Drilling down on: at New England 1, Portland 0

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Man of the match: Winless in two games, the Revolution badly needed some early success to blow up their balloon of confidence. New Revs’ striker Saer Sène provided the very antidote around Gillette Stadium, striking on a glancing header just 28 seconds in Saturday. Portland had plenty of chances, but couldn’t do what Sene did so early and efficiently for the home side.

Packaged for take away:

  • A crowd of 13,000-plus for a home opener? Things aren’t getting any better for the Revs’ front office, which is still running “MLS 1.0” in too many areas.
  • The supporters who did show for Saturday’s 1-0 win saw some very encouraging signs. Midfielder Kelyn Rowe, the first-round draft pick out of UCLA, is starting to follow up on a promising preseason with bright nights in the regular season. And Lee Nguyen showed some of his nifty dribbling moves along the left. He can be a real factor in the league if he adjusts his game (which sometimes looks like soccer’s version of hoops’ street-ball) to the extra-physical MLS defending.
  • What club wouldn’t love to have Shalrie Joseph? Even if the longtime midfield enforcer around Gillette was a little slow to get going in 2012, he’s still one of the league’s top utility knifes. Playing as an emergency center back on Saturday, he was big and strong all evening on Kris Boyd, the Timbers’ DP striker. In fact, the two locked up in some great battles. Remember, this is a guy who can and has played at striker for the Revs … and surely remains one of the league’s premier holding midfielders, his natural spot.
  • On a couple of instances inside the Revolution penalty area, Joseph did no less than Geoff Cameron did last night to Patrick Ianni on the instance that earned a Sounders’ penalty kick. Still, “you play the game you’re in,” as coaches like to tell players, and in this one it wasn’t a penalty kick.
  • Portland’s attack will get goals this year, but there are still problems along the outside in defense. Most preseason assessments called left back Rodney Wallace and right back Lovel Palmer the weak links going into 2012, and neither has done much to change anyone’s mind. Neither will remember a Saturday as Gillette Stadium as anything shout about.
  • Jay Heaps, the second-youngest MLS coach (and not by much), recorded his first win as man in charge. That’s gotta mean a lot to the longtime Revolution defender, who took the top spot this year with full knowledge that a learning curve would be ahead. In fact, everyone can see that. But patience runs out fast, and nobody wants to hear about learning curves when it starts getting really hot in the kitchen. And 0-3 (where the Revs would have been if they had lost Saturday) would already be a mighty hot kitchen. Bottom line: it doesn’t matter that it was a close one, with some steady goalkeeping required of Matt Reis at the end. The Revs had to have this one.

Here’s the Rev’s early goal.

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UEFA: Wales in trouble; Spain dominates; Buffon hits 1000

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Friday’s matches mark the midway point of the main round of qualifying in UEFA, and the tables remain tight near the top of Groups D and G.

[ MORE: Smalling hurt, Gibson called up ]

Group I, however, is seeing some distance between first and second thanks to Croatia’s result versus Ukraine.

Republic of Ireland 0-0 Wales

Neil Taylor was sent off in the 69th minute for Wales, whose World Cup hopes are in trouble.

Seamus Coleman was stretchered off after the tackle, with a scary-looking injury that will leave Everton fans sick in more ways than one. Coleman’s leg was broken, and left dangling by the challenge.

Ireland couldn’t take advantage of the sending off, and failed in a bid to overtake Serbia for first in Group D. The Irish trail on goal differential, and will host Serbia on Sept. 5.

But Wales will rue the result more, remaining four points back of second-place Ireland. Chris Coleman’s side drops a point behind Austria as well, and will not have Taylor or Gareth Bale (card accumulation) in its next match. That comes against leaders Serbia.

Italy 2-0 Albania

Daniele De Rossi scored a 12th minute penalty kick won by Andrea Belotti, and Ciro Immobile scored late to provided the goals in Gianluigi Buffon’s 1000th appearance for club and country. Fittingly, it ended in a clean sheet. The match was briefly delayed after flares were thrown onto the field.

Spain 4-1 Israel

David Silva, Vitolo, and Diego Costa stakes the Spaniards to a three-goal lead, with Lior Refaelov ruining David De Gea‘s clean sheet with 11 minutes to play. Isco scored the match’s final goal.

Spain remains atop Group G on goal differential, eight better than second place Italy. Israel is four points behind both.

Croatia 1-0 Ukraine

Fiorentina’s Nikola Kalinic’s 38th minute goal was enough for the hosts, and Croatia is now five points clear at the top midway through qualifying.

Elsewhere
Austria 2-0 Moldova — RB Leipzig’s Sabitzer nabs winner
Liechtenstein 0-3 Macedonia — Ilija Nestorovski bags brace
Kosovo 1-2 Iceland — Sigurdsson PK the match winner
Georgia 1-3 Serbia — Mitrovic, Tadic lead the way
Turkey 2-0 Finland — Brace for Cenk Tosun

Boro’s Gibson called to England after injury to Man Utd’s Smalling

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Scoring goals has been the biggest problem for Middlesbrough in its return to the Premier League, and that overshadows how well the Northeast club has defended its own goal.

Ben Gibson has been a huge part of that, and now he’ll earn the chance to represent his nation thanks to an injury to Chris Smalling. Gibson will join England ahead of Sunday’s home World Cup qualifier against Lithuania.

[ MORE: Podolski leads Germany past England ]

Gibson has far and away been Boro’s best player, leading the side in blocked shots and clearances. The blocked shots total is tied for ninth in the Premier League, 11 behind current leader and new England teammate Michael Keane.

Smalling’s undisclosed injury is a bigger problem for Manchester United, which had already lost center back depth on England duty when Phil Jones was hurt.

Dele Alli to miss next three European matches, UCL or UEL

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Tottenham Hotspur is primed to qualify for a second-straight UEFA Champions League campaign this year, and will have to start that sophomore run without Dele Alli.

The 20-year-old playmaker has banned for his next three matches. If Spurs finish fourth, that would mean both qualifying matches and an additional match.

[ MORE: Five questions for USMNT ]

If they finish higher, Dele will miss the first three group stage matches.

Dele was shown red for a tackle on Brecht Dejaegere in Spurs’ 2-2 draw with Gent in the UEFA Europa League Round of 32, as Tottenham left the tournament.

Men in Blazers podcast: Man City-Liverpool review, USMNT preview

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Rog and Davo recap the Top Four battle between Manchester City and Liverpool, ask (again) whether it’s time for Arsene to go, and break down two of the most important USMNT games in modern history.

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