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Toronto FC v Real Salt Lake

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

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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.

City Council approves plans for new Los Angeles soccer venue

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LOS ANGELES (AP) The City Council has approved plans to build a $250 million stadium for Major League Soccer’s expansion Los Angeles Football Club.

[ MORE: Can MLS teams begin to create separation in Week 10? ]

The council voted 12-0 Friday to move forward with a 22,000-seat stadium on the site of the old Sports Arena next to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and USC.

The 15-acre complex is also slated to include a conference center, restaurants, 140,000 square feet of plazas and streetscapes, and a soccer museum.

At its center would be the home to the new MLS team when it makes its debut in 2018.

LAFC is owned by Malaysian billionaire Vincent Tan, American venture capitalist Henry Nguyen and a celebrity-studded list of investors including Magic Johnson, Tony Robbins, Mia Hamm and Nomar Garciaparra.

Barcelona reportedly seeking out Nice winger Hatem Ben Afra

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Lost in the 2015-16 campaign has been Nice attacker Hatem Ben Afra.

[ MORE: Leicester can provide more magic at home vs. Everton ]

While Paris Saint-Germain has stolen the spotlight in France for much of this season, the former Newcastle midfielder has been nothing short of special for Les Aiglons.

[ MORE: Prince-Wright’s PL picks are in for Week 37 ]

That has left La Liga giant Barcelona contacting the 29-year old Frenchman over his services, according to Nice president Jean Pierre Rivere.

Rivere told France 3 he wouldn’t mind Ben Afra exiting the club:

“I would be very happy for him and for Nice if this move comes off,” Rivère said. “You do not reject Barcelona, but it is up to him to decide. If I was a player and Barcelona was offered to me I would not ask questions, I would go! But it is not yet done according to what I am told.”

In 32 appearances this season for Nice, Ben Afra has notched 17 goals and added five assists. He ranks third in goals, only behind PSG’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Alexandre Lacazette of Lyon.

Barcelona could very well be the frontrunners to acquire the talented attacker, but several European sides have also expressed interest in Ben Afra. Premier League clubs Chelsea and Liverpool, as well as AC Milan have also been named as potential suitors.

[ MORE: What do other PL teams have to say about Leicester? ]

Ben Afra’s age may be a bit of a concern for the Blaugrana though, in addition to the fact that this current season is the only time in his career that he has tallied double-digit goals. The Lyon academy product could provide solid depth to Barcelona’s attack should a deal get finalized.

Follow @MattReedFutbol

Premier League Preview: Leicester City vs. Everton

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  • Leicester simply playing for home pride
  • Everton seek top-10 finish

Leicester City host Everton on Saturday from the King Power Stadium (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on USA and online via Live Extra) in hopes of providing its fans with a season-capping victory, after winning the Premier League title on Monday.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE VIA LIVE EXTRA

By now everyone has seen Christian Fuchs‘ video of the Leicester players in celebration mode, but there are still two games left to play. The match against Everton may be more about pride than anything else, but it can still represent an important feat for the club and serve as a true celebration in front of their home supporters.

Jamie Vardy‘s return will provide the fans with yet another moment to applaud and you’d expect the Leicester forward to want to add to his 22 PL goals.

[ MORE: Norwich in desperate need of three points vs. Manchester United ]

The Foxes will be met by an Everton side that don’t really have anything to play for either. Toffees manager Roberto Martinez will surely be looking for a win with his job on the line, however, it’s left to be seen whether or not he can actually maintain his position. Everton has finished in the PL top 10 each of the last eight seasons, and a finish outside of that mark would be a huge setback for the club.

What they’re saying…

Ranieri on his team competing: “Inside me there are two people. One is a very aggressive, I want to win, I won the Premier League but now I want to win on Saturday.”

Martinez on Leicester not letting up: “I’m sure any sort of celebration could affect you in the long term if you had to face a difficult month. In a 90-minute game where the stadium is going to be an historic environment, I’m sure that can only be positive for the home team.”

Prediction

The title is already theirs but why wouldn’t Leicester win this match? The KP Stadium will be rocking into the night and the Foxes will come away with a convincing 3-0 win against Everton.

Follow @MattReedFutbol

Premier League Preview: Norwich City vs. Manchester United

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  • Norwich sit two points out of 17th place
  • United in battle with West Ham for Europe
  • Canaries are losers of three straight

Norwich City host Manchester United from Carrow Road on Saturday (Watch live, 7:45 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) as the Canaries seek Premier League safety with two weeks remaining.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE VIA LIVE EXTRA

With their season on the line, Norwich is facing desperation as they meet Manchester United. The Canaries posted just one win in four matches in April, leaving them 19th in the PL. While neither Newcastle nor Sunderland were able to create separation between themselves and Norwich, a win against United is a necessity with three games left to play.

Goals have come at a minimum this season for the Canaries, leaving Nathan Redmond and Dieumerci Mbokani in need of a big game. Each player has notched five goals this season for the side.

[ MORE: Ranieri’s on-field changes as manager have propelled Leicester ]

Disappointment has surrounded United for much of the 2015-16 season, however, the Red Devils still have important matches to play down the stretch. That starts with Norwich. Sitting four points behind fourth place Manchester City and holding a game in hand, Louis Van Gaal‘s club can close the gap on the Citizens with a strong performance on Saturday.

What they’re saying…

Neil on match’s importance: “Everybody knows the situation, so I don’t think it is going to have massive difference in terms of how we would approach the game or they (relegation rivals) would approach the game. What it does do is apply pressure to their game, but there will be pressure on that anyway. They will recognise and we recognise that all the teams need to win games to stay in the division.”

Van Gaal on injury struggles: “I always talk about facts, not about hypothetical circumstance and activities. I can only say that in the end of November we had first position, after that we had a big decline.”

Prediction

Despite playing in front of a feisty home crowd at Carrow Road and picking up a 2-1 victory early this season against United, the Canaries chances aren’t too optimistic. Norwich hasn’t scored in three straight matches, all of which were losses. With United still playing for something I don’t expect the Red Devils to drop this match. Give United the points on the road, 3-1, leaving Norwich to rely on Aston Villa and Chelsea to pick up wins.

Follow @MattReedFutbol

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