Depth continues to be a virtue for Real Salt Lake

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The question we’re left with after Jay DeMerit’s performance against Real Salt Lake: Why did he play? The Vancouver Whitecaps’ captain was on his third game in six days, with only one days’ rest between his performance in Chester and his appearance in Salt Lake. By now, you know the details, though only Martin Rennie knows why DeMerit played 90 on Friday.

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

Because of the league’s unique rules, squad and roster management is more important in Major League Soccer than any circuit in the world. As the profiles of CONCACAF Champions League and U.S. Open Cup continue to grow, demands on thin squads have increased. If you’re going to be viable in all competitions, depth is mandatory. It’s one of the reasons Seattle’s been able to have relative success on three fronts. It may also be why last year’s champions, LA Galaxy, could only manage one competition.

Last night, Real Salt Lake’s depth was on display. With RSL’s Champions League starting with a mid-week trip to Costa Rica, Jason Kreis elected to sit three starters: Jamison Olave, Chris Wingert, and Ned Grabavoy. Luis Gil got the start in midfield, reclamation project Kenny Mansally was in Wingert’s place, and with Chris Schuler still out, former Fire defender Kwame Watson-Siriboe played in central defense.

All acquitted themselves well. Luis Gil’s quality is no surprise, his attacking play creating multiple first half threats on goal (be it with his shot or his passing). Watson-Siriboe was perhaps helped by the presence of Nat Borchers, be the 25-year-old looked (and, more importantly, played) confident most of the night. Kenny Mansally’s speed proved a virtue against Dane Richards.

On the other side, a number of Vancouver players were carrying the miles of a long MLS season. DeMerit’s two mistakes cost them the game. Gershon Koffie looked like a run down version of his early season self (and was brought off at 71′). Even Lee Young-Pyo seemed late getting back on multiple occasions. Combined with a so-so performance from Barry Robson (why was he exchanging words with DeMerit in the first half?) and Vancouver fans have to be left with mixed emotions. Rio Tinto’s a tough place to play, but the Whitecaps could have won last night’s game.

Is it too easy to say the difference was depth? Probably, since it wasn’t the only difference. If Kenny Miller’s headers go on target, if Jun Davidson finishes a great chance created by Darren Mattocks, if Martin Bonjour doesn’t lose track of Alvaro Saborio, the game goes Vancouver’s way. Depth was only one of the issues.

But what is it about Real Salt Lake? Though expansion and cost concerns has picked over their team through the last three years, they’ve still got as much quality on the bench as anybody. After `09, it was Yura Movsisyan, now tearing it up in the Russian Premier League. After 2010, they lost Robbie Findley. Last year was the big one: Robbie Russell, Raushawn MacKenzie, Andy Williams and Collen Warner. They’ve also lost quality role players in the likes of David Horst and Jean Alexandre, yet when everybody’s healthy, they sill have a great MLS bench: Paulo Jr., Gil, Jonny Steele, Yordany Álvarez, Chris Schuler, Terakazu Tenaka. The likes of Kwame-Siriboe, Mansally, Sebastian Velasquez, and Justin Braun might not Jason Kreis’s ideal bench.

Real Salt Lake has one of the best cores in the league. Their cohesion, enabled by time together in a consistent system, is unparalleled. It almost seems unfair the Garth Legerway and Kreis can augment it by taking parts from others’ discards and plugging them in as needed, particularly when you see a few of their Western Conference competitors (Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, Dallas) struggling to get more out of some of their designated players.

But if Kreis can take a Mansally or Kwame-Siriboe and get them up to RSL’s level, team certainly deserves to be where they’re at.

Wigan player races off for son’s birth after scoring 2 goals

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WIGAN, England (AP) It was better than a hat trick.

A player for English soccer team Wigan had a night to remember when he scored his second goal before dashing off the field and to the local hospital, where his girlfriend was in labor.

[ MORE: Chelsea advances to UCL Round of 16 after win over Qarabag ]

A picture of Ryan Colclough holding his new-born baby, Harley, while still in his soccer uniform was shared on social media by Wigan chairman David Sharpe.

Colclough said his father, sitting in the stands on Tuesday for Wigan’s 3-0 win over Doncaster in the second division, “gave me the action that the waters had broken,” but he didn’t want to come off until the ball was out of play.

“My head was a little bit battered, but I went and scored, looked at the manager and he said we’ll bring you off now,” Colclough said Wednesday of his 58th-minute goal, which he celebrated by pretending to rock a baby. “I came off and was straight down the tunnel, grabbed my keys and my phone, and went to hospital.”

Colclough had visited the midwife that day, and was told the baby was unlikely to arrive for “another couple of days.”

Lille suspends coach Marcelo Bielsa

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LILLE, France (AP) French club Lille has provisionally suspended coach Marcelo Bielsa following a string of poor results in the top tier.

[ MORE: Basel stuns Man United late to keep UCL hopes alive ]

The northern side said in a statement that Bielsa has been suspended “as part of a procedure started by the club.” Lille did not elaborate.

Bielsa joined Lille this season but has failed to make the club competitive again, with the team second to last after 13 matches.

The 2 Robbies podcast: PL sides in the UCL, Pulis sacking and more

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In today’s Euro Pod Edition, the Robbies breakdown the latest Champions League action. Man United lose at Basel, Chelsea cruise at Qarabag, Spurs impress against Dortmund, Man City continue to win, Liverpool surrender a 3-goal lead against Sevilla. Plus, the guys weigh in on the Oumar Niasse ban for diving and the Tony Pulis sacking.

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

All of the The 2 Robbies content can be accessed by clicking on this link:

Click here for The 2 Robbies archive ]

Listen to the latest pod by clicking play below.

Follow them on Twitter @The2Robbies

Europa League preview: Arsenal looks to wrap up Group H and more

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While several teams have already booked their place in the knockout phase, the Europa League reaches its penultimate round on Thursday with many big matches in hand.

[ MORE: Yannick Bolasie finally returns to Everton training ]

Of the two Premier League sides in the competition, only one will advance to the Round of 32, as Arsenal have all but assured themselves of the top spot in Group H. The Gunners can do so tomorrow with a win over Koln or a Red Star Belgrade defeat.

The other end of the spectrum features Everton, who has already been eliminated from reaching the next round after acquiring just one point in its first four matches.

European giants AC Milan can lock up a spot in the knockout phase on Thursday despite the club’s ongoing struggles in Serie A, while fellow Italian side Atalanta can move a step closer to the Round of 32 in Group E along with Lyon.

Here’s the full rundown of Thursday’s UEL matches.

Astana vs. Villareal — 11 a.m. ET
Konyaspor vs. Marseille — 1 p.m. ET
Rosenborg vs. Real Sociedad — 1 p.m. ET
Lazio vs. Vitesse — 1 p.m. ET
Viktoria Plzen vs. Steaua Bucuresti — 1 p.m. ET
Lokomotiv vs. Copenhagen — 1 p.m. ET
Zenit vs. Vardar — 1 p.m. ET
Red Bull Salzburg vs. Vitoria — 1 p.m. ET
Athletic Bilbao vs. Hertha Berlin — 1 p.m. ET
BATE vs. Red Star Belgrade — 1 p.m. ET
Ostersund vs. Zorya — 1 p.m. ET
Koln vs. Arsenal — 1 p.m. ET
Nice vs. Zulte Waregem — 1 p.m. ET
Lugano vs. Beer-Sheva — 1 p.m. ET
Ludogorets vs. Istanbul — 3:05 p.m. ET
Braga vs. Hoffenheim — 3:05 p.m. ET
AEK vs. Rijeka — 3:05 p.m. ET
AC Milan vs. Austria Wien — 3:05 p.m. ET
Lyon vs. Apollon — 3:05 p.m. ET
Maccabi Tel Aviv vs. Slavia Praha — 3:05 p.m. ET
Sheriff vs. Zlin — 3:05 p.m. ET
Partizan vs. Young Boys — 3:05 p.m. ET
Skenderbeu vs. Dynamo Kyiv — 3:05 p.m. ET
Everton vs. Atalanta — 3:05 p.m. ET