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.

Arsenal finishes atop UEL group despite defeat to Cologne

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The Gunners didn’t take care of business on Thursday in Germany, but luckily they got some help from two of their other Group H counterparts.

[ MORE: Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks, video previews ]

Cologne defeated Arsenal, 1-0, at the RheinEnergieStadion, but Red Star Belgrade and BATE Borisov ended in a scoreless draw to give Arsene Wenger‘s side the top spot in the group.

The difference on the day proved to be Sehrou Guirassy’s penalty kick, which came in the 62nd minute after he had been taken down by Matthieu Debuchy a moment prior.

Arsenal were forced back early on by the hosts, with Jhon Cordoba nearly breaking the deadlock inside the opening five minutes.

Meanwhile, the Gunners struggled to break down Cologne’s defense throughout the encounter, despite having an overwhelming amount of possession.

Arsenal will close out Group H play on Dec. 7 against BATE, while Cologne battles Red Star Belgrade for a shot at reaching the Round of 32.

Report: Earthquakes to name Mikael Stahre as new manager

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The San Jose Earthquakes are prepared to hire a new manager, leaving Chris Leitch’s status with the club unknown moving forward.

[ MORE: Michael Bradley issues strong views on Crew’s potential relocation ]

ESPN FC is reporting that the Major League Soccer side will hire Swedish coach Mikael Stahre in the coming days, replacing Leitch. The story was first reported by Swedish outlet Expressen.

The 42-year-old has primarily spent his managerial career in Sweden, but has also coached teams in Greece and China.

The Earthquakes qualified for the MLS Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2012 this season under Leitch, but were bounced in the first round by the Vancouver Whitecaps — 5-0.

Leitch, who formerly played for the Earthquakes in his MLS-playing days, finished 2017 as both the manager and technical director for the Western Conference club.

Pending Stahre’s hire, the Quakes will be on their third coach in a span of roughly five months after Dominic Kinnear had been previously fired by the team back in June.

Study to look at long-term health risks of playing soccer

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LONDON (AP) A major study into whether soccer players are at risk of degenerative brain disease has been commissioned amid concerns that the sport’s authorities in England haven’t done enough to tackle the issue.

The Football Association and Professional Footballers’ Association have appointed a research team, based in Scotland, to undertake a study entitled “Football’s Influence on Lifelong Health and Dementia Risk” from January 2018.

FA chief executive Martin Glenn said it will be “one of the most comprehensive studies ever commissioned into the long-term health of former footballers” because “we feel compelled … to fully understand if there are any potential risks associated with playing the game.”

Researchers will address the question: “Is the incidence of degenerative neurocognitive disease more common in ex-professional footballers than in the normal population?”

Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks, video previews

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Ready for Week 13 in the Premier League? Let’s do this.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live ] 

If you, like me, love to dissect all the games and predict what the score will be and which team will win, I encourage you to get involved in the comments section below. Let’s have a bit of fun.

Okay, so I’ve consulted my crystal ball and here’s how we see things panning out. Listen carefully, because this is very specific.

[ STREAM: Premier League “Goal Rush”

With the first section labelled “basically, free money” for the picks I think are dead certs. The section labelled “don’t touch this” means if you’re betting I advise you to stay clear, while the “so you’re telling me there’s a chance” section are the longshots. If it is better odds you are after, those are the picks to go for.

Click play on the videos below for quick previews on each game complete with a score prediction from yours truly.


BASICALLY, FREE MONEY

Huddersfield vs. Manchester City – (Sunday, 11 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

Manchester United vs. Brighton – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM

Tottenham vs. West Brom (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, CNBC) – [STREAM]

Burnley vs. Arsenal (Sunday, 9 a.m. ET, CNBC) – [STREAM]

Swansea City vs. Bournemouth – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM]

DON’T TOUCH THIS… 

Southampton vs. Everton – (Sunday, 8:30 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM

Crystal Palace vs. Stoke City – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM

 

Newcastle United vs. Watford – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) – [STREAM]

“SO YOU’RE TELLING ME THERE’S A CHANCE…”

Liverpool vs. Chelsea – (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBC) – [STREAM

West Ham vs. Leicester – (Friday, 3 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]