Drilling down on: at Real Salt Lake 2, Vancouver 1

Leave a comment

Man of the Match: Well, well, well … look who has 13 goals, tied for second in MLS. Yes, it’s Alvaro Saborio, who scored one in each half on Friday. One was from the 12-yard spot, but the other was a well-taken header, where he got just enough weight on Vancouver’s Martin Bonjour to keep the Vancouver center back from rising to meet the header, but not enough to incur the referee’s whistle. Saborio lost possession too many times, but two goals says a lot about almost any match.

(MORE: Should Jay DeMerit have played last night?)

Packaged for take-away:

  • I like Gershon Koffie a lot, but he’s young (20), still missing some of that veteran know-how to boost that ample bag of holding midfield tricks. Next to him is Jun Davidson, who falls into the crowded MLS stash of the “good-not-great.”  Is this enough in the middle of the park to give all those attackers enough midfield passing support? I’m just not sure. On a night like Friday, with the likes Javier Morales and Kyle Beckerman on central duty, it’s not.
  • If not Saborio, Beckerman could have been Man of the Match for his steady work. He was best man in the midfield on either side, although Koffie had a strong night, too.
  • With Fabian Espindola preferring to work the left side, and fellow striker Saborio taking up his usual central spot, RSL’s attack was seriously tilted to the left.
  • RSL found shooting space about 20-25 yards out. Vancouver men got in quickly to close some of the shots, but not all. With the sun casting odd shadows near both goals, these could have been real trouble for ‘Caps ‘keeper Joe Cannon. They weren’t, however, because shots by Morales (twice), Luis Gil, Tony Beltran and Will Johnson flew harmlessly high or wide. RSL shooters needed to make an concerted effort to take just a little off those shots, to get balls on goal and force Cannon to contest the sun.
  • From one of those aforementioned spots just beyond the 18, Espindola aimed a cross toward the far post rather than shooting. Whitecaps center back Jay DeMerit, perhaps seeing it late, had to throw an arm toward the ball to keep Beckerman from heading toward goal. So, cue the “should DeMerit have started” debate in 3 … 2 … 1 …
  • Vancouver’s shape and spacing in the 4-2-3-1 looked good on both sides of the ball; the Whitecaps ability to get an extra body or two into the attack and their variety needed some work, however.
  • Darren Mattocks was left stranded most of the night, with insufficient connection Barry Robson at the top of ‘Caps midfield triangle. And yet, Mattocks eventually had influence.
  • Mattocks is a poor man’s Didier Drogba. He’s young and fast and can absolutely fly. Vancouver’s early second half equalizer was all about his speed. RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando moved toward Camilo’s sneaky little pass into the penalty area but didn’t appreciate how quickly Mattocks would arrive, then paid the price when the Whitecaps’ forward got to the ball first.
  • RSL’s defense temporarily fell to pieces after the goal. Mattocks (And that speed!) created a chance for Davidson, which crashed hard off the left post. And Mattocks nearly dropped a header into the far post in another sequence of chances and half-chances. Saborio’s second goal soon shifted momentum back RSL’s way.
  • Jason Kreis removed left back Kenny Mansally, a converted attacker, in the 72nd in favor of Chris Wingert, who is a natural defender.
  • Kevin Stott’s decision to red card Cannon in the 76th minute was the right call. And it was probably the right decision for Cannon, too. You could say that Cannon erred by charging out of goal in attempting to claim DeMerit’s soft back pass, with Espindola bearing down. But what choice did he really have? And once the keeper was committed, he couldn’t give Espindola the easy goal, which would have put the game out of reach. This way, his team still had a chance, at least.
  • Kenny Miller got into his second game for Martin Rennie’s club. His open header from just outside the six-yard box with 10 minutes remaining is the very kind of ball he’ll need to bury with ruthless efficiency to have the impact officials at BC Place clearly believe he can.

The Mendy Effect: Pep praises injured back

Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Full back Benjamin Mendy cost Pep Guardiola and Manchester City $68 million, but perhaps he’ll be just as valuable as a very expensive sports psychologist.

The “Shark Team” member was amusing on social media even before his ACL injury sent him to the sidelines until at least April, but he’s become a must-follow Twitter fixture with his in-game messages (See some of his work below).

[ MORE: MLS Decision Day preview ]

City faces Burnley at 10 a.m. ET Saturday (Watch live on CNBC and online via NBCSports.com).

It’s fairly clear his act has translated in private, too, as apparently Mendy is just as good in group messages (Let us in, Pep. We won’t tell anyone). From ManCity.com:

“Usually, players who are out for a long time with injury are sad. They sometimes train apart and feel isolated.

“Mendy decided to be present. He is communicating on social media, WhatsApp and he calls his teammates and messages me. He is going to be so important outside the pitch because people like him make the atmosphere much better.”

It’s not surprising for anyone who’s been following the former Le Havre, Marseille and Monaco man.

Keep in mind, these Tweets below are from the last few days alone!

Ozil to Manchester United?!? Wenger reacts to gossip

Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Sometimes, even the biggest Arsene Wenger detractors have to feel for the guy.

Coming off a thrilling late win in Serbia, one that saw Olivier Giroud cap off a team goal straight out of the creative Wenger playbook, the manager should’ve been discussing how to stretch those good vibes into this weekend’s visit to Goodison Park.

[ MORE: MLS Decision Day preview ]

Yet no. Instead of talking about how the Gunners would respect the struggling Toffees, Wenger had to address speculation from several outlets claiming Mesut Ozil would move to Manchester United, perhaps as soon as January.

Feeling it? No, no Wenger was not feeling it. From Arsenal.com:

“We have to deal with all kinds of speculation when the players are at the end of their contracts. On the other hand, to be professional is to give 100 per cent as long as you are somewhere. For the rest, we came out many times and said that’s the situation. It [the media] can come out tomorrow and say that he extends his contract here. It will be exactly the same, it will not change anything. When you play the next game, commit 100 per cent. … When a player plays for Arsenal Football Club, his commitment cannot be linked with the length of his contract, it has just to be linked with the responsibility and the ambition he has to win the football game.”
Of course most big clubs have to deal with such drama on a year-to-year basis and, yes, having Ozil and Alexis Sanchez still in town was completely avoidable. But the idea that Ozil could leave, for free, to Manchester United? We’re sure Gooners the world over will be thrilled with the gossip.

MLS Decision Day preview: Much at stake

Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press via AP
Leave a comment

Four teams can claim a Western Conference second round berth, while four more can earn a valuable first-round bye in the East.

Yep, there’s plenty to play for beyond the West’s final playoff spot Sunday during Major League Soccer’s Decision Day, when every team will take the pitch for 4 p.m. ET kickoffs.

[ MORE: Conte feels pressure ]

Here’s what we do know regarding the playoffs:

  1. Supporters’ Shield winning Toronto FC gets a first round bye, while No. 6 seed New York Red Bulls are headed to the road for a first round playoff
  2. New England, Montreal, Philadelphia, Orlando, DC, Minnesota, Colorado, and LA will not make the playoffs
  3. Full stop.

So, yes, this will be fun.

First, let’s look at the Eastern Conference Standings ahead of Sunday’s extravaganza:

Eastern Conference
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Toronto FC 33 20 8 5 72 35 37 13-3-1 7-5-4 68
x – New York City FC 33 16 8 9 54 41 13 10-4-2 6-4-7 56
x – Chicago 33 16 7 10 61 44 17 12-3-2 4-4-8 55
x – Atlanta 33 15 9 9 68 38 30 11-2-3 4-7-6 54
x – Columbus 33 16 5 12 51 47 4 12-2-3 4-3-9 53
x – New York 33 13 8 12 51 46 5 9-6-2 4-2-10 47

— New York City FC controls its bye destiny, though Columbus could join them on 56 points and would pass them on tiebreakers (wins).

— If that happens, Chicago could claim the second bye with a win or draw in Houston (The Fire owns the goal differential tiebreaker).

— If New York City and Chicago lose or draw, Atlanta could finish second with a home win over TFC.

— Columbus can finish second with a win and non-wins for Chicago and Atlanta.

Western Conference
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
x – Vancouver 33 15 7 11 49 47 2 9-5-3 6-2-8 52
x – Portland 33 14 8 11 58 49 9 10-4-2 4-4-9 50
x – Seattle 33 13 11 9 49 39 10 10-5-1 3-6-8 50
x – Sporting KC 33 12 13 8 39 27 12 10-6-1 2-7-7 49
x – Houston 33 12 11 10 54 45 9 11-4-1 1-7-9 47
San Jose 33 12 7 14 36 58 -22 9-5-2 3-2-12 43
FC Dallas 33 10 13 10 43 47 -4 7-7-2 3-6-8 43
Real Salt Lake 33 12 6 15 47 54 -7 8-4-4 4-2-11 42

Byes

— Vancouver finishes first with a win or draw at Portland. The ‘Caps could finish as low as third with a loss to Portland and a Seattle win versus Colorado.

— Portland finishes first — and wins the Cascadia Cup — with a win over visiting Vancouver.

— Seattle can claim a first round bye with a win over visiting Colorado and a Vancouver win over Portland.

— Sporting KC can finish second with a win at Real Salt Lake and non-wins for Portland and Seattle.

Final playoff spot

— San Jose claims the sixth seed with a home win over Minnesota. They can also finish sixth with a draw joined by non-wins for FC Dallas at home to LA and Real Salt Lake at home versus SKC.

— FC Dallas claims the sixth seed with a win over LA and a San Jose draw or loss versus Minnesota. FCD gets sixth with a draw, and a San Jose loss coupled with a RSL loss or draw versus SKC.

—  Real Salt Lake gets sixth with a win over SKC, and non-wins from San Jose and Dallas. RSL could also get sixth with a draw and losses for San Jose and Dallas.

(Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images)

Schedule
FC Dallas vs. LA Galaxy
DC United vs. New York Red Bulls
San Jose vs. Minnesota United
Real Salt Lake vs. Sporting KC
Houston vs. Chicago
Seattle vs. Colorado
Philadelphia vs. Orlando City
Portland vs. Vancouver
Montreal vs. New England
New York City vs. Columbus
Atlanta vs. Toronto

Predictions

— NYCFC hangs on for a draw against Columbus, earning a bye, leaving Chicago to host New York Red Bulls and Atlanta off to Columbus for the first round of the playoffs (We have Toronto beating Atlanta on Sunday).

— Vancouver and Portland draw, while Seattle beats Colorado. The ‘Caps and Sounders get byes, while Seattle takes back the Cascadia Cup.

— San Jose beats Minnesota, gaining the West’s sixth seed. The Quakes head to Portland for the first round, while SKC hosts Houston.

Conte feels pressure, but “most important thing is to work”

Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Chelsea has sputtered a bit in its bid to repeat as Premier League champions, though this isn’t quite “stop me if you’ve heard this one before.”

The Blues sit fifth in the Premier League table with 13 points, nine behind leaders Manchester City, and tossed away a 2-0 lead before rallying to draw Roma at midweek.

The Blues host fourth-placed Watford to kick off Saturday’s Premier League action at 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday (Watch live on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com)

[ MORE: West Ham 0-3 Brighton ]

And while fans are frustrated with the plan, Chelsea was in 15th at the end of October during Jose Mourinho’s ill-fated follow-up to the 2014-15 Premier League title.

Still, manager Antonio Conte feels their pain, although he’s satisfied with the effort. From Chelsea’s official site:

“Do I feel the pressure? Every manager feels pressure, but I try to give all of myself into my job, so I’m happy when I go home because I know in every moment I give all of myself for the fans, the players and the club. In football you know anything can happen, but the most important thing is to work.”

Chelsea may not look as good as Man City or Manchester United, but is still well-positioned to finish amongst the leaders and is leading a very difficult UCL group with Roma and Atletico Madrid. Things are fine, but the gossip storm just won’t leave Conte and his future at Chelsea alone (Thanks, Italian press).