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

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Man of the match: If it weren’t for Tally Hall, Houston would have never had the chance to claim full points in stoppage time. The Houston goalkeeper came up with three big saves, none bigger than his 89th minute stop on Ned Grabavoy. The RSL midfielder was put in alone only to see Hall, reading the play beautifully, cutting off most of the angles. Grabavoy did what he could with a left-footed shot to the right post, but Hall had it covered, preserving the (then) 0-0 scoreline.

Packaged for takeaway:

  • The penalty kick came after Rimando misjudged a ball lofted into the box, coming off his line early to put himself in no man’s land before crashing into Mac Kandji. Colin Clark stepped up and – just like they tell you to do, when you don’t have a better idea – blasted it straight down the middle. Rimando lept left, missed, but if he been a split second slower with his jump, he might have been nailed in the head by Clark’s rocket.
  • RSL’s main complain may about the goal wasn’t the call, it was the timing. The whistle seemed to come slightly after the 93rd minute expired, with three minutes stoppage time being shown on the clock. Of course the play’s not going to stop in the middle of an attack, but when a team’s setting up to pump a ball into the box? Who knows. It all seems like semantics, to me. In one hundred percent fo the soccer games I’ve ever watched, you have to play until the game’s over.
  • “Wait a minute,” you might ask (sorry if I’m misquoting your hypothetical conjecture). “What wasn’t Brad Davis taking the kick?” Davis had already had his chance in the 75th minute, but trying to convert after a dubious call on Chris Schuler, Davis seemed to (perhaps unintentionally) hesitate before putting the ball toward the right post. Not only did the kick end up one yard off the ground (in a relatively easy place to save), but Davis seemed to slow his kick after he’d  already opened his right hip and shoulder. In other words, instead of hesitating then committing, he committed then hesitated, gift wrapping the save for Rimando.
  • Back to the dubious penalty call. It’s not so much Schuler didn’t commit a foul (his shoulder charge on Will Bruin at the edge of the six was completely unnecessary, given Kofie Sarkodie’s cross was going well beyond goal). It’s just that Ismail Elfath had been letting everything go all night. In the first half, there was a somewhat comical moment where Nat Borchers pulled up expecting to be called for a foul outside the RSL penalty area only to see Elfath had let play go on. To go from that approach (to which the players had adjusted) to giving a penalty for essentially an off-the-ball foul was too big of a swing.
  • After that penalty, the match picked up. Rimando was called on to make another great save in the 82nd minute. Hall had already made a miraculous reflex stop in the 80th. The chances were starting to flow after 75 minutes of relatively few opportunities.
  • That’s not to say the match lacked drama. In the first half, Real Salt Lake controlled play, though they were only able to generate one meaningful chance on Hall. Houston was on the front foot in the second, but again, there was a lack of clear scoring chances.
  • Perhaps that should have been expected from two teams missing so many players to international duty. Houston with without Andre Hainault, Jermaine Taylor, and Oscar Boniek Garcia. Real Salt Lake was missing Kyle Beckerman, Alvaro Saborio and Will Johnson.
  • Real Salt Lake started Yordany Álvarez in Beckerman’s spot and was able to augment the loss by having Jonny Steele and Ned Grabavoy come back, as needed, to help built play. Up top, however, the Fabian Espindola-Paulo Jr. combination wasn’t getting it done, part of the reason Jason Kreis brought Emiliano Bonfigli on for Paulo at halftime.
  • RSL’s most compelling player may have been Schuler, throw out at left back for the suspended Chris Wingert. If it weren’t for the spurious penalty conceded in the 75th minute, Schuler would have been RSL’s better player. Although Elfath’s call was inconsistent with how he was judging the rest of the night, you can’t help but ask: Why did Schuler do that?
  • For Houston, they seemed to really miss Boniek Garcia in the first half, but in the second, they played much better. What, exactly, did they do? Nothing special. They just seemed to wake up.
  • Interesting tactical note for Houston: They broke away from their 4-3-3 tonight and played more of a 4-2-3-1 shape (if not function), with Calen Carr underneath Will Bruin, Kandji out right, Clark to the left. It wasn’t a very convincing set up, but the players eventually found a way to get three points.
  • With those three points, Houston temporarily jumps third in the East (they’ve played more games than anybody save Montreal). Given the Dynamo were slowly being pulled back into a race that could leave them at home come November, the win is huge.
  • It also continues Houston’s unbeaten run at BBVA as well as RSL’s poor record in Texas. According to the broadcast crew, RSL is now 0-18-3 all-time in the Lonestar state. Yikes.
  • For RSL, they stay two points up on Seattle, but the Sounders now have three games in hand. In the mean time, San Jose stays seven points clear in the West, making live easy on Coach of the Year voters who will look at the Quakes’ huge one-year turnaround.

Ligue 1: PSG return to comfort zone, thrash Strasbourg

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PARIS (AP) After falling short in the Champions League, Paris Saint-Germain returned to its French league comfort zone and beat Strasbourg 5-2 on Saturday.

Edinson Cavani netted twice, and Julian Draxler, Angel Di Maria, and Neymar also scored to ensure PSG stayed 12 points clear of second-place Monaco at the top.

But not without a fright.

Strasbourg took the lead in the sixth minute and pulled back to 3-2 as PSG continued to show alarming signs of weakness at the back. Strasbourg had a late goal incorrectly ruled out for offside after PSG’s defense was again easily breached, although it was already 5-2 by then.

PSG lost at Real Madrid 3-1 on Wednesday in the first leg of the last 16. The way PSG capitulated by giving away two late goals heaped pressure on coach Unai Emery over his team selection.

“The atmosphere was a bit tense. That’s normal,” Cavani said. “We have to look forward now. We played well today, although at times we could have been better.”

Emery was booed by sections of the home crowd when his name was announced over the loudspeaker before the game. Later, Cavani stopped short of giving Emery his personal backing when asked if the under-fire coach has the full support of the players.

“We’re a team and big teams stick together in the important moments,” Cavani said. “That’s the only way you can win.”

Strasbourg beat PSG at home in December, and stunned the crowd at Parc des Princes by taking the lead when midfielder Jean-Eudes Aholou was left completely unmarked near the penalty spot.

PSG hit back hard and was 3-1 up after 23 minutes thanks to Draxler, Di Maria and Neymar’s 19th in 19 league games.

Stephane Bahoken scored against PSG for the second time this season after a quick counterattack. Strasbourg poured forward but the hope didn’t last for long.

Cavani gave PSG some breathing space with an assured finish in the 72nd, clipping the ball over goalkeeper Alexandre Oukidja, then lobbed him for his league-leading 23rd goal.

“It was important to win after Wednesday’s match. We have to get our fans ready for the games to come against Marseille (next weekend) and Real Madrid,” Emery said. “We have to show we can maintain this level of play against better sides, with all due respect to Strasbourg.”

To celebrate Chinese New Year, PSG players’ names were written in Mandarin on the back of their shirts and a Chinese dragon paraded around the pitch. PSG says it has 1.3 million Chinese followers.

In order to better serve the soccer market in Asia, the league match between Nice and PSG on March 18 has been moved forward to 1 p.m. local time (1200 GMT).


Marseille players will also have their names in Mandarin for Sunday’s home game against Bordeaux at Stade Velodrome. Marseille recently launched an account on Chinese social media site Weibo.

Striker Giovanni Sio’s second-half equalizer gave Montpellier the point it needed to take fifth place after drawing with Guingamp 1-1.

Two goals from newly signed striker Diafra Sakho gave Rennes a 2-2 draw at Caen, which missed two penalties.

Saint-Etienne won at Angers 1-0, Troyes beat last-place Metz 1-0, and Amiens drew with Toulouse 0-0 in another relegation scrap.

In Sunday’s other games, fourth-place Lyon goes to Lille, and Nice hosts Nantes.

Pardew ‘furious’ after four WBA players steal taxi in Spain

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At least when you’re bottom of the Premier League table and appear headed for relegation, as West Bromwich Albion now find themselves, you can take the positive approach that “the only way to go from here is up.”

[ FA CUP: Man United advance, drawn against PL opposition in QF ]

Alternatively, four of your most senior players — Jonny Evans, Gareth Barry, Jake Livermore and Boaz Myhill, in this case — might have other ideas and elect to steal a cab during a late-season training camp in Barcelona. That’s the current state of affairs for the Baggies and manager Alan Pardew, who openly admits he was “furious” and felt “let down” — quotes from the Guardian:

“This is obviously not ideal. They broke the curfew and that’s unacceptable and I feel a bit let down by that.”

“It’s difficult for managers. Obviously, I was furious with what happened but at the same time I’ve got to stay faithful to the players and give them a chance to remedy the situation.”

The night’s timeline reads something like this: the quartet wanted to go out in the city center, but everything was closed late at night; they got a taxi to a McDonald’s by the Barcelona port; the driver left the car, at which point the players decided to drive back to the team hotel around 5:30 a.m.; the care was returned to the cab driver around 8 a.m.

Evans was stripped of his captaincy for Saturday’s FA Cup fifth-round defeat to Southampton. The players have since released the following statement through the club’s website:

“We felt it important we identify ourselves as the players involved in an incident which occurred during the training camp in Spain this week out of respect for team-mates who otherwise could be implicated by association. We freely acknowledge and apologize for the break of curfew which we accept represented a breach of the standards of professionalism required of us as representatives of West Bromwich Albion.

“The club has informed us that it will now conduct its own inquiry into the incident and we will cooperate fully. In the meantime, we would like to assure our supporters that this incident does not reflect the determination and resolve we possess to do all we can to recover a difficult season.”

With 11 games left to play, West Brom currently sit seven points adrift of safety; Pardew’s position grows more and more tenuous with each point dropped; and three of their final 11 games are against Manchester United, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur.

Serie A: Turkish youngster Under fires Roma back into 3rd

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ROME (AP) The rapid development of 20-year-old Turkey winger Cengiz Under is playing a big role in Roma’s revival.

Under scored his fourth goal in three matches and Roma won at Udinese 2-0 for its third straight win in Serie A on Saturday.

Roma moved into third place, two points ahead of Inter Milan, which lost at Genoa 2-0.

It’s a drastic improvement from where Roma was a month ago, when the Giallorossi were mired in a five-match winless streak that risked dropping them out of contention for the Champions League places.

“We’re getting back on track to where we were in the first half of the season,” forward Diego Perotti said.

Roma went ahead when Under unleashed a powerful, rising shot from beyond the area in the 70th.

Perotti sealed the victory in the 90th with an angled effort after Udinese gave the ball away near midfield.

Under is having a breakout month.

First, he scored after 43 seconds when Roma ended a five-match winless streak by beating Hellas Verona 1-0. Then he had a brace and also delivered an assist in a 5-2 win over Benevento last weekend.

All this after not being involved in any goals in his first 14 matches with Roma.

“He plays far more for the team than himself,” Roma coach Eusebio Di Francesco said of Under. “His greatest strength is being able to prepare his shot with great speed, making him difficult to close down.”

Added Perotti, “He’s very humble and he doesn’t speak Italian yet but he’s well behaved and is a great kid. He deserves all of this.”

On Wednesday, Roma visits Shakhtar Donetsk in the first leg of the Champions League last 16.

“We’ve got to make the most of the fact they’ve had a winter break and might not be match fit,” Di Francesco said of the Ukrainian side. “They have a lot of quality in attack and are dangerous, but we shouldn’t change our attitude.”


Inter’s defense was in shambles against Genoa.

The hosts took the lead before the break when a failed clearance attempt from Milan Skriniar ricocheted off of a stunned Andrea Ranocchia, who was charged with an own goal.

Then former Inter striker Goran Pandev was left unmarked to score from the center of the area midway through the second half.

Inter hasn’t won at regional rival Genoa in more than seven years.

Chievo Verona took a big step toward avoiding relegation with a 2-1 win over visiting Cagliari.

Emanuele Giaccherini and Roberto Inglese scored late for the hosts before Leonardo Pavoletti pulled one back for Cagliari.

Chievo moved up to 14th, level on points with Cagliari, eight points above the drop zone.

La Liga: Barca’s 31-game unbeaten run ties longest in club history

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s action in Spain’s top flight…

[ FA CUP: Man United advance, drawn against PL opposition in QF ]

Eibar 0-2 Barcelona

Barcelona, the last remaining unbeaten side from Europe’s five major domestic leagues, warmed up for Tuesday’s Champions League round-of-16 clash with Chelsea by dismantling seventh-place Eibar side away from home on Saturday and extending their unbeaten run to 31 games in the league, tying the club’s all-time record in the process.

The Blaugrana took the lead after 15 minutes, when Lionel Messi slotted an inch-perfect through ball for Luis Suarez who rounded the goalkeeper and slotted home (WATCH HERE) for his 17th league goal of the season (20 in all competitions).

Messi played his part in Barca’s second goal, which came three minutes before full-time. The Argentine’s shot was initially saved, but Jordi Alba arrived on the scene moments later to clean up and finish off the 10-man Basque minnows.

The victory sends Barca 10 points clear of second-place Atletico Madrid, who play on Sunday, and 20 points clear of fourth-place Real Madrid, who have played two fewer games thus far.

Malaga 1-2 Valencia

Valencia, who spent the majority of the season’s first half as Barca’s nearest title rivals (while never really challenging), fell to third when they recently lost three straight league games, but have since regained their footing with back-to-back wins, including Saturday’s come-from-behind triumph away to last-place Malaga.

Brown Ideye put Malaga ahead just before the half-hour mark, a lead which remained intact for more than 50 minutes. Alas, Francis Coquelin bagged his first goal for Valencia in the 80th minute to draw level, followed by a penalty kick converted by Dani Parejo five minutes later.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Las Palmas 1-2 Sevilla
Alaves 1-0 Deportivo La Coruña

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Real Sociedad vs. Levante — 6 a.m. ET
Atletico Madrid vs. Athletic Bilbao — 10:15 a.m. ET
Espanyol vs. Villarreal — 12:30 p.m. ET
Real Betis vs. Real Madrid — 2:45 p.m. ET