Tag Archives: reigning

Reigning CPL MVP Kyle Bekker re-signs with league champion Forge FC

Captain Kyle Bekker, who led Forge FC to back-to-back Canadian Premier League titles, has re-signed with the Hamilton team.

The Canadian international midfielder was named the CPL’s most valuable player last year after leading the league in appearances (tied with 11) and minutes played by an attacking player (879). The 30-year-old native of Oakville, Ont., who had three goals and one assist in the league’s truncated 2020 season, was also a finalist for MVP honours in 2019.

“We are extremely happy to have our captain sign his new contract and commit to our club for the foreseeable future,” Costa Smyrniotis, Forge’s director of football, said in a statement. “Kyle has been such a valuable leader for our club since day one, both on the field and in the community. We look forward to continued success together in Hamilton.”

Bekker has made 49 appearances for Forge in all competitions, including 39 in league play.

Bekker played in Major League Soccer from 2013-16 with Toronto FC, FC Dallas and Montreal. He then suited up for North Carolina FC in the United Soccer League and the San Francisco Deltas in the North American Soccer League.

Bekker, who has won 18 caps for Canada, came up through the Sigma FC youth program in Mississauga, Ont., under current Forge head coach Bobby Smyrniotis, Costa’s brother. He played collegiate soccer at Boston College.

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Reigning MLS MVP Carlos Vela likely to skip return tournament: report

Los Angeles FC forward Carlos Vela, the reigning Major League Soccer MVP, likely will skip the MLS is Back Tournament that is set to kick off next week, ESPN reported Wednesday.

However, his decision was “not 100 certain,” according to ESPN’s Jeff Carlisle.

Vela’s wife is pregnant with the couple’s second child, Vela announced in April. Should he participate in the event at the Walt Disney World resort near Orlando, he could be away from his family for more than a month.

No family members or friends will be allowed into MLS’ “bubble” in central Florida.

The absence of Vela could greatly impact LAFC’s chances in the MLS is Back Tournament. The club is a heavy favorite to win the title, sitting with +350 odds at DraftKings and +500 odds at FanDuel as of Wednesday.

Vela, a 31-year-old Mexico native, set the MLS record for goals in a single season with 34 last year. He also tied for third in the league with 15 assists while playing 31 games. Vela added two goals and an assist in two playoff games.

In his first season with LAFC, 2018, Vela recorded 14 goals and 13 assists in 28 games (26 starts).

LAFC had one win and one tie when the MLS season was paused due to the coronavirus pandemic, and Vela had scored two goals.

Vela was under contract with Arsenal in the English Premier League from 2005-12 and had loan stays with multiple European clubs before moving full time to Real Sociedad in Spain’s La Liga from 2012-17.

In 72 career appearances for the Mexican national team, Vela has 19 goals in 72 games, but he said earlier this year that he will no longer play for his country.

Tournament set to begin

MLS is set to end its four-month pause with the tournament featuring all 26 teams. Beginning July 8, each team will play three group-stage matches that will count toward the regular-season standings. The playoffs (round of 16, quarterfinals, semifinals and the Aug. 11 final) will not count toward the standings.

The tournament champion will receive a berth in the 2021 CONCACAF Champions League, and players will be battling for pieces of a $ 1.1 million bonus prize pool.

LAFC are scheduled to open MLS is Back play in Group F against the Houston Dynamo on July 13. The other two teams in the group are the Los Angeles Galaxy and the Portland Timbers.

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Behind Pozuelo and Laryea, TFC set to face reigning champion Atlanta in East final

With a salary of $ 3.8 million US in 2019, Spanish playmaker Alejandro Pozuelo is looking like a bargain for Toronto FC. But Toronto-born fullback Richie Laryea, at the MLS-minimum $ 56,250, is a downright steal.

Both are making their mark at different ends of TFC’s salary scale.

Pozuelo, proving again he is New York City FC’s kryptonite, scored both goals in TFC’s dramatic 2-1 win over top-seeded NYCFC in the Eastern Conference semifinal Wednesday. Laryea, meanwhile, triggered the winning penalty with a marauding run off the bench.

After missing the playoffs last season, Toronto is now one win away from its third MLS Cup final in four years. TFC lost to Seattle in a penalty shootout in 2016 and beat the Sounders in 2017.

Fourth-seeded Toronto advances to play at No. 2 Atlanta, the defending MLS champion which defeated No. 3 Philadelphia 2-0 in the other Eastern semifinal on Thursday, on Oct. 30.

Toronto lost 2-0 at Atlanta on May 8 and won 3-2 at BMO Field on June 26 — thanks to a Pozuelo penalty kick in stoppage time. The spot kick came after Laryea, driving towards goal, was fouled in the box.

Pozuelo, 28, and Laryea, 24, are both newcomers to Toronto this season.

Pozuelo arrived in March to much fanfare as a designated player — in the wake of off-season exits by Sebastian Giovinco and Victor Vazquez — after protracted exit negotiations with his Belgian club KRC Genk. Laryea, originally drafted by Orlando, signed later that month with Toronto issuing a two-paragraph release.

Their salaries reflect the hype, or lack thereof.

Pozuelo is the seventh highest-paid player in MLS, according to the MLS Players Association. Teammates Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore rank No. 2 and 3 at $ 6.5 million and $ 6.3 million, respectively.

Laryea is the lowest-paid TFC player, No. 32 on the club list.

Pozuelo landed with a bang, scoring two goals and adding an assist in a 4-0 win over New York City FC on March 29.

“I think today we showed we have a good team,” he said in his post-game interview Wednesday.

Toronto has converted Laryea, a former midfielder, into a fullback. Working hard off the field to learn the position, he has pushed Brazil’s Auro for a starting job.

Laryea draws praise from Bradley

Laryea has a competitive streak that makes him a welcome presence when push comes to shove. And with the ball at his feet, he can cause havoc.

“His ability to move with the ball, to put guys on the wrong foot, to go by guys, that part is special,” said Bradley. “And he continues to make big plays for us whether it’s as a sub or a starter. I’m so happy for him, so proud of him.”

Laryea was introduced in the 78th minute Wednesday at Citi Field.

“I just came in looking to bring a spark and help change the game, because the guys fought really hard for 80 minutes before I came in,” he said.

He did just that, helped by Pozuelo. The Spaniard spotted him streaking down the right flank and fed him a pass that left two NYCFC defenders in no-man’s land. Laryea then danced around fullback Ronald Matarrita and accelerated into the New York penalty box where Matarrita caught up with him as he made the turn towards goal and chopped him down to trigger the decisive penalty.

WATCH | Pozuelo leads TFC into conference final: 

Alejandro Pozuelo scored both of Toronto FC’s goals as the Reds beat NYCFC 2-1. 1:40

Moved farther forward in the playoffs due to Altidore’s quad strain, the slick Spaniard has pulled the strings up front. Not a conventional No. 9, he serves more like a basketball centre when pushed up front — he can turn and strike himself or bring someone else into the play while drawing defensive attention.

“He was great on the night,” said coach Greg Vanney. “He held up the ball for us, he brought people into the play. He moved around, he fought for things. He helped lead us defensively.”

Pozuelo led the team with 12 goals and 12 assists during the regular season, with three of those coming against NYCFC. Wednesday made it five.

Pozuelo did dip slightly in form during the regular season, due perhaps to his extended campaign in Europe and North America combined with Toronto moving him around the field.

His favourite position is in the middle, slightly behind the striker, where he can move around the field and work his magic. His recent role has allowed him to do much of that.

Pozuelo is quick to praise Laryea.

“An amazing player,” he said. “When he comes to the pitch, he always give the maximum. We know he has a lot of good quality. He helps the team a lot. For me, he is one of the best players on this team.”

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Hurricanes bounce reigning champ Capitals with double-OT win

Justin Williams returned to the building that was the scene of his only Game 7 loss and left the ice relieved and redeemed after knocking off his old friends and defending Stanley Cup champions.

The man who earned the “Mr. Game 7” moniker shook Alex Ovechkin’s hand after the Carolina Hurricanes’ stunning 4-3 double-overtime victory over the Washington Capitals and beamed with pride in his upstart team’s latest triumph that added another piece to one of the craziest first rounds in recent NHL history.

Each conference’s top seed, all four division champions and the teams that met in last year’s Cup Final are all out, and the pesky Hurricanes are storming on to face the New York Islanders in the second round.

“You can kick the snot out of each other and look each other in the eye and say, ‘Man that was a great series, you really pushed us,”‘ Williams said. “We pushed each other.”

WATCH | Hurricanes outlast Capitals in double OT:

Brock McGinn scored the winner in the second overtime period to give Carolina the 4-3 win in Washington, sending them to the second round. 2:16

Carolina pushed Washington out of the playoffs by erasing a two-goal deficit and dominating two overtime periods in the third-longest Game 7 in NHL history. Unheralded forward Brock McGinn, who dived to prevent a Capitals goal late in regulation, redirected Williams’ shot past Braden Holtby 11:05 into the second overtime to send his teammates into a wild celebration and the heavily favoured Metropolitan Division champions home early.

The Hurricanes outshot the Capitals 18-6 in the overtimes, and it was clear Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov and the big guns were gassed after each surpassing 30 minutes of ice time.

“Both teams were [tired],” said Ovechkin, who had a series-high nine points. “Players played a lot of minutes.”

‘It’s tough right now’

The Capitals played a lot of hockey over the past year in winning the first title in franchise history, enduring a midseason seven-game losing streak and still finishing first after 82 games. But they missed an opportunity to close out the Hurricanes in Game 6 on the road Monday, coughed up a lead in the seventh game and bowed out in the first round for the first time since 2013.

It’s the first time in NHL history all four division winners were eliminated in the first round. Unlike Presidents’ Trophy winning Tampa Bay, which got swept, or Western Conference top seed Calgary that got bounced by Colorado in five games, this was right there for the Capitals with a series lead and a two-goal advantage in Game 7 before it slipped away.

“It’s tough right now,” Backstrom said. “It’s tough. Double overtime. Tough one for us. We were up 3-1. Looking back at that, we need to find a way to shut them down there or keep them out of the score sheet there when we got a 3-1 lead. We gave it to them.”

Ovechkin looks skyward after Mrazek stones him on a slap shot from the slot in overtime. (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

In just as many ways, the Hurricanes took it. Undaunted by an early deficit, they got second-period goals from Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen and tied it early in the third on Jordan Staal’s third of the series. Petr Mrazek finished off an inconsistent round by stopping 34 of 37 shots and got bailed out by McGinn when he saved a would-be Capitals go-ahead goal with two minutes remaining in the third period.

“It’s just a reaction,” McGinn said. “I don’t know if it had enough steam to cross the line, but I don’t think I was taking that chance.”

First home loss of series

In a weird series where the home team won the first six games, there were plenty of chances to end it before McGinn’s goal. Washington’s Jakub Vrana, who was demoted to the fourth line by first-year coach Todd Reirden, hit the post in the second overtime, and the Capitals couldn’t cash in on a power play for a Hurricanes delay of game penalty.

“Every opportunity missed is devastating, really,” Capitals defenceman John Carlson said. “When you don’t do well, it is more than just we were up in the series or the game. It is everything. It hurts.”

Staal celebrates his game-tying goal in the third period. (Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Washington fell to 4-8 in Game 7 in the Ovechkin and Backstrom era and 5-12 all-time, including 3-9 at home. The Capitals had the opportunity to face former coach Barry Trotz’s Islanders in the second round after they swept the Penguins, but now the opportunity belongs to the Hurricanes.

“This is just another step,” said Williams, who is 8-1 in his career in Game 7 with an NHL record 15 points. “It’s wide open for us. It’s wide open for every team. There’s eight left and we’re going to keep pushing to see how good we could be.”

The Capitals joined the Predators and Penguins as teams that all won at least one series each of the past three years but failed to get out of the first round in these playoffs. They were hurt by a season-ending torn left hamstring to defenceman Michal Kempny and a broken collarbone on winger T.J. Oshie, whose appearance in the final minutes of regulation fired up the crowd but wasn’t enough to spark an OT win.

“It’s kind of situation where the season is over and you understand that,” Ovechkin said. “We fight through 82 games and in Game 7, they score one goal and it’s a kind of situation where you’re disappointed, you’re frustrated, especially after last year.”

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Kevin Koe topples reigning Olympic champion John Shuster at curling worlds

American skip John Shuster buried a draw to put the pressure on Canada’s Kevin Koe in the ninth end of their game at the world men’s curling championship on Thursday.

There was just one problem.

Koe could get around the crowded house by playing an in-off — one of the trickier shots in curling — from a stone parked wide by the sheet’s sideboard.

Shuster turned to vice-skip Chris Plys and acknowledged the door was still open for the Canadian skip.

“I said, ‘Well we left him the Kevin Koe special. Let’s see if the old Kudog is still here,”‘ Shuster said. “And there he was.”

Koe threw big weight, brought his rock across the rings and took out the U.S. stone by the button for a highlight-reel shot that essentially wrapped up a 6-3 victory.

The home crowd at the Enmax Centre roared its approval and Koe’s teammates emphatically pumped their fists.

“I had goosebumps going there for sure,” said Canada lead Ben Hebert. “That was a pretty loud roar. Especially with how big the game was, to get a shot like that to seal it up is huge.”

WATCH | Koe makes ridiculous shot to beat U.S.:

Kevin Koe played the in-off double takeout to score a deuce in the ninth end, as Canada beat John Shuster’s American rink 6-3. 1:09

The Calgary skip was in need of a victory after two losses a day earlier. Koe, a two-time world champion, improved to 7-2 while Shuster, the reigning Olympic champ, fell to 6-3.

Koe wasted no time thinking about his options after Shuster’s last throw. He went down to the other end and coolly delivered under pressure.

“It’s all we had but it’s a shot I’m comfortable with,” Koe said. “We’d thrown some out there earlier, I knew the spot. I thought if I threw it well, we’d be close and luckily for us, we made it.

“That was probably a game-winner right there.”

Loss ‘would have been deflating’

The teams exchanged early singles before blanking three straight ends. Shuster, who struggled with takeouts at 63 per cent, missed a runback in the sixth that gave Koe an open draw for two.

Canada stole a point in the seventh but Koe ticked a guard in the eighth to set up a Shuster deuce that cut the deficit to one. Both teams shot 88 per cent overall.

“I can’t remember the last time we lost three in a row so that would have been pretty deflating,” Koe said. “We had to find a way to bounce back and I thought we did. There was no real weak spots out there.

“We played a good team game.”

Canada will play Scotland’s Bruce Mouat on Thursday evening.

Round-robin co-leaders Japan and Sweden were off for the morning draw. Yuta Matsumura and defending champion Niklas Edin started the day at 8-1.

In other morning games, Italy’s Joel Retornaz edged Switzerland’s Peter De Cruz 6-5 in an extra end and China’s Qiang Zou beat Norway’s Magnus Ramsfjell 8-3. Russia’s Sergey Glukhov posted a 7-4 win over Jaap Van Dorp of the Netherlands.

After 15 draws, Canada and Switzerland were tied for third place at 7-2. Italy and the United States were next at 6-3 while Scotland was in seventh place at 4-4.

The top six teams will make the playoffs. Round-robin play continues through Friday night.

The Netherlands and Russia were 3-6. China, Norway and Germany’s Marc Muskatewitz were 2-7 and South Korea’s SooHyuk Kim was 0-9.

The top two seeds will get byes to the semifinals. Qualification games (No. 3 versus No. 6 and No. 4 versus No. 5) are set for Saturday morning.

Medal games are scheduled for Sunday.

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