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

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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.

Breaking: Chelsea sells Diego Costa to Atleti, will re-join club in January

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We all suspected this would happen, and it finally occurred on Thursday.

[ MORE: Tammy Abraham expected to call Nigeria his national team ]

Chelsea has announced the transfer of Diego Costa to Atletico Madrid for roughly $68 million after spending  seasons with the Premier League side.

The 28-year-old will re-join Atleti in January during the winter transfer window. Atletico was banned from making transfers over the summer, which kept the move on hold.

Costa played for the La Liga side on two separate stints, first from 2007-2009 and then 2010-2014 after a brief move to Real Valladolid in between.

In his time with the Blues, the Spanish international scored 59 goals in all competitions for the Londoners, and helped the club to two Premier League titles.

The sale of Costa isn’t unexpected after the striker’s falling out with Chelsea manager Antonio Conte towards the latter half of the 2016/17 PL season.

The Italian boss revealed to Costa via text at the conclusion of the team’s PL-winning campaign that the goalscorer would no longer be needed at Stamford Bridge, prior to Chelsea acquiring striker Alvaro Morata over the summer.

Red Bulls must rally quickly, turn attention back to MLS playoff race

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For any Red Bulls supporter, Wednesday night’s U.S. Open Cup final was a grim reminder of how devastating any cup final can be for a team.

[ MORE: Sporting KC claims its fourth U.S. Open Cup title ]

The New York Red Bulls fell short against Sporting KC — who captured its fourth Open Cup victory in its club’s history — but Jesse Marsch’s side cannot dwell on the result because there is another big task at hand over the final weeks of the MLS regular season.

While that may be easier said than done, especially after the “heartbreaking” nature of Wednesday’s loss, Marsch believes that his side exhibits the qualities you’d want in any good team.

“The outcome is obviously heartbreaking, but the performance is what I think we’ll carry with us. In the moment, there’s no consolation prize,” Marsch said when asked about if there would be any hang over from the loss. “But the confidence that this group has, they way that they played and the way that they played for each other, this will continue to make us good.”

The biggest concern for the Red Bulls though isn’t necessarily even their current form, but instead the form of other clubs around them in the Eastern Conference. With six matches remaining, Marsch and Co. sit just three points above the Montreal Impact for the sixth and final playoff spot in the East.

Meanwhile, Atlanta United has surged up the table and still holds at least a game in hand over most of the field, making them quite the danger in addition leaders Toronto FC and second-place New York City FC.

The Red Bulls haven’t won a match since their 3-2 Open Cup semifinal victory against FC Cincinnati, which came over a month ago.

Marsch and his side do have the benefit of facing bottom-dwellers D.C. United twice over the last five weeks of the regular season, but also packed into into the Red Bulls schedule are matches against four current playoff teams, including Toronto and Atlanta.

Goalkeeper Ryan Meara stressed the importance of his side maintaining its focus, particularly after the Impact and Atlanta each picked up three points on Wednesday night.

“Yeah, that’s the thing, (our upcoming games) will make us move on from this,” Meara said. “We’ve got a big game in Columbus, we know the teams around us have been winning, Montreal won tonight and Atlanta won tonight, so I guess feel sorry for ourselves tonight, get up and dust ourselves off tomorrow and start looking forward to Saturday and Wednesday with D.C. United at home. The games are coming thick and fast and we’ve got to be ready for it.”

Tammy Abraham expected to make international switch to Nigeria

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Tammy Abraham has a bright future in the Premier League, but the on-loan Chelsea striker appears that he won’t be playing his international soccer for the country in which he currently plays.

[ MORE: Spurs land Hammers in League Cup draw; Chelsea faces Everton ]

The 19-year-old is expected to announce that he’ll play for Nigeria — the country of his father’s birth — after having represented England at various youth levels since 2014.

Nigerian Football Federation president Amaju Pinnick has made it clear that he believes Abraham will represent the Super Eagles at next summer’s World Cup in Russia, assuming Nigeria qualifies for the competition.

“I had a very honest and productive discussion with Tammy and his father last week,” said Pinnick.

“It’s been a long process but I can tell you authoritatively that he has agreed to play for Nigeria and not England. He and his parents have started the necessary documents to effect the switch.

“Clearly he understands he stands a better chance playing for the Super Eagles. With his talent he has the ability to fight for a place in the Nigeria squad, by God’s grace we make it to Russia, then he would contest for a chance to represent his fatherland.”

Nigeria currently leads its CAF World Cup qualifying group in the final round of African qualification, and a victory over Zambia on October 7 would ensure the country’s place in Russia next summer.

[ MORE: Pulisic stars, scores a goal in BVB’s latest Bundesliga win ]

The Super Eagles have a number of players Abraham is familiar with, given their connection to Chelsea, including Nigeria captain John Obi Mikel, youngster Ola Aina and current Blues wing back Victor Moses.

Weekend soccer games called off after Mexico earthquake

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MEXICO CITY (AP) Mexico’s soccer federation has canceled all first-division games this weekend as stadiums are being used as relief centers after the country’s magnitude 7.1 earthquake.

[ MORE: Sporting KC claims its fourth U.S. Open Cup crown ]

The federation announced Wednesday that there would be no games in the 10th round of the Apertura tournament or any other professional competition, including the women’s league.

“All the clubs are doing their bit,” Mexican league president Enrique Bonilla said in an interview on Fox Sports before the decision to cancel all matches was announced. “We would like to bring people a moment of joy, but it is a more complex decision, and we need to have all the information from authorities.”

The postponed league games will be played in mid-October, including the derby between Chivas and America.