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.

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.