Drilling down on: at FC Dallas 3, Colorado 2

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Man of the Match: The knock on Fabian Castillo is that for all his speed, his faulty decision making leaves the ultimate productivity wanting. Not Saturday at FC Dallas Stadium. His brutally accurate shot from 25 yards became the early equalizer. The young Colombian was fouled to set up Jair Benitez’s free kick goal, and then Castillo assisted on the second-half game-winner.

Packaged for take-away

  • This is the kind of year Brek Shea is having for Dallas: In the 6th minute, Ruben Luna delivered a nearly perfect ball across goal, one with just a smidge too much zip on it, though. Still, if Shea sticks out his right foot, he’s quickly hugging his teammates over in the corner after supplying that killer, early lead. Instead, he sticks out his left leg (for a ball coming in from the left) and the chance gets away.
  • At least twice in the first half, Dallas center backs were forward to hunt for set piece deliveries. Rather than playing balls toward then, Dallas went for something short and then watched as their center backs needed to sprint back. Curious.
  • The Rapids’ early goal was more or less something from nothing, but it was typical Brian Mullan, who has been putting in the hard work in MLS for a dozen years now. Julian de Guzman’s failure to match Mullan’s aggressiveness near the end line meant that the Rapids’ midfielder got on the ground and around the passive challenge to put a dangerous ball near goal. Jamie Castrillon made it count.
  • Mullan apparently wasn’t doing enough of that stuff. Or enough of something. He was off at halftime, although apparently not injured.
  • David Ferreira is a wonderful player, ever so skillful at holding off challenges and retaining possession under duress. On the other hand, since returning from injury, he’s sometimes looking for the foul too often rather than working out of the challenge. He does get kicked and fouled a lot, but still …
  • Colorado was doing such an outstanding job with its midfield shape, Joseph Nane and Jeff Larentowicz working in well-synched tandem as holders in the 4-2-3-1. They were constantly up Ferreira’s backside, and the Dallas creator was having trouble getting turned. When he did, young striker Luna was too static to become a target. That’s an element of sophistication Luna must add, because Ferreira will reward clever runs.
  • The Rapids got a little too concerned with Ferreira, perhaps, and got stretched late in the first half trying to deal with him along Dallas’ left side. Fabian Castillo exploited the vulnerable space in the middle, running into the space to sneak a ball just inside the post from about 25 yards. You wonder if maybe Matt Pickens should have gotten to the ball, which was a very good shot but maybe not a fantastic one.
  • Jair Benitez needed 87MLS matches to score his first goal, but it really was a sweet free kick.
  • Kevin Hartman’s double stop in the 34th minute sure helped the home team, but so did Omar Cummings missing an open goal from about 40 yards when Hartman inaccurately adjudged he could get to a ball far, far out of goal.
  • Castillo supplied the assist on Dallas’ third goal, but it was the hustle-bustle work of Hernan Pertuz, charging in to win a loose second ball, that made it all happen.
  • Yellow cards inside the first 51 minutes to two Rapids defenders and to Nane meant the visitors couldn’t be as physical, which meant Luna had an easier time receiving balls as a target and then laying off for Castillo and Ferreira.
  • A game that was progressively more open became even moreso when Castrillon decided it was a good idea to kick out at George John’s face when the FCD defender was on the turf. Referee Armando Villarreal, in just his fifth MLS match, was right to send the Rapids’ midfielder off.
  • Dallas clearly hasn’t had much work on seeing out the late leads. Even a man down the Rapids were finding space in Dallas’ end. Larentowicz, a never-quit type, kept finding ways to create a little something here or there. And too many times, Dallas was caught in the final 10 minutes defending with just five. Just five!

Championship Focus: Bluebirds flying, Villa second-last

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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

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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

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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

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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