach the mark.The Kings seized an early lead after Mark Borowiecki received a five-minute major for boarding Tyler Toffoli, who went to the dressing room after getting his face driven into the glass. … … Trevor Lewis had a goal and an assist, and Jeff Carter and Alec Martinez scored on the same power play early in the first period of the Los Angeles Kings’ 4-1 victory over the Ottawa Senators on Saturday.Peter Budaj made 19 saves and earned an assist, and Marian Gaborik scored his first goal since Feb. … Only Andy Murray (215) has more. 12 to cap the Kings’ final home game before a three-week, nine-game stint on the road until New Year’s Eve.

Hockey icon Bill Dineen dies at 84

He helped the Aeros win Avco Cup titles in 1974 and 1975 with teams featuring Howe, and Howe’s sons Mark and Marty.Dineen was named the WHA’s coach of the year in 1977 and 1978. He spent a final WHA season as coach of the New England Whalers but was fired after 71 games with the Whalers in fourth place.Dineen later coached the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers for the 1991-92 and 1992-93 seasons, giving him a chance to coach his son Kevin.He also spent six years as coach of the AHL’s Adirondack Red Wings, leading them to league titles in 1986 and 1989.Dineen was inducted into the AHL Hall of Fame in 2014.“During his time as a player and coach, and in the values he instilled in his family, Bill Dineen created a legacy of greatness in the American Hockey League that still resonates today,” David Andrews, AHL president and chief executive officer, said in a statement.Dineen’s sons Shawn, Peter, Gord, Kevin and Jerry all have careers in professional hockey.Kevin Dineen, a veteran of 1,188 NHL games, is a former head coach of the Florida Panthers and is currently an associate coach with the Blackhawks.Gord Dineen played 529 games in the NHL and is an associate coach of the AHL’s Toronto Marlies. He made more of an impact as a player in the AHL, where he was a four-time 20-goal scorer over six seasons with Buffalo, Cleveland, Rochester and Quebec.He went into coaching after retiring as a player, taking the reins of the WHA’s Houston Aeros for six years starting in the 1972-73 season. Bill Dineen, a hockey icon who played with and later coached the legendary Gordie Howe, has died at 84.The American Hockey League confirmed in a statement that Dineen died Saturday at his home in Lake George, N.Y.Dineen, born in Arvida, Que., played 324 games in the National Hockey League with the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks, winning two Stanley Cup championships in Detroit alongside Howe.

Staal scores in sixth round of shootout, Wild beat Oilers

Chris Stewart and Jordan Eberle each scored in the fifth round.Edmonton’s Connor McDavid, the league leader with 38 points, was held scoreless for just the fifth time in 14 games. Talbot had 34 saves.Nugent-Hopkins tied it with a power-play goal with 4:39 left when his wrist shot beat a screened Dubnyk. It was Minnesota’s first shot of the period.Eighteen of the Wild’s 26 contests have been one-goal games, including the last six. The goal was upheld by video review.Draisaitl scored his team-leading 13th goal with 55.4 seconds remaining in the first for a 1-0 lead.After a give-and-go with Benoit Pouliot, Draisaitl’s first shot was stopped by Dubnyk, but he scored on the rebound. His redirect easily beat Talbot at 1:18 for his third goal in five games. He was also without a point in Sunday’s loss to Minnesota.McDavid’s turnover in the Edmonton end put the puck on Mikael Granlund’s stick early in the third period, leading to a Wild goal for a 2-1 lead.From the right circle, Granlund backhanded a pass to Zucker alone at the left side. He entered with a league-best .946 save percentage and 1.65 goals-against average. Three of those went to a shootout, and one was decided in overtime. Eric Staal scored in the sixth round of a shootout and the Minnesota Wild beat the Edmonton Oilers 3-2 on Friday night.Matt Dumba and Jason Zucker scored in regulation for Minnesota, which has won three straight.Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk made 25 saves. The third-line centre has goals in three straight games and six goals in the past six games.Dumba snapped an 11-game scoring drought with a wrist shot past a screened Talbot 4:26 into the second to tie the game. Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had goals for the Oilers, whose four-game losing streak began with a 2-1 home overtime loss to the Wild last Sunday.Staal scored on a backhand deke before Nugent-Hopkins fired wide in the sixth round.Jason Pominville beat Cam Talbot high on the glove side on Minnesota’s first shootout attempt, and Draisaitl countered on Edmonton’s third.

Lowry scores 34 points, Raptors rally to beat Celtics

The Celtics pulled within four in the final minute, but Al Horford fouled Lowry on a 3-point attempt with 30 seconds to play. 20.Toronto argued that the game officials incorrectly called for an instant replay review of whether the Raptors’ Terrence Ross released a three-point shot prior to the expiration of actual time remaining. DeMar DeRozan added 24 points, and Norman Powell had 20.Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas sat out his second straight game with a strained right groin. Marcus Smart started in his place, but struggled to keep up with Lowry down the stretch.Horford and Avery Bradley each had 19 points to lead Boston.Boston had nine 3-pointers in the first half and used a 13-0 run in the second quarter to take a 14-point lead. The Raptors crawled out of that hole with 21-3 run in the third. The Replay Center official reviewed video of the play using a digital timer and determined the actual time remaining in the game expired before Ross released his shot, and the shot therefore did not count.The league found that calling for an instant replay review in this case was consistent with the playing rules because there was a clock malfunction. Lowry had 14 points in the quarter.The Celtics kept firing 3s in the second half, but cooled off and finished 17 for 42 for the game.Protest deniedEarlier Friday, the NBA denied the Raptors’ protest of their 102-99 loss to the Sacramento Kings on Nov. Lowry made all three free throws to help close out the victory. Kyle Lowry scored 21 of his season-high 34 points in the second half to help the Toronto Raptors hold on for a 101-94 victory over the Boston Celtics on Friday night.The Raptors have won eight of their last nine.Toronto erased an eight-point halftime deficit and led by as many as 11 in the fourth quarter.

More NFL coaches are deciding to go for it on fourth down

But coach Doug Pederson’s aggressive play-calling cost the Eagles (5-7) a win against the New York Giants in November.Pederson passed up two chip-shot field goals to go on fourth downs in the first half. 20. Several of those attempts came at odd times during games, including a few in the Texans-Packers game played in snow.The Texans went on fourth-and-one from the Packers 49 early in the second quarter in a scoreless game. 1 and, quite frankly, the defence if you don’t get it, that if you do give away a short field that they’ll get the ball back for us,” Gruden said this week. Akeem Hunt got stopped short on what appeared to be a poor spot by the officials.“I felt like we needed a touchdown there,” said O’Brien, even though a field goal would’ve given Houston the lead.After Oakland went up 27-20, the Texans faced fourth-and-5 from their own 44 with only 3 minutes and 13 seconds to go and one time-out remaining. The Eagles lost 28-23 after failing to score a touchdown on four tries from the Giants 17 in the final minute.Obviously, six points would’ve made a difference. It defied conventional coaching logic, but Gruden kept his offence on the field, quarterback Kirk Cousins sneaked for the first down and Washington went on to score and secure the win.“I think it’s confidence in the offence, No. Both attempts failed. But Pederson had no regrets and stuck by decisions that backfired. “It shows confidence and belief in the guys,” he said. 21.He went on fourth-and-inches from the Raiders 15 with the score tied and 6 minutes and 15 seconds left in the game. Quinn’s decision to go for it earlier instead of kicking a 23-yard field goal also proved costly. We have a big, physical offensive line, we have got a big back, and we have a quarterback where, if we want to do a bootleg or if we want to drop back and throw it, we have confidence that he can make an accurate throw.“Confidence in the offensive line that can get movement, we can get a foot or a yard or two yards, and confidence in the quarterback to get it done.”For Cousins, it was an easy decision, even if teams holding leads late in the fourth quarter usually punt in that situation.“I think you had to do it,” Cousins said. Yet, O’Brien chose to punt. “At that time, I felt like we were moving the ball.”Last week, teams were 17 for 30 on fourth down. But they failed on fourth-and-two at the Texans’ 48 later in the game.O’Brien also had some interesting fourth-down calls against Oakland in the Monday night game in Mexico on Nov. Atlanta didn’t convert and eventually lost 29-28 because Eric Berry picked off a two-point conversion and returned it the other way. Brock Osweiler tossed a touchdown pass to tie it 7-7.But coach Bill O’Brien got conservative after that conversion.He chose to punt on fourth-and-five at Green Bay’s 36 in a 7-7 game late in the third. He went on fourth-and-one at the Chiefs 10. Through Week 13, teams went for it on fourth down 350 times and converted 181 or 51.7 per cent.Washington coach Jay Gruden made perhaps the boldest call when Washington faced fourth-and-inches from its 41-yard line with a 29-24 lead and 6 minutes and 12 seconds remaining against the Green Bay Packers on Nov. “It’s just a matter of which play to call and how do we execute it versus the front or blitz that they will bring.”No team has more fourth-down attempts than Philadelphia’s 19. The Texans never got the ball back.“If I had it back, I’d go for it,” O’Brien said afterward.Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn passed up a short field goal down 27-16 in the third quarter against Kansas City last Sunday. He decided to punt again on fourth-and-seven from the Packers 44 with 8 minutes and 59 seconds left and trailing 14-7.“It’s just where we were on the field,” said O’Brien, offering no explanation for the inconsistent decisions.The Packers converted on fourth-and-two from the Texans 42 when Cristine Michael ran for five yards on their first scoring drive. “But mainly, it’s confidence in the offence. Fourth-and-no is becoming fourth-and-go in the NFL.More coaches are going for it in situations that used to be automatic punts or field-goal attempts. Alfred Blue got stopped and Green Bay turned the short field into a touchdown.Houston later passed up a 23-yard field goal and went on fourth-and-one from the Packers 6 midway through the third quarter. Going for it meant risking the possibility that Aaron Rodgers would get the ball close enough for a short field goal with the game on the line.

Kansas City Chiefs continue to dominate in the AFC West

We’ve got to keep our eyes on the prize and stay focused on the main goal.”With the win over Oakland, the Chiefs assured themselves a second-successive 10-win season, something the club has only accomplished two other times in franchise history. We need to put this game behind us, stay focused, and finish the rest of the season strong.”That’s because there is still plenty on the horizon.The Chiefs haven’t won the AFC West since 2010, when they finished 10-6 in a division that, it seemed, nobody wanted to win. They are more like necessities for a team dreaming of a Super Bowl.“It’s good right now,” Chiefs running back Spencer Ware said, “but we can’t get comfortable. The Chiefs are 10-3 and barrelling toward bigger things, their future looking the brightest it has all season after their Thursday night win over Oakland.“We’re trying to get to our ultimate goal,” Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters said, “so we have to win, individually, each game. So we’re going to prepare for our next opponent and just keep moving on.” Along the way are not only the two wins over Oakland this year, but also a win in Denver – the other divisional team in the thick of the postseason hunt heading into the Broncos’ game Sunday at Tennessee.The Broncos visit Arrowhead Stadium on Christmas night.“It’s all about us. It’s going to be something more,” Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce said after the 21-13 victory on Thursday night, “especially with a team like Oakland that’s at the top of the charts on offence and defence.”Well, they had been at the top of the charts heading into the showdown.The Chiefs knocked them down a peg.It was their fifth-straight win against the Raiders and their ninth-consecutive victory over division foes, the third-longest streak in franchise history. There is an argument to be made that the AFC West is the best division in the NFL.There is little argument to be made against the Chiefs being the class of it.After dispatching the Raiders on a frigid night at Arrowhead Stadium, the Chiefs are tied with them for the lead at 10-3 with three games left in the regular season. And that nine-game win streak of division foes is currently the best in the NFL, though Houston can match it with a win over Indianapolis on Sunday.But the Texans are only 6-6 overall. “This win means a lot to us, but the season’s not over. For the division title, sure. It’s not about who we play,” said star pass rusher Justin Houston, whose return from off-season knee surgery has given the Kansas City defence a big midseason lift.“We just need to stay focused,” he said. Their many deficiencies showed when they were routed 30-7 by Baltimore in their first playoff game, which they hosted because of their division title.Their last two playoff trips have started on the road as wild cards.Three years ago, they went to Indianapolis and built a big early lead before their defence melted down in the second half. But also for a first-round bye in the playoffs.“Every division game has got to be a playoff game. And last year, they went to Houston and came away with their first playoff victory in more than two decades, only to lose at New England the following week.So to say that a first-round bye and a home playoff game in the second round are crucial would be an understatement. But Kansas City holds the tiebreaker, thanks to two head-to-head wins over Oakland, which could loom large down the stretch.

All eyes on Toronto FC’s power duo Altidore, Giovinco in MLS Cup final

“You have confidence in him when he does get the ball that you can continue your run forward because he’s going to hold the ball up. “I think that is a combination any coach would love to have.Read more: MLS head praises Toronto FC and Seattle Sounders’ fan basesRead more: The passion, pain and joy of being a Toronto FC fanRead more: Toronto FC, ready for battle, hope for winning weather“They are a dangerous tandem and it will require some key moments from my captain over here [midfielder Osvaldo Alonso] to try and slow them down; an entire team effort to try and prevent them from scoring.”On the one side, Giovinco, 29, plays the sprite. Together, they have produced nine goals and eight assists in five playoff games over the past 45 days and if the Seattle Sounders are to upset TFC and win the Major League Soccer championship at BMO Field on Saturday night, they have to find a way to stop the pair. “He kind of keeps to himself a little bit. But injuries and other circumstances have seen him bounce from MLS to Spain to the Netherlands to England and back to MLS with only sporadic success.It was the same story when he joined the Reds in 2015 as part of a deal in which unhappy striker Jermain Defoe, a major piece in the Bloody Big Deal, headed back to England. “That for me counts for a whole lot, sometimes more than putting the ball in the back of the net.“At the beginning of the year we were grinding out games on the road and Jozy didn’t get a goal. This is a guy who competed every single day for this team and that should not go unnoticed.” We were winning games because of the amount of work he was willing to do for us on the road to compete and grind things out. It’s a blessing to be here today and to go train, to be among these guys.”His teammates love him right back.“Jozy is a great guy,” Beitashour said. He is a striker who can hit like a North American football linebacker but also has speed and feet every bit as soft and skillful as Giovinco’s. He has the whole package and he takes advantage of it.”One similarity between Giovinco and Altidore is that neither likes to talk to the media. Altidore prefers to discuss team play rather than himself during his infrequent interviews.“I just feel like what you can accomplish as a group is far greater than what you can do yourself,” Altidore said. Altidore scored 13 goals for TFC in 2015 but more was expected and when this season started slowly for him, followed by a hamstring injury, the critics started squawking.Since a mid-season return to health, though, Altidore has been knocking heads and putting balls in the back of the net. “Jozy is a very good target forward who also has the ability to turn and run at you. Then people started to notice his performances, but he’s always played great. In that sense, both are in the right league, given the comically inept way MLS has conducted interactions between the media and the players and coaches in the days leading up to the MLS Cup. In his past 20 games, Altidore scored 15 goals and the past five marked the first time an MLS player has scored in five consecutive games in one set of playoffs.Yet even when encouraged by a media type or two, Altidore still resists any urge to strike back at the naysayers. I get to live my dream,” Altidore said. He’s one of those guys who’s down-to-earth and you like to be around.”TFC head coach Greg Vanney dismisses the recent fuss over Altidore as so much misguided thinking that only goals matter when it comes to strikers.“He does everything and anything you ask him to do and then some,” Vanney said. Once Altidore receives a pass, the ball sticks to him, which allows teammates to gamble and rush forward because there is rarely a giveaway.“It’s surprising for a big man like that to be that quick and that agile and have such good feet,” TFC defender Steven Beitashour said earlier this week. Like so many talented players, the native of Livingston, N.J., has had to deal with outsized expectations since turning professional at such a precocious age. If they were spotted walking down the street together, Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco might be called Mutt and Jeff or Tom and Jerry or any other comic-book phrase that denotes two mismatched people.On the soccer pitch, opposing coaches may well take a hint from Toronto FC’s infamous Bloody Big Deal, the one that indirectly brought Altidore and Giovinco together as the Reds’ strikers, and call them The Bloody Big Handful. Nor will he contemplate the idea that he finally deserves some individual success after his travails.“I get to live my life as a professional soccer player. “As we look to the game Saturday, individual performances won’t matter if we don’t put it together as a team.”However, Altidore is on the best run of his career. “There’s going to be ups and downs but, I’m sorry, I don’t look at it the same way as a lot of people. But if you know him, you know the type of person he is; he cares about people.“He cracks some good jokes, too. Giovinco is a forward that can playmake,” said Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer. His listed size of 6-feet, 175-pounds in the TFC media guide must have been measured when he was drafted into MLS by the New York Red Bulls at the age of 16.However, Altidore is now a muscular, intimidating presence on the Reds’ front line who can also dance around opponents. On the other, Altidore, 27, is a formidable physical presence. A 5-foot-4, 135-pound wisp who confounds defenders with his one-on-one skills that see him spin away, or seemingly through, multiple players with the ball still on his feet.

More than 1,000 Russian athletes involved in doping cover-up: report

If you are Russian, they accuse you of all sins.”McLaren accepted that there could be widespread doping elsewhere, though not on the same level as in Russia, the sole focus of his investigation.McLaren pointed out that Russia had won 24 gold, 26 silver and 32 bronze medals at London 2012 and no Russian athlete had tested positive.“Yet the Russian team corrupted the London Games on an unprecedented scale, the extent of which will probably never be fully established,” he said.“For years, international sports competitions have unknowingly been hijacked by the Russians. Only athletics and weightlifting banned the entire Russian teams.The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) did ban Russia completely from its Rio games, however, and said on Friday the full findings of the report “strike right at the heart of the integrity and ethics of sport”.McLaren accepted that Russian authorities had taken many steps since his first report, removing officials who had been involved in the cover-up, setting up a new anti-doping commission and proposing a “gold standard” doping control regime.However, when asked about the comments of Svishchev and Isinbayeva, he said: “The findings are not challengeable…my impression is that there is a certain embedded cultural aspect to what has been going on, so there probably does need to be cultural change.“That doesn’t mean change won’t occur, but it might take longer than a few months or a year.”WADA Director General Olivier Niggli told Reuters that the report only scratched the surface of the problem.“Richard McLaren and his team only had access to a fraction of what probably happened in Russia,” Niggli said. – More than 1,000 Russian competitors across more than 30 sports were involved in an institutional conspiracy to conceal positive drug tests as Moscow “hijacked international sport” over the course of five years, an independent WADA report said on Friday.The second and final part of the report for the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) by Canadian sports lawyer Richard McLaren provided exhaustive evidence of an elaborate doping scheme sponsored by Russia’s Sports Ministry. It included switching and changing samples by opening “tamper-proof” bottles – using a method devised by the Russian secret service – and numerous other methods to bypass and cover up drugs tests.“We are now able to confirm a cover-up that dates back until at least 2011 that evolved from uncontrolled chaos to an institutionalised and disciplined medal-winning conspiracy,” McLaren told a news conference.The scale was unprecedented, he said.“We have evidence revealing that more than 500 positive results were reported as negative, including well-known and elite-level athletes and medal winners, who had their positive results automatically falsified.Read more: Doping decorum blown out of the water in RioGlobe editorial:If the IOC won’t, the athletes will: Why some athletes are accusing others of dopingMore than 1,000 athletes competing in Summer, Winter and Paralympic sport could be identified as being involved in or benefiting from tampering to conceal positive tests,” he said.The International Olympic Committee, which had refused a blanket ban of Russian competitors at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, said it had shown evidence of “a fundamental attack on the integrity of the Olympic Games and on sport in general”.It said it would to test all Russian competitors’ samples from the London 2012 Olympics in addition to the ongoing re-tests from the Sochi 2014 Olympics.WADA president Craig Reedie called the report “alarming”, but Russia showed no sign of accepting its conclusions.The Sports Ministry said it would study the WADA report and cooperate with anti-doping bodies, but that it “denies that any government programmes exists to support doping in sport”.“UNFOUNDED ACCUSATIONS”Track and field chief Dmitry Shlyakhtin said he had not yet seen the report but conceded that Russian athletics’ problems “did not start yesterday”. Coaches and athletes have been playing on an uneven field.”The IOC on Wednesday extended provisional sanctions against Russian sport over the scandal, and an international ban on its track and field athletes remains in force pending a reform of its anti-doping programme.Forensic investigations by McLaren’s team detailed how a bank of clean urine samples was kept in a Moscow laboratory, where salt and coffee were added to try to fool officials testing “B samples” in supposedly tamper-proof bottles.DNA MISMATCHESThe report included cases where a doctored B sample did not match the DNA of previous specimens, and of samples that contained a mixture of male and female urine.It added that analysis of the samples from four Russians who won gold in Sochi had shown salt readings that were physiologically impossible, while there was evidence that the samples of 12 Russian Sochi medallists had been tampered with.More than 1,100 items of evidence contained in the report have been made available to the public at the website’s report provided extensive evidence to support the original July report, which said Moscow had concealed hundreds of positive doping tests ahead of the Sochi Winter Games in 2014.The IOC declined to impose a blanket ban on Russia competing in Rio, letting international sports federations decide which athletes should be allowed to compete. However, he said it had now fulfilled all the demands made of it.Yelena Isinbayeva, double Olympic pole vault champion and newly-elected head of the Russian Anti-Doping Agency supervisory board, said shortly before the report was released: “It is well known to us that many foreign athletes have a history of doping but compete at an international level with no problems.“If we want to clean up world sport, let’s start…we don’t need to concentrate on just one country.”Dmitry Svishchev, a member of parliament and president of Russia’s Curling Federation, said: “We haven’t heard anything new. Unfounded accusations against us all.

Wayne Gretzky defends Connor McDavid’s fiery outburst

McDavid, who missed 37 games of his rookie season with the injury, said he went out of his way to defend Manning at the time.“I guess we can put the whole if he did it thing to rest because what he said out there kind of confirmed that,” said McDavid, who taunted Manning after scoring the second goal in the Oilers’ third straight loss.Gretzky didn’t mind seeing that fire in McDavid. It was something he and Mario Lemieux dealt with in their day, and a reality Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Steven Stamkos and now McDavid, confront in the current era.“And Connor, he’s going to get tested every night, but this is not new for him,” Gretzky said Friday at the NHL board of governors meetings. As the primary target of opponents over his Hall of Fame career, Wayne Gretzky could certainly empathize with the frustration Connor McDavid was feeling Thursday night.McDavid and Philadelphia Flyers defenceman Brandon Manning jostled all evening long in an eventual 6-5 Oilers loss, the Edmonton captain angrily denouncing the tactics of his opponent after the game. “It’s good to see that he’s combative and he wants to excel and he wants to win and that’s what makes him a great player is he’s got that competitive spirit.”Gretzky didn’t have a problem with how outspoken McDavid was after the game either. I’m a guy who plays the game hard and I take pride in that.”Rejoining the Oilers in a business role in early October, Gretzky has tried to be around to advise McDavid if called upon, recently describing him as the best 19-year-old player he’d ever seen. McDavid said Manning showed “what kind of guy he is” with his actions, including his decision not to fight with teammates who rushed to McDavid’s defence.“I think anybody who knows me or who has played with or against me along the road here, knows that I am not that kind of player,” Manning said according to a statement released by the Flyers. “He’s been tested since he was a kid and then playing junior hockey and now in the NHL and he’s always responded and done his part.”McDavid is currently leading the NHL with 38 points.Following Thursday’s game, McDavid claimed that Manning said he intentionally injured him last season, a “classless” act in the eyes of the Newmarket, Ont., native. Gretzky said the targeting came with the territory of being a superstar. Competitiveness is part of what makes the great ones great, he argued, referring to Carey Price’s blocker attack on Kyle Palmieri, which saw the Canadiens goaltender pepper the Devils forward with shots after a drive into the Montreal goal.“It’s good to see that he’s got that emotional fight in him,” Gretzky said. “I am not out there intentionally trying to hurt people. McDavid broke his collarbone in early November when the Flyers defenceman partially shoved him into the boards.

Gretzky says Olympics are worth it for NHL players, despite challenges

But it also means we’re going to make sure that the players who need to be off the ice are off the ice.”Gretzky voiced his support for the program. Wayne Gretzky remembered, with incredible precision, what it was like to fly back to North America from the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan.Part of the Team Canada squad that missed out on a medal, Gretzky recalled the challenge of travelling from Japan, through Vancouver, to New York. Sure. But the players rejected the idea, which included an extension of the collective agreement, last week.“There’s nothing right now,” Bettman said when asked what the next step was in regard to the Olympics. “It’s hard on your body,” Gretzky said Friday, recalling the day-to-day schedule accurately while failing to mention his three assists in a 5-2 Rangers win.Read more: NHL owners debate participation in 2018 Olympics in South KoreaRead more: NHLPA rejects NHL’s offer of Olympic participation in exchange for contract extensionFor all the logistical challenges the Olympics present, Gretzky believes it’s ultimately worth it for NHL players to attend their sixth-consecutive Games in South Korea in 2018.No decision was reached, however, at the league’s board of governors meetings in Palm Beach this week and it remains uncertain what the next step will be. It took until the summer of 2013, following the lockout, for the league to confirm participation in the 2014 Games. It’s expected that the league and players’ association will discuss the matter again next week.Now a member of the Edmonton Oilers management team, Gretzky attended this week’s meetings and hopes the league ultimately chooses to attend.“I happen to love everything about the Olympic Games,” said Gretzky, who also built the Canadian team that won gold in Salt Lake City.While acknowledging there was nothing more exciting in hockey than the Stanley Cup, Gretzky said “the one spectacle that’s really remarkable is the Olympic Games.”“My opinion is – I told you – I like the Olympic Games, but does that mean that the NHL is going to go? All that became clear over two days in Florida was a collective distaste among owners with respect to attending the Olympics again in 2018.NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said there was “strong negative sentiment” and ultimately “fatigue” with the event. I don’t have a crystal ball, I can’t tell you.”Bettman said the recently completed World Cup of Hockey, a joint venture between the NHL and NHLPA, was deemed a big success internally, though some owners were concerned by injuries suffered during the event, which included Dallas Stars centre Tyler Seguin, Florida Panthers defenceman Aaron Ekblad and Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Matt Murray.Holding the event before the start of the regular season, however, continued to be deemed a better option than a mid-season break, such as the one required for the Olympics.The governors also reviewed the league’s new concussion spotter program which came into focus earlier this month after Connor McDavid was pulled from a game against the Minnesota Wild. The Oilers captain said he was “pretty shocked” to be removed after his chin smacked the ice in 2-1 Edmonton overtime loss.Bettman said the consensus among owners was that the program was having its intended effect.“The reason you have the spotter program is exactly for the instances that people are talking about because players typically – and you go back through the history of this – don’t want to come out of a game,” Bettman said. “And yet there’s so much more to learn about it.”The governors planned to review the matter again after the all-star game in Los Angeles.Additionally, Winnipeg Jets executive chairman Mark Chipman and Montreal Canadiens owner Geoff Molson were voted onto the NHL’s executive committee, replacing Philadelphia Flyers late owner Ed Snider and Peter Karmanos of the Carolina Hurricanes. “We’ll see what happens. He’s not sure whether he even suffered a concussion in his career, “because in those days it’s a ‘take two Aspirins tonight and tomorrow you’re going to skate for an hour and we’re going to sweat it out of you.’”“We have so much more knowledge now,” Gretzky said. The group didn’t see the upside of the Olympics and believed it was more of an impediment than a benefit, what with the 17-day season shutdown, potential for injury and costs.Nothing tangible was gleaned either, Bettman said, from participating in Games outside North America.Bettman had hoped a recent proposal to the NHL Players’ Association, which could have offered two Olympics, two World Cups and two Ryder Cup-style events, would have helped change the minds of owners who are against attending the 2018 Games. There’s nothing new from [Thursday] when we discussed it.”It’s unclear whether sentiment is truly as negative as Bettman suggests or whether the league is simply being tactical as a means of pressuring players toward a better agreement, perhaps one that includes the labour pact.Bettman said time was running short for the NHL to decide whether it would go or not, stating last month that a decision was needed by early January. “Does that mean some players are going to get pulled who didn’t have concussions? He got home on a Tuesday, practised with the New York Rangers a day later and then played in Toronto on Thursday.