Ilie Sanchez Hits Game-Winning Penalty Kick to Give Los Angeles FC Its First MLS Cup Title

Ilie Sanchez has helped lead the Los Angeles FC to its first Major League Soccer championship…

The 31-year-old Spanish professional footballer hit the game-winning goal in an epic championship match at Banc of California Stadium against Philadelphia Union to give the LAFC the teams first MLS Cup title

Ilie SanchezSanchez and his LAFC teammates beat the Philadelphia Union on penalty kicks after a 3-3 draw for the ages – and also making the hosts the first team to complete a Cup-Supporters’ Shield double since Toronto FC in 2017.

Gareth Bale’s thunderous 128th-minute equalizing header sent the game into penalty kicks, showing exactly why the Black & Gold signed the superstar forward this summer as he left Real Madrid. That canceled out a possible man-of-the-match performance from Philly center back Jack Elliott, whose first equalizer booked extra frames, and then his go-ahead 124th-minute strike pushed the Union on the verge of a first MLS Cup trophy.

But Bale came up huge with the final whistle nearing, and back-up goalkeeper John McCarthy took the hero’s cape in the PK shootout by saving two Union efforts – from Jose Martinez and Kai Wagner – after Daniel Gazdag sent the Eastern Conference champions’ first attempt over the crossbar.

LAFC first got scores from Denis Bouanga and Ryan Hollingshead in PKs, then Ilie Sanchez’s game-winner from the spot sealed a 3-0 advantage for the Black & Gold from 12 yards out.

From there, celebrations ensued for the Western Conference champions before their 3252 supporters’ section – all in a final that pitted the league’s top two teams against each other for the first time since 2003.

Maximo Carrizo Becomes Youngest Player Signing in Major League Soccer History

Maximo Carrizo is making Major League Soccer history…

The 14-year-old Argentine Americam soccer player has signed a homegrown contract with New York City FC, becoming the MLS’ youngest player signing.

Maximo Carrizo It’s the second time in two months that the league has a new record youngest player signing.

Carrizo, who turned 14 on Monday, has broken the record set in January when Axel Kei (14 years, 15 days) signed with Real Salt Lake.

Prior to Kei’s signing with RSL, the previous record had been held by Freddy Adu since 2004.

A midfielder, Carrizo isn’t expected to play a role with the reigning MLS Cup champions’ first team, however he could factor into the club’s plans for NYCFC II, which begins play in the newly formed MLS NEXT Pro League when it begins in March.

“It’s an honor for me and my family to make MLS history by becoming the League’s youngest player to sign a First Team contract,” Carrizo said in a statement. “This is an incredible Club with amazing people, I’d like to thank everyone at NYCFC for believing in me and helping me take the next step in my career. I know I’m young and I have a lot to improve, but I am ready for the challenge and will work hard every day to show everyone what I am capable of.”

He is the second 14-year-old NYCFC has signed to a first-team contract in recent months, joining Christian McFarlane, who signed in September. Carrizo’s contract runs through the 2027 season and includes a team option for 2028.

Portland Timbers Transfer MLS Legend Diego Valeri to Argentina’s Lanús

Diego Valeri is heading home…

The 35-year-old Argentine professional footballer and Portland Timbers midfielder  is heading home to Argentina.

Diego Valeri

The Portland Timbers have announced an agreement with Lanus for the transfer of the 35-year-old Argentine professional footballer and former Major League Soccer (MLS) MVP.

Lanus plays in Argentina’s top division.

A nine-year veteran of the Timbers, Valeri scored 100 goals and 104 assists in 306 matches across all competitions.

He’s the team regular season leader for both goals (86) and assists (91). Valeri is just the third player in MLS history to reach 80 goals and 80 assists in regular-season play. He was named the MLS Cup‘s Most Valuable Player in 2015 when the Timbers defeated the Columbus Crew for the league championship.

In 2017, he was honored as the league MVP after scoring 21 goals with 11 assists. He was a five-time MLS All-Star and in 2020 was named one of the league’s 25 greatest players.

“I do not believe there has been a more impactful Designated Player signing in the history of MLS than Diego Valeri,” Timbers owner Merritt Paulson said in a statement. “He changed what clubs looked for in a DP — not a brand to put fans in the seats and sell sponsorships, but a rising European level talent who chose to make America his home and legacy.”

Valeri also became a beloved member of the Portland community, known for painting playrooms for foster children and jumping into pickup futsal games. Valeri and his family were ardent supporters of the Portland Thorns, the National Women’s Soccer League team. Valeri is a product of the Lanus academy, which he joined at age 9. He went on to play 158 matches with the senior team from 2003-13.

In addition to the transfer, the Timbers and Lanus agreed to a testimonial match in Portland next year, during which Valeri will play a half for each team. Details were not yet announced.

Upon his retirement, Valeri will become an ambassador for the Timbers.

Paulo Nagamura to Serve as Houston Dynamo’s Next Team Manager

Paulo Nagamura is a dynamo

The Houston Dynamo has agreed to terms with the 38-year-old Brazilian former professional footballer and coach to be the team’s next manager, according to ESPN.

Paulo Nagamura

Glenn Davis, the Dynamo’s play-by-play announcer and host of Soccer Matters on ESPN Houston, was the first to report the selection of Nagamura.

Nagamura replaces Tab Ramos, whose contract wasn’t renewed following the 2021 season. The search was conducted by new Dynamo GM Pat Onstad.

Nagamura was most recently manager of Sporting Kansas City‘s reserve side.

In four seasons as Sporting Kansas City II manager, Nagamura recorded a record of 30-61-25, as the organization focused on youth development. He also served as an assistant with the team in 2017. During his time with the team, the Brazilian coached 15 of the organization’s homegrown players, as well as 23 academy products. Included in this group is current Venezia and United States international midfielder Gianluca Busio.

As a player, Nagamura came up through the youth systems of Sao Paulo and Arsenal before signing with the LA Galaxy in 2005, where he won an MLS Cup and U.S. Open Cup double.

He later went on to play for Toronto FC, Chivas USA, and Liga MX side Tigres, before finishing his career with SKC.

With SKC, Nagamura won two more U.S. Open Cup titles as well as another MLS Cup crown in 2013. Overall, he made over 270 appearances, scoring 15 goals.

Brazil’s Palmeiras Offers Nearly $12.5 Million for NYCFC Star Valentin “Taty” Castellanos

Could Valentin “Taty” Castellanos play in Brazil soon?

Brazilian Serie A side Palmeiras has made an offer of around $12.5 million for the 23-year-old Argentine professional footballer and New York City FC striker, according to ESPN sources.

Valentin "Taty" CastellanosThe offer was made in the days following the NYCFC‘s MLS Cup final victory over the Portland Timbers, a match in which Castellanos scored in regulation time as well as in the penalty shootout, but the sources have added that the amount doesn’t yet meet the Blues’ valuation for the player — NYCFC are seeking in excess of $15m.

In 35 league and playoff appearances this season, Castellanos scored 22 goals and added eight assists while winning the Golden Boot. In parts of four seasons with NYCFC, he scored 40 goals with 18 assists in 99 league and playoff appearances.

In a recent interview with ESPN, Castellanos revealed that he dreams of playing in Argentina, but made it clear that he’s focused on a move to Europe, where he said he already has offers.

“Obviously, it’s a desire I have, because I’ve never played in Argentina,” he said via a translation. “But I don’t think the time is right now. I want to aim for European football. It’s reality, it’s my dream, I always wanted to [play] there. That’s my focus. Today I have many offers from Europe.”

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola recently praised Castellanos and said that the top scorer will soon be playing in Europe. Like Man City, New York City FC is part of the City Football Group.

This isn’t the first time that Palmeiras has pursued the Argentine. Last May, Palmeiras made an offer of $4m for 70% of the economic rights of the player. However, the American club, which at first had liked the proposal, withdrew from negotiations. NYCFC subsequently signed Castellanos to a new five-year contract through 2025. According to data from the MLS Players Association, Castellanos’ guaranteed compensation in 2021 was $776,000.

A native of Mendoza, Argentina, Castellanos originally joined NYCFC on loan in 2018 from Uruguayan side Montevideo City Torque, another City Football Group club. The Blues activated an option to purchase Castellanos after a successful loan stint, which included a goal in his debut against Vancouver Whitecaps.

Sebastian Blanco “Ready” to Play in Saturday’s MLS Cup Final Against New York City FC

Sebastian Blanco is ready to play…

The 33-year-old Argentine footballer, who suffered a reported hamstring injury in the MLS conference semifinal win over the Colorado Rapids on Thanksgiving Day that threatened to keep him out of the remainder of the MLS Cup playoffs, says he’s “ready” to take part in Saturday’s MLS Cup final against New York City FC.

Sebastian BlancoBlanco was an unused substitute in the Portland Timbers‘ Western Conference final win over Real Salt Lake five days ago.

Dating back to August 29, Blanco has appeared in 15 of Portland’s 17 contests. Of those 15 games, the Timbers won 12 of them, with the 33-year-old attacker registering eight goals and five assists in that span.

His importance to Giovanni Savarese’s side can’t be understated, so it will come as a great relief to the Rose City that its No. 10 took part in full training on Thursday.

“I am ready. I’m OK, I feel good,” Blanco told members of the media during a news conference on Thursday. “I prepared myself for this game. I trained with my team today completely. Now we still need to have a conversation with [Savarese] … He will decide, but everything’s good.”

For the two months before his injury in Colorado, Blanco’s form gave Portland hope of a deep playoff run. And those expectations were heightened once the playoffs began, when he marked a dominating performance in a Round 1 win over Minnesota United with a brace.

But the Timbers had to scrap for their win over the Rapids, needing a 90th-minute winner from center-back Larrys Mabiala to advance out of the conference semifinals. An early goal from Felipe Mora ensured they were never too uncomfortable last Saturday against RSL, allowing Blanco to remain on the bench to continue rehabilitation toward a recovery that he refers to as nearly miraculous.

“After Colorado I was almost out, so we talk about the almost miracle to arrive to this game,” he said. “So to be part of this game is important to me. No matter what happens on Saturday, if I can play or not, it’s important to be a part and we need to support our team however I need to support.”

Despite the twice-capped Argentina international’s importance to Portland’s run to MLS Cup, NYCFC manager Ronny Deila insisted that his team is focused on containing all 11 of their opponents on the field come Saturday, not just Blanco.

“We’ve been talking a lot … here in MLS about specific players, and Blanco is … really good, of course, but they have top players plus a couple on the bench as well who can cause any team problems,” Deila said. “So it’s not about one guy, it’s about stopping them as a team.”

Lucas Zelarayan Signs New Three-Year Contract with Columbus Crew

Lucas Zelarayan isn’t leaving his Crew

The Columbus Crew have signed the 29-year-old Argentine attacking midfielder to a new three-year contract that will keep him with the team through at least 2024.

Lucas ZelarayanThe Designated Player deal also contains a club option for 2025.

Zelarayan spent the last two seasons with the Crew, leading Columbus to the 2020 MLS Cup title — a match in which he was named MVP — and winning that season’s Newcomer of the Year award.

In 53 appearances across all competitions, he scored 21 goals and added 19 assists.

“Over the past two seasons Lucas has proven himself to be one of the top game-changers in MLS and we are excited to sign him to a new contract,” Crew general manager Tim Bezbatchenko said in a statement. “Lucas has proven that he can perform under pressure, and he shines time and time again when the spotlight is brightest. We look forward to seeing what else Lucas and the team can achieve together in 2022 and beyond.”

A native of Cordoba, Argentina, Zelarayan rose through the ranks of Belgrano‘s academy all the way to the first team, making his debut as a 19-year-old in 2012. He went on to make 81 league and cup appearances, scoring 10 goals.

In 2016, Zelarayan moved to Liga MX side Tigres UANL. He went on to make 140 league and cup appearances, scoring 23 goals, and leading Tigres to three Liga MX crowns and three Campeon de Campeones titles.

At the international level, Zelarayan qualified for Armenian citizenship through his father, and has earned four caps for the Armenia national team, making his debut in October of 2021 against Iceland in a UEFA group-stage match for FIFA World Cup qualification.

Gonzalo Pineda Named Head Coach of Atlanta United

Gonzalo Pineda is the head of the class…

The 38-year-old Mexican former soccer player, who has played for Mexico’s International team, has been appointed as the new  head coach, of Atlanta United.

Gonzalo Pineda

Pineda had agreed to personal terms with the Major League Soccer club and signed a contract that would run through the 2024 season.

“This is truly the opportunity of a lifetime and I’m really excited to become Atlanta United’s head coach,” Pineda said in a press release. “I want to thank Arthur Blank, Steve Cannon, as well as Darren and Carlos for entrusting me in this position.

“I’m arriving to a club that already has a system in place to help the players and coaching staff deliver good results for the supporters. I’m looking forward to arriving in Atlanta and meeting with everyone at the club.”

Pineda will join the team in Atlanta next week while assistant coach Rob Valentino will be in charge of the club’s next two matches.

Pineda has long been touted as manager-in-waiting within MLS, and was reportedly a finalist for the D.C. United job that eventually went to Hernan Losada.

His first managerial stint will see him take over one of the biggest jobs in MLS, with Atlanta winning three trophies in its first three years of operation, including an MLS Cup triumph in 2018.

“We’re thrilled to welcome Gonzalo as the head coach of Atlanta United,” club president Darren Eales said.”Building off an illustrious international playing career, Gonzalo joined Seattle‘s coaching staff and played an integral role in the club’s success over the last few years.

“He has a thorough understanding of MLS and has proven to be one of the top assistants in the league. He is a great fit for our club from a cultural and technical perspective, and we’re excited to have a long-term commitment in place.”

During his playing career, Pineda represented some of Mexico’s biggest clubs, including Pumas, Guadalajara and Cruz Azul on loan. He was also loaned out to San Luis, Puebla and Queretaro. He spent the last two years of his career in Seattle, helping the side to U.S. Open Cup and Supporters Shield double in 2014.

At international level, Pineda made 44 appearances for Mexico, scoring one goal. He was also selected to El Tri‘s 23-man roster for the 2006 World Cup.

Yeferson Soteldo Headed to Toronto FC

Yeferson Soteldo is headed to the Great White North

Santos FC, the Brazilian soccer powerhouse, has agreed to transfer the 23-year-old Venezuelan professional footballer and winger to Toronto FC, the Canadian side has revealed.

Yeferson Soteldo

Santos had previously announced the agreement with the Major League Soccer side on Saturday.

Soteldo becomes Toronto’s third Designated Player, joining defending MLS MVP Alejandro Pozuelo and United States forward Jozy Altidore.

Soteldo’s contract with Toronto runs through 2025.

“I am very excited to come to Toronto FC. It is one of the most important sports organizations in Canada and the United States,” said Soteldo. “It is an MLS Cup champion, has great players, and most importantly, they are always competing to win. They have amazing fans and facilities.”

Soteldo made 104 appearances for Santos, scoring 20 goals and adding 17 assists since joining the club in January 2019.

Soteldo adorned the historic No. 10 shirt, worn by Brazil legend Pele, during his time with O Peixe.

“We are very excited for Yeferson to join our club. He is a dynamic, exciting, fearless player who will immediately improve our already strong roster,” said Toronto FC president Bill Manning. “He checks the boxes of what we were looking for in a DP, an attacking player who adds a different dimension to our side, and I think our fans will be excited to see him in a TFC uniform.”

Soteldo also has one goal and three assists in 19 appearances with the Venezuela national team.

Before joining Santos, Soteldo played for Zamora in Venezuela’s top flight and with Huachipato in Chile’s Primera Division.

Federico Higuain to Play Alongside Brother Gonzalo Higuain at Inter Miami

It’s a case of brotherly love for Federico Higuain

Inter Miami has signed the 35-year-old Argentine footballer from D.C. United in exchange for $50,000 in general allocation money, the club has announced.

Federico Higuain

The move means long-time MLS veteran Federico will join his younger brother Gonzalo, 32. at the 2020 expansion team, with D.C. honoring the former’s wishes to play alongside his brother.

“Federico has been a great player in this league,” said Paul McDonoughInter Miami CF COO and sporting director. “We were thrilled to add more attacking depth, experience and playmaking ability to our roster when this opportunity presented itself.”

Since joining MLS in 2012, Federico has scored 60 league goals and notched 68 assists in 217 appearances, while helping lead the Columbus Crew to the MLS Cup final in 2015.

Gonzalo Higuain made the move from Juventus to Inter Miami in September after the culmination of a lengthy pursuit of the former Napoli and Real Madrid striker.

The older Higuain signed with D.C. for the 2020 season as a player and development coach, but he expressed his desire to play alongside his brother in Miami and the club honored that request.

Inter Miami beat the Houston Dynamo 1-0 on Saturday afternoon for its second-straight win.