Drilling down on: at D.C. United 1, Columbus 0

Leave a comment

Man of the Match: If there was justice in the world (or at least in the world of MLS stats) D.C. United right midfielder Nick DeLeon would get an assist on Chris Pontius’ goal right after the break. It was all DeLeon, whose determined dribbling and nimble spin near goal eventually provided Pontius with the easy of close-range put-aways. DeLeon, a rookie who has been fairly quite lately, not much like the energetic sort we saw in the spring, also did his share on defense, helping to contain the dangerous Dilly Duka.

Packaged for take-away:

  • DeLeon needed a night like this one. With Andy Najar on his way back from the Olympics, he’ll need to keep bringing it to keep that starting spot.
  • Ben Olsen gave a surprise start to Long Tan, who took up a post slightly higher than Dwayne De Rosario.
  • First big opportunity went to Dilly Duka for Columbus, who worked his way into a great position but couldn’t beat Bill Hamid from close range. Duka continues to look dangerous for Columbus, and United devoted a lot of energy to containing his side.
  • De Rosario always plays close to the edge, offside-wise; So does Tan, as we see now. Final offside count for the home team: 12. For both teams combined: 18. Blek!
  • A lot of tactical fouling in midfield was going on for Columbus; that’s the referee’s job to enforce, of course. It took a while for Allen Chapman to get hold of it, but both wide men for Columbus (Justin Meram and Dilly Duka) had yellow cards inside the first 28 minutes. Central midfielder Chris Birchall got one in the 35th, and it was quite well deserved for a nasty swipe from behind on a dashing Chris Pontius.
  • With such a primary defensive tactic eliminated by the bookings, United began getting just a little more of the game and inching closer to scoring opportunities.
  • Meanwhile, both of the Crew’s central midfielder starters Saturday are defensive sorts. So neither Milovan Mirosevic nor Birchall were able to establish a reliable connection with Eddie Gaven, who played behind striker Jairo Arrieta.
  • Outside backs getting forward? Yeah, not much in this one. Not effectively, at any rate.
  • A pretty scary moment came and went for DCU fans in the first half when a Carlos Mendes tackle sent De Rosario crashing to the turf and clutching his shoulder. He was soon back to full “De Ro.”
  • With Branko Boskovic, the would-be DCU playmaker, plus De Rosario, plus the reliable possession provided centrally by Perry Kitchen, why does center back Emiliano Dudar insist on launching so many big balls past the midfield?
  • Still in need of a goal, the Crew went to … Tony Tchani for Mirosevic? Tchani is no more attack-minded than the man he replaced. It draws a circle around the lack of attacking options at the moment for Crew coach Robert Warcycha.
  • Best players for Columbus? Chad Marshall had a credible night, although he could have been closer on target with a couple of chances on attacking restarts. Birchall was strong on the defensive end of his midfield chores. And goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum was steady in goal, helping his team with about three nice saves. But nothing new there.
  • United still doesn’t look comfortable (or make the best choices) while holding a late lead. It’s still a young team, of course, so maybe that’s to be expected.

Championship Focus: Bluebirds flying, Villa second-last

Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The wild 46-game slate that is the Football League Championship is already howling, with all 24 teams three matches deep into their campaigns toward Premier League promotion (or avoiding relegation to League One).

The three clubs relegated from the Premier League last season all sit within the Top 8 after three match days. Sunderland is unbeaten with a win and two draws, while Hull City is 1-1-1.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

Middlesbrough has two wins from three matches, three points behind three sides who’ve started a perfect 3-0.

Wolves and Ipswich Town are two of the three, and Cardiff City leads the way. Owner Vincent Tan has seen his club score six goals without conceding once in defeats of Burton Albion, Aston Villa, and Sheffield United.

Burton is 0-3, while Steve Bruce‘s Villa is just one point better and sits 23rd.

As for individual superlatives, Bristol City’s Bobby Reid has four goals to lead the league while familiar names Lewis Grabban (Sunderland) and Abel Hernandez (Hull City) are among a quartet of players to score thrice.

Meanwhile, PL transfer target Jota of Brentford continues to impress with three assists through three matches. Will he remain in the second tier by the close of the transfer window?

MLS Snapshot: Montreal Impact 3-0 Chicago Fire

Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press via AP
Leave a comment

The game in 100 words (or less)Ignacio Piatti is very good at soccer, and Chicago backstop Matt Lampson is going to see him deep into his dreams. Piatti beat Lampson up close on a turnover and then, with Montreal ahead 2-0 off a PK, the Argentine curled a surprise shot from distance around the keeper. Game, set, match, and it wasn’t even halftime. The loss keeps Chicago from using its match-in-hand to catch second place New York City FC, while the three points move Montreal to within two points of the East’s final playoff position.

Three moments that mattered

6′ — Piatti starts the party — Gifted a chance with the keeper by a sloppy missed clearing attempt, the Argentine deftly pops the ball over Fire keeper Matt Lampson.

36′ — Lampson hurts his cause — Chicago’s backstop wasn’t at fault on the opening goal, but he was for the second. After chopping down Matteo Mancosu in the box, Lampson guessed wrong on the striker’s penalty kick and the Fire went down 2-0.

38′ — It’s not your night, Lamps — Pretty sure you can anyone named Lampson, Lamps. Anyway, this time it was one of MLS’ top newcomers who set up Piatti for a goal. “Nacho” has his 12th of the season thanks to Blerim Dzemaili, and my goodness did Piatti do well here.

Man of the Match: Piatti.

Forbes ranks the top supporters in Major League Soccer

Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Forbes claims the shared honor will give two Cascadia Cup rivals one less thing to argue about, but we completely disagree.

The celebrated magazine says their metrics show the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders tied for the honor of who has the best fans in Major League Soccer.

The post says the determination was made through four factors: attendance, local TV ratings, merchandise sales, and social media followers on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Attendance was weighted heaviest, which certainly gives Atlanta United hope to go charging up the rankings in the future. For now, the “Five Stripes” are not included in the list.

The Galaxy finish third in the rankings, while the sixth-place New York Red Bulls edge New York City FC by one spot.

For the report and full explanation, head here.

Europa League preview: Everton, Milan, Marseille take next steps

Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The UEFA Europa League playoff round takes full flight Thursday, a day after Utrecht struck a blow for the Eredivisie with a 1-0 win over Zenit Saint-Petersburg in a Wednesday first leg.

Premier League participants Everton will be seeking a result at home against Hajduk Split, the third-place team from Croatia’s top flight.

Gylfi Sigurdsson passed his medical at Goodison Park but will not be available for Everton on Thursday.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

As for the match, manager Ronald Koeman knows the Thursday matchdays for the UEL will try his club’s endurance and depth. From EvertonFC.com:

“We know English teams have some problems. I think it is more mental than physical because if you play in the Champions League – so Wednesday and Saturday – you have the same amount of days to recover. I try to put out the strongest team to start the game. That will take into account the tactical aspects of each game. That will mean different players start and different options in terms of substitutions.”

Captained by Zoran Nizic and managed by Joan Carrillo, Hajduk has a young star in the making in the form of 19-year-old attacking midfielder Nikola Vlasic, but Everton is heavily favored at home with Hajduk given 12:1 odds by bookmakers.

[ MORE: Barca GM says Coutinho, Dembele “close” ]

Those numbers are a relative sure thing compared to AC Milan’s visitors. Macedonia club Shkendija are a 33:1 underdog for its trip to Italy.

Elsewhere, Slovenian side Domzale is a longshot at home to visiting Marseille.

Speaking of bookmakers, Arsenal won’t enter the competition until the group stage but is considered the favorite to win the UEL by a hair over Milan. Everton, Villarreal, and Athletic Bilbao are level with third-best odds.

UEFA Europa League playoff first legs
Utrecht 1-0 Zenit — Weds.
BATE Borisov vs. Oleksandriya — 1 p.m. ET Thursday
Apollon Limassol vs. Midtjylland — 1 p.m.
Krasnodar vs. Red Star Belgrade — 1 p.m.
Dinamo Zagreb vs. Skenderbeu — 1 p.m.
FH vs. Braga — 1:45 p.m. ET Thursday
PAOK vs. Ostersund — 2 p.m. ET Thursday
Vardar vs. Fenerbahce — 2 p.m.
Plzen vs. AEK Lamaca — 2:15 p.m. ET Thursday
Altach vs. Maccabi Tel-Aviv — 2:30 p.m. ET Thursday
Ludogorets Razgrad vs. Suduva — 2:30 p.m.
Panathinaikos vs. Athletic Bilbao — 2:30 p.m.
Domzale vs. Marseille — 2:45 p.m. ET Thursday
Osijek vs. Austria Wien — 2:45 p.m.
Viitorul vs. Red Bull Salzburg — 2:45 p.m.
Ajax vs. Rosenborg — 2:45 p.m.
Legia Warsaw vs. Sheriff — 2:45 p.m.
AC Milan vs. Shkendija — 2:45 p.m.
Club Brugge vs. AEK — 2:45 p.m.
Partizan vs. Videoton — 3 p.m. ET Thursday
Everton vs. Hajduk Split — 3:05 p.m. ET Thursday
Maritimo vs. Dynamo Kyiv — 3:30 p.m. ET Thursday