Toronto FC v Real Salt Lake

Drilling down on: at Real Salt Lake 3, Toronto FC 2


Man of the Match: You ever get the feeling you’re seeing something in the game and maybe your personal biases are coming into play (even when you’re paid to see through those kind of influences)? That’s the feeling I get every time I watch Real Salt Lake lately, because again I can’t help but feel Kyle Beckerman was almost always their best man. Nick Rimando made some key saves, and Chris Wingert was very good, but Beckerman was again the driving force for an RSL side that needed another later goal to get the result. Just as in Portland, it was Jonny Steele grabbing a winner, but it was Beckerman (and coach Jason Kreis) who kept the team pushing or the extra two points.

Packaged for takeaway:

  • For Toronto, it was an evil, evil way to tie a record. With seven losses to open the season, they’re now in the record books, but for much of the last 10 minutes, they looked more likely to win.
  • It was a three Moments of Brillance ™ that created the winning goal: Javier Morales beat two guys in the corner to get the ball into the box; Beckerman’s full stretch tee’d up the ball better than a punter at football practice; and Jonny Steele showed why he’s MLS’s unofficial super hero (what a name).
  • Jonny Steele, Sebastian Velasquez … Western Conference rivals might want to consider hiring away RSL’s scouts. We know RSL’s perpetually deep, but with no expansion draft this year, they have a chance to consolidate. Yikes.
  • Neither defense was very good, which made the game a treat for the fans. But it was a nightmare for the coaches accountable for organizing the teams.1 The first two goals allowed by Toronto can be pinned on Adrian Cann (I contend), while Jamison Olave gave up a (missed) penalty kick before getting torched on Eric Avila’s goal. For the second time in three matches, Alvaro Saborio lost his mark on a corner and gave up a goal (to Doneil Henry).
  • Toronto had two other first half goals allowed (but waved off) where their defending was horrible. Cann was at fault for one. On the other, the right side of the defense completely collapsed to the middle while an attack was build down the right. A ball to Chris Wingert saw the left back a step offside, but you can hardly blame him. The nearest defender was so far away, it was probably hard to tell if he was on or off..
  • While RSL fans may be frustrated by another mixed performance from their designated player, Saborio was crucial to RSL’s key tactic. Building down the right flank, they isolated Saborio on right back Richard Eckersley and fed him. Eventually, Aron Winter subbed off Eckersley for the 6’2″ Doneil Henry.
  • Though Henry would eventually head in a goal, it was an incredible substitution – a practical capitulation. Rather than adjust his tactics to have Cann mark Saborio while Torsten Frings covered any runners from midfield, he took off a man who could get forward down the right (something that’s kind of important to Winter’s system). I’m trying not to be too harsh about this (so please call me out if you disagree), but is this another event confirming the suspicions that TFC has no idea how to organize their defense? They take their back line’s best performer off because they can’t make another mid-match adjustment?
  • One positive for TFC: Eric Avila was a good shout for Man of the Match
  • Credit Jason Kreis for going after three points. In the 87th minute, he brought on Luis Gil for Tony Beltran, leaving three at the back to be exploited by Joao Plata. Twice Plata came close to finding a winner, bit the extra attackers eventually gave RSL a crucial advantage in the final third. It’s a simple equation (Risk one point to win two? Yes, please.) but one you rarely see coaches reference it, and while I’d like to say Kreis wouldn’t have done this if he wasn’t facing a winless team at home, it’s Jason Kreis. He might have.
  • Interesting debate to be had on the Olave-conceded penalty kick (that Frings missed). The announcing team (with the best color man in the business [IMO], Brian Dunseth) intimated that Olave had little choice but to lay out for the tackle on Avila, leaving himself susceptible to give up the kick. Their reasoning: A poor decision by Alvaro Saborio to backheel a ball in a dangerous area left Olave to be caught in isolation. My view: It’s rare that the chances of scoring at the spot of the foul are greater than the conversion rate of a penalty kick. With Avila deep in the left side of the box, Olave should have stayed on his feet.
  • It might be worth going back through the last month of games, but given the history at stake for Toronto, this is my game of the year … of the month.
  • Though it was a rough night for RSL’s linchpin, the team still got three points. They’re tied with San Jose at the top of the West with 19 points.
  • Toronto has their huge derby at Montreal next week. Lose that and they’ve got the record all to themselves.

1- Toronto FC fans ironically snicker at my latent assumption.

MLS Cup Playoffs: FC Dallas 2-2 (3-5 agg.) Portland Timbers

Fanendo Adi, Portland Timbers FC
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The game in 100 words (or less): The Portland Timbers are headed to their first MLS Cup in club history after defeating FC Dallas, 5-3 on aggregate, in the Western Conference finals (2-2 draw in the second leg). Fanendo Adi scored in Sunday’s second leg, giving Caleb Porter’s side a 4-1 aggregate lead before Ryan Hollingshead and Blas Perez scored inside the last 25 minutes to give Oscar Pareja’s bunch a late lifeline, but Lucas Melano’s spectacular tap-in sealed the Timbers’ trip to MLS Cup. The third seed heading into the playoffs, Portland bounced Sporting Kansas City in an epic penalty shootout in the knockout round and outlasted the Vancouver Whitecaps in the conference semifinals before knocking off the West’s top seed over two legs to advance to MLS Cup 2015. No matter who advances from the East finals later on Sunday, Portland will play away in MLS Cup, to either the New York Red Bulls or Columbus Crew SC.

[ MORE: Previewing the MLS weekend ]

Three Four moments that mattered

54′ — Adi fires past Gonzalez to make if 4-1 — Oscar Pareja elected to go with Walker Zimmerman at center back on Sunday, dropping regular starter Zach Loyd to the bench. On the game’s opening goal, it was Zimmerman who wound up on the ground as Adi received the ball, turned and fired a massive away goal past Jesse Gonzalez.

68′ — Diaz’s magical ball curled home by Hollingshead — Mauro Diaz is a wonderful magician capable of playing the kill through ball from anywhere on the field — this we’ve known for quite some time. His chipped through ball to set up Hollingshead’s goal was extraordinarily brilliant, even for him.

73′ — Perez heads home the free kick to pull within one — Would you be surprised to hear that it was Diaz who set up FCD’s second goal? His free kick was Perez-finding missile and found the head of the Panamanian striker at the top of the six-yard box, where 34-year-old headed home with ease.

90+5′ — Melano rounds Gonzalez, seals MLS Cup berth — Poor Jesse Gonzalez. Absolutely schooled and posterized by Lucas Melano. What a way to sew up a place in the championship final.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Mauro Diaz

Goalscorers: Adi (54′), Hollingshead (68′), Perez (73′), Melano (90+5′)

La Liga & Serie A: Real Madrid bounce back; Juventus on the charge

Gareth Bale, Real Madrid CF
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A roundup of all of Sunday’s action in Spain and Italy’s top flights:

Eibar 0-2 Real Madrid

Real Madrid bounced back from back-to-back La Liga defeats with a 2-0 victory away to Eibar on Sunday. Gareth Bale (below video) and Cristiano Ronaldo (penalty kick) provided the goals to keep Rafa Benitez‘s bunch (27 points) third in the league, two points behind Atletico Madrid and six behind leaders Barcelona.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Getafe 2-0 Villarreal
Rayo Vallecano 0-3 Athletic Bilbao
Sevilla 1-0 Valencia

[ MORE: Saturday’s La Liga roundup ]

Roma 0-2 Atalanta

Losing at home to sides currently in a relegation battle — rarely a good idea, especially if you fancy yourselves title challengers, but that didn’t stop Roma from doing just that on Sunday. Alejandro Gomez and German Denis scored the goals to knock off a 10-man Roma side (Maicon – 81st minute) and keep Rudi Garcia’s bunch (27 points) from gaining ground on any of the three teams currently ahead of them — Inter Milan, Napoli and Fiorentina — all of whom play on Monday.

AC Milan 4-1 Sampdoria

M’Baye Niang scored twice, while Giacomo Bonaventura and Luiz Adriano (below video) added single tallies for AC Milan (23 points) to keep pace with the top-five pack in Serie A. After 14 rounds of games, the Rossoneri sit sixth, a point outside fifth (UEFA Europa League) and five points out of third (UEFA Champions League).

Palermo 0-3 Juventus

Don’t look now, but here come Juventus. Sunday’s 3-0 triumph over Palermo makes it four straight wins in the league for Massimiliano Allegri’s side — a run that pushes them all the way up to fifth in the league (24 points), just six points off the pace of leaders Inter, who play on Monday. Mario Mandzukic (below video), Stefano Sturaro and Simone Zaza scored the goals for the world’s most frightening fifth-place team.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Torino 2-0 Bologna
Chievo 2-3 Udinese
Frosinone 3-2 Hellas Verona
Genoa 1-2 Carpi
Empoli 1-0 Lazio

Monday’s Serie A schedule

Sassuolo vs. Fiorentina (1 p.m. ET)
Napoli vs. Inter Milan (3 p.m. ET)

Arsenal’s injury crisis — add Sanchez, Cazorla, Koscielny to the list

Alexis Sanchez, Arsenal FC
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From title challengers to just hoping to hold on to a top-four place while Arsene Wenger is forced to play reserves and academy players because half of his star players are currently out injured — the annual story of Arsenal.

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Oct. 27, when Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain both went down with injuries in the same game, marked the unofficial start of Arsenal’s 2015-16 injury crisis, but things didn’t really get going full bore until the last seven days, when five more players — four of them full-time starters — picked up injuries that will keep them out of action for anywhere between three weeks and three months.

Added to the list last weekend: Francis Coquelin (knee – three months minimum), Mikel Arteta (calf – three weeks)

Added to the list on Sunday: Alexis Sanchez (hamstring – MORE DETAILS), Santi Cazorla (knee), Laurent Koscielny (hip)

Following Sunday’s 1-1 draw with Norwich City, Wenger said Koscielny “could not walk” due to the hip spasm that forced him out of the game after just 11 minutes. He also divulged that Cazorla, who could not be subbed off because Wenger had already used all three subs late on, played the second half “on one leg.” Sanchez came into Sunday injured after picking up a hamstring injury in Arsenal’s UEFA Champions League victory over Dinamo Zagreb on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Sunday’s PL roundup — Chelsea, Arsenal, Spurs all draw ]

Arsenal fans were up in arms during the summer transfer window — let’s be honest, the following is true of every transfer window the last five years — crying out, “We must buy, we must buy.” Have a look at Arsenal’s complete injury list at the moment, and try to say, “They didn’t need to buy in the summer.”

In chronological order: Danny Welbeck (knee – early 2016 return), Tomas Rosicky (knee – Christmas time return), Jack Wilshere (leg – Christmas time return), Theo Walcott (calf – December return), Mikel Arteta (calf – three weeks), Francis Coquelin (knee – three months minimum), Laurent Koscielny (hip – to be assessed), Alexis Sanchez (hamstring – to be assessed), Santi Cazorla (knee – to be assessed)

WATCH: PL Download — Crystal Palace: South London and Proud

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Check out the latest episode of Premier League Download, a look inside Crystal Palace and the club’s passionate supporters.

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Win, lose or draw it’s always a party for the fans of Crystal Palace and Roger Bennett travels to Selhurst Park to learn how the beloved team went from Championship strugglers to a Premier League success story.

[ WATCH: Past episodes of PL Download ]