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.

MLS Snapshot: Toronto FC hold Crew on the road

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The game in 100 words (or less): Without two of its stars, Toronto FC set out to play compact and hold on for a draw on the road, and that’s exactly what they did. Michael Bradley recorded 17 recoveries and a trio of interceptions as TFC broke up play and covered the passing lanes, frustrating the Columbus Crew all night. The best chance fell to Harrison Afful late, but TFC goalkeeper Alex Bono made a crucial save to keep it at 0-0.

Three moments that mattered

‘ — The starting lineup — In a game with chances few and far between, the tactical set-up by Greg Vanney – in which his side without Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore came out in a 4-1-4-1 formation – proved to be the difference in the game, frustrating the Crew all night.

52′ — Pedro Santos penalty kick no-call — Justin Meram plays a neat pass through the TFC backline that Santos runs on to, and he appears to be taken down in the box by Bono. Referee Robert Sbiga doesn’t blow the whistle and lets play continue, where Ola Kamara takes a shot that’s deflected away. Santos appeals for video review, and receives a yellow card for his efforts.

85′ — Big Save Bono — Gregg Berhalter’s 77th minute substitution to bring on Kekutah Manneh helped to push Afful higher up the field, which led to this late-game chance. Bono, who hadn’t had a whole lot to do, came up with a massive stop to keep the tie level.

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Man of the Match: Alex Bono, Toronto FC

Three things: Being happy with 0-0, and sabotage by Precourt

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On what felt sure to be a seminal night in franchise history, Columbus Crew SC were held by Toronto FC to a 0-0 draw in the first leg of the 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs Eastern Conference finals on Tuesday. Leg 2 will be played next Wednesday, Nov. 29.

[ RECAP: TFC hold Crew SC to scoreless draw in leg 1 of East finals ]

We learned (roughly) three things over the course of the 90 minutes…


Who’s happiest with 0-0?

There’s a case to be made that both sides will be quite happy with Tuesday’s result — Crew SC for the fact they conceded no away goals, and TFC facing no deficit whatsoever before their home leg — but it’s quite clear that TFC should be the happier of the two, given 1) they were the best regular-season team in MLS history, this season; and, more importantly, 2) Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore were suspended for leg 1 (they’ll both be back for leg 2) and Crew SC failed to capitalize anywhere meaningful.

TFC lost once at BMO Field all season, while Columbus managed just four victories away from home. Granted, any draw where both sides score would see Crew SC through to MLS Cup, which they would host no matter the opponent (54 points in the regular season; Seattle Sounders and Houston Dynamo finished on 54 and 50, respectively).


TFC’s tactical adjustment pays off

For all of the regular season, TFC head coach Greg Vanney deployed a back-three, with great success — 69 points, an all-time regular-season record. Nov. 21, three games from lifting (or losing) MLS Cup, is hardly the ideal time to deviate from the only path you’ve known.

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Alas, the absences of Giovinco and Altidore, TFC’s permanent strike partnership in the 3-5-2, changed everything. Without Altidore’s hold-up play bringing the best player to ever grace the league into attacking moves, the 3-5-2 would have quickly devolved into a 5-3-2, followed in short order by a 5-4-1. Columbus need no invitation to hold north of 60 percent of possession in a given game, which is exactly what would have happened. Not just meaningless possession, either, but camping-inside-TFC’s-defensive-third possession; 50-crosses-into-the-box possession; get-the-center-backs-forward-too possession.

Vanney was proactive with his starting lineup, putting another body in midfield by sacrificing a striker for another man in the middle, and it paid off. At right, you’ll see Crew SC’s attempted passes into/from TFC’s defensive third. Woof.


Anthony Precourt sinks to a new low

How low is Anthony Precourt willing to go in order to sabotage Crew SC, the club he owns and efforts to move to Austin, Tex., without so much as a phony attempt at a non-relocation resolution, and alienate the fans that have supported the franchise since MLS’s debut season in 1996? Tuesday night saw Precourt and Co. up the ante as they intentionally restricted entry (two gates for the entire stadium, causing thousands to miss the game’s opening minutes) into MAPFRE Stadium with the presumed intent of a half-empty venue when the television broadcast kicked off and panned left to right.

You pay good money for a ticket so you can see your team play, which ultimately results in filling the pockets of the villain whose no. 1 goal it is to steal your team, and this is how you’re treated on gameday.

This is shameful stuff from all parties involved — Crew SC, under the leadership and direction of Precourt, and MLS, who have allowed this entire saga to be played out in a public forum and enabling Precourt every step of the way.

Report: Crystal Palace to build new stadium

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Crystal Palace may have a new home in the next few years.

That’s according to reports out of English, which state that Crystal Palace owner Steve Parish is set to make a major stadium announcement before Christmas.

Crystal Palace’s home stadium, Selhurst Park, is nearly 100 years old, and the club has looked over the last few years at either new locations for a stadium in South London or ways to renovate the current ground.

“When I came into this thing, the aim was to bring something for all of us to be proud of on the pitch and very importantly off the pitch,” Parish told the Croydon Advertiser. “We want to give everybody in Croydon a south London stadium that we can all be proud of and not lose our atmosphere and uniqueness.

“That’s a dream for me, a lifelong dream and one that hopefully everybody will share when they see what we’ve put together. It’s fantastically exciting times for us to look forward to.”

Unlike in America, where many sports owners demand a new stadium every 20-25 years or so, in England, there are many stadiums still in use across the Football League and Premier League that were initially built in the 1800s.

It’s unclear who would pay for a new Crystal Palace stadium, what it would look like and how many seats it would hold, but perhaps a new stadium and facility could help

FOLLOW LIVE – MLS Conference Finals, Leg 1

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There’s never been more on the line in the latest Trilliam Cup matchup.

For the first time, Toronto FC and the Columbus Crew will meet in the MLS Cup playoffs, kicking off at 8:00 p.m., with both teams taking different paths to the Eastern Conference finals.

Toronto FC battled the New York Red Bulls to win on away goals, after a 2-1 win in Red Bull Arena in the first leg, but tempers flared and the Supporters Shield winners will be without both Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore on Tuesday night. The Crew meanwhile survived an incredible 120 minutes at Atlanta United to win in a shootout, and then carried that momentum into a 4-3 aggregate victory over New York City FC.

[FOLLOW: MLS Conference Finals Play-by-Play]

Now, with the Crew’s status in Columbus still up in the air, Crew fans have one chance to pack MAPFRE Stadium to support their team and prove to the league they can support an MLS franchise.

Meanwhile, in the Western Conference, the upstart Houston Dynamo host a sold-out crowd as the defending MLS Cup champions Seattle Sounders visit, with kickoff set for 9:30 p.m.

The Dynamo stunned the injury-riddled Portland Timbers in the last round and the Dynamo has lost just once at home in MLS action this calendar year. On the other side, the Sounders are getting a major boost, with Osvaldo Alonso and Jordan Morris close to returning, either in this game or next week, and Clint Dempsey remains fit and raring to go back in his home state.

Follow all the action from tonight’s MLS Cup playoff matchups.