Drilling down on: at Colorado 1, Real Salt Lake 0

1 Comment

Man of the Match: For most of the season, Joseph Nane has been the guy who’s not Pablo Mastroeni, the Rapids’ captain out while dealing with concussion-related issues. Tonight, Nane threatened early, rattling the crossbar after ghosting onto a ball coming out of the box. In the 39th minute, he tried the trick again, this scoring as the ball bounced in off the bottom of the bar.

Perhaps only slightly less important than the goal, Nane was part of a deep midfield pair that kept Real Salt Lake playmaker Javi Morales in check all night. With Jeff Larentowicz on one side and Nane on the other, Morales had one of his least effective matches since regaining most of his pre-injury form.

Packaged for takeaway:

  • Nane had to leave in the 70th minute with a right leg injury, the Rapids’ trainer almost immediately motioning for a substitute after some cursory examinations of Nane’s ankle-area.
  • It was Nane’s first career MLS goal, the former Toronto FC player becoming the 14th Colorado Rapid to score this season (an MLS high, h/t to the Rapids’ broadcast team for the factoids).
  • It was one of the more flat performances RSL’s given all season. Is this an early symptom of CONCACAF Champions League fatigue, with Jason Kreis’s team playing mid-week in Costa Rica? The only serious threat RSL mustered all night was a first half header by Justin Braun off a Jonny Steele cross.
  • Braun got the start in place of Fabian Espindola. RSL missed the Argentine’s energy, his constant pursuit of opposing defenders one of RSL’s strengths in July.
  • Braun had a so-so night, looking like a man who’s yet to sync up with his new teammates. He came off just after the hour mark, Jason Kreis introducing Emiliano Bonfigli (Espindola had come on for Alvaro Saborio at halftime).
  • Go through RSL’s team and you see only two players who had above-average nights: Nat Borchers and (perhaps) Nick Rimando. Everybody else played like they were having a hard time getting up for their third match in a week, one pplayed against a team near the bottom of the West. The Rapids are rivals, but the Rocky Mountain Cup had already been won.
  • Colorado had the right team in place to take advantage of scoring the first goal. In addition to their strong, deep midfield, the Rapids got good nights from Marvell Wynne and Drew Moor (at right back) in defense. Brian Mullan and Jaime Castrillon put forth good efforts wide, while Omar Cummings had a strong night holding up play up top.
  • But this wasn’t a performance that usually beats RSL. Colorado played well, but they didn’t do anything remarkable. They didn’t take the game as much as it fell to them, RSL offering little opposition.
  • Style points aside, it’s a huge win for Colorado. They may have wanted full points, but against a team they’d lost to twice to this season, they shouldn’t have expected a win. But with the victory, they move within five points of LA for fifth place. While the Galaxy still have a match in hand, the Rapids are moving into position to take advantage of any LA downturns.
  • For RSL, each point dropped hurts when the Supporters’ Shield means so much, especially when you’re not forcing your opponents to give their best performance to beat you. Colorado’s announcers lauded the team’s effort, but RSL’s beaten teams that gave better performances. Tonight, RSL just didn’t play as well as they could.

Mexico captain Guardado suffers hamstring injury

Getty Images
Leave a comment

With the World Cup still half a year away, there’s plenty of time to heal from injuries and get the body right after tweaking things during the club season.

And yet, there will still be some concern among Mexico fans.

Team captain Andres Guardado suffered a hamstring tear, his club Real Betis confirmed on Monday, and is expected to miss 3-4 weeks. That’s nothing to write home about when it comes to preparing for the big tournament, but with Guardado 31 years old and struggling with injuries in recent years, Mexico fans will be keenly aware that hamstring injuries can return with a vengeance if not given the right time to heal.

Guardado has shown his age in recent times, not necessarily with his play on the field, which has been critical to his country, but with his fitness. Guardado has just four full 90 minute performances for Mexico dating back to October of 2016, missing time with ankle, leg, and now hamstring injuries in that span.

The 31-year-old has had a fine season so far for Real Betis, scoring one goal and assisting six while appearing in all 15 La Liga matches for the club thus far. The club sits 12th in the La Liga table with 18 points.

Guardado will be fine with plenty of time to spare, but if not fully healed properly, there’s always the risk that muscle injuries can flare back up, and Mexico fans will hope that their captain’s club gives him plenty of rest to recover.

Mark Hughes wants Stoke City to “suck it up”

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Mark Hughes is under fire at Stoke City with the Potters firmly entrenched in the relegation battle, and with that he’s charging his players, staff, and himself to gut the rest of the season out.

With Stoke heading to Turf Moor to take on Burnley, they sit just three points above the drop. The players were faced with jeers from angry fans at the train station following this past weekend’s 5-1 disaster against Tottenham. The fiery Hughes is hoping to use this jarring moment to jolt his squad.

[ PREVIEW: Tuesday’s Premier League action ]

“That is still resonating. It’s good we have a game because it is still fresh in their ears probably, and they can use it as a motivating factor,” said Hughes during his pre-match press conference.

“You either suck it up and do ­something about it or you go under, and we can’t accept players like that. I don’t feel we have players like that.”

With managers nowadays often reaching into the excuses barrel as they hope to save their own skins, Hughes refuses to do just that, instead placing the decision firmly on the players shoulders, telling them they are the only ones who can save the club.

“Maybe some hadn’t ­confronted that before – but sometimes you need a reality check, and understand how our results and ­performances affect people,” Hughes said. “When people criticize you, you have to grow a thick skin in this industry. If you don’t, you’re in the wrong place.”

Louis van Gaal calls Mourinho’s United “far more boring”

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Louis Van Gaal has picked just the right time to pipe up.

The former Manchester United manager, who took flak while in charge for his side being hideous to watch, has now taken shots of his own at his successor Jose Mourinho, kicking Manchester United while they’re down after a 2-1 derby defeat at home.

The Dutchman told Fox Sports Netherlands, “If you ask me how did I do at United, I will say it was my best year ever, given the circumstances I was working under. We played football that was quite alright. But it’s not football that is appreciated in England. And yet, right now, looking at United, I have to conclude Mourinho is not being criticized while it’s far more boring football.”

[ PREVIEW: Premier League Tuesday matches, including Chelsea vs. Huddersfield ]

Van Gaal was blasted consistently for playing a boring style, especially in front of the home crowd, and now Mourinho is being criticized for the same concept. Mourinho was denounced for similar reasons while in charge of Chelsea, but with the club winning multiple titles under his leadership, the noise was always less while the team was winning. With Manchester United still unable to crack the top 4, Mourinho is feeling the heat.

“What United produce now is defensive football,” van Gaal said. “I always played attacking football. The proof is that the opposition were always parking the bus. They don’t do that now because Jose Mourinho plays so defensive.”

To van Gaal’s point, Manchester United is seventh in the Premier League in possession, holding 51% possession this season. They were out-possessed by Manchester City 65-35 at Old Trafford over the weekend. Meanwhile, van Gaal’s last full season with Manchester United, the 2015/16 season, saw the Red Devils hold 54%, which ranked third in the Premier League, just a percentage point behind leaders Arsenal. However, van Gaal’s United ranked 15th in the Premier League in total shots, while Mourinho’s United this season ranks sixth at this point.

Van Gaal made sure to point out he prefers their cross-town rivals.

“I would rather watch City play than United. You need quality in a squad and it’s clear City have a better squad.”

Conte blames fatigue for dip in Chelsea form

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Antonio Conte has figured out what is plaguing his Chelsea side as they sit 14 points back of Premier League leaders Manchester City.

“I think when you play every three days, it is impossible to have a training session and to work on the physical aspects,” Conte said in his pre-match press conference as the Blues get set to play Huddersfield Town on Tuesday. “It’s impossible. It’s impossible because you have to prepare with the players for a game every three days.”

Chelsea has yet to find itself eliminated from a single competition, drawn against Barcelona in the Champions League while navigating fixtures across all four competitions.

And yet, this is nothing new for Conte. The Blues boss is more than familiar with fixture congestion, having taken charge of Juventus and regularly competing at a high level on multiple fronts. In 2012/13, he won the Serie A title, won the Supercoppa Italia, and reached the quarterfinals of the Champions League.

However, this is new for Conte at Chelsea. Last season, the Blues did not take part in a European competition thanks to their disastrous season the previous year. While they reached the FA Cup final, they were knocked out of the EFL Cup in the 4th round.

“We have to try to do our best,” Conte said. “For sure, some players can be tired, that’s normal because some players are playing from this summer and our tours in China and Singapore. It’s normal. But I repeat we have to find the best solution. We have to find more rotations. I’m doing this, we will try and do our best with hunger and desire. We will fight.”

As an example, Conte said Alvaro Morata will miss the match on Tuesday against Huddersfield Town due to fatigue, with the Spaniard battling a slight back injury. “Morata is out. He is a bit tired and he has a problem in his back.