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

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Man of the Match: United desperately needs men to fill the Dwayne De Rosario gap. Chris Pontius keeps doing his part. Against the Union he played three positions, starting on the left in a 4-2-3-1, then playing as a second forward and finally moving to the right in a 4-4-2. He was United’s most dangerous man and did some of the heavy lifting on the contest’s only goal.

Packaged for take-away:

  • United went from sixth (out of the playoffs) to fourth (in the playoffs, with one spot to spare).
  • How big was Lionard Pajoy’s 67th minute goal? First goal in more than 300 minutes on the road for D.C. United. First win on the road  since June. Yeah, this was a huge three points for Ben Olsen’s team.
  • Pajoy had just one goal in six starts coming into PPL Park. His solid hold-up work Thursday finally turned into something more concrete with a goal that will go far in boosting United’s playoffs hope – not to mention the  wonders it will work for United’s confidence playing away from RFK.
  • ESPN voice Glenn Davis summed this one up nicely for the home side when he said the home team was “Playing for pride, playing for jobs, playing for futures.”
  • In that regard, the Union did not do enough. There’s something to be said for managing a match, obviously. But perhaps Philadelphia could play with just a little more abandon? There are times when John Hackworth’s men could add some pressure by slipping just a couple more men forward, seizing the initiative with a little more verve.
  • Most of the problem was Michael Farfan’s absence (due to yellow card suspension).  The Union just struggles to turn up many fresh ideas without their playmaker, so the attack looks labored and tentative. Too much possession without real purpose.
  • Of course, there is a creative type around PPL Park. His name is Freddy Adu. But he must be burrowing pretty good in Hackworth’s doghouse; Adu wasn’t introduced until the 77th minute. From there? Meh.
  • I wish I could boycott games refereed by Baldomero Toledo. Clearly cynical fouls that deserve yellow cards go unpunished. Sometimes awful and potentially injurious fouls, too. It drags down the quality and watchability of the contests.
  • D.C. United will continue to be under pressure through the remainder of the season. So, players will either rise to the moment or sink beneath the weight of it. After watching United’s Bill Hamid struggle with three fairly routine situations in the first 30 minutes of this one, you can ask some questions about which way the young goalkeeper might go. He can clearly make the big saves; Hamid rescued two points last time out with splendid stops in the final 10 minutes of a close win over New England. But he’s got to manage all the simple stuff, too.
  • Andy Najar, once again stationed at right back, certainly adds some push up D.C. United’s right side. But his one-on-one defending isn’t a strong point, and clubs will begin to take advantage. Danny Cruz, playing along the left — presumably so he could do just that — got around Najar too easily a couple of times. So they’ll need to tilt the defensive structure slightly in his direction, getting one of the holding midfielders over or the right-sided attacker back in assistance.
  • Then again, sometimes United’s center backs seem stretched as it is. So, maybe Najar will just need to be on his own out there.
  • When Branko Boskovic gets the ball in space, he’s dangerous, highly capable of making the pass that opens up defenses. But he wants it to be easy. He just doesn’t move enough to create that space. And he always seems to be in the wrong spot, too high up the field when he needs to drop and too far behind the play when United needs an extra attacker. So, his first half was pretty much a big bag of nothing.
  • Looking for more, Ben Olsen moved his team out of the 4-2-3-1 and into a 4-4-2, relocating Pontius from the left to a forward spot alongside Pajoy. Boskovic went out to the right.
  • And that last about 11 minutes. Boskovic was off in the 56th. Meanwhile, Maicon Santos’ energy helped change the game once he was in for Boskovic.
  • Brandon McDonald struggled early, but as Philadelphia pressed forward and became more aggressive about pushing balls into the penalty area, United’s center back was a beast in winning everything around him in the air.

Antonio Conte admits he misses Italy, plans to return home

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This is not exactly what Chelsea’s fans will want to hear on a Monday morning after a resounding 4-0 win at Stoke as the Blues moved up to third in the Premier League table.

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Antonio Conte, who delivered the Premier League title in his first season in charge of the Blues, and his first season in England, in 2016-17, has been speaking of his desire to return to his homeland.

Conte, 48, spoke to Italian radio station RadioUno about his experience in the Premier League and left the door wide-open for a return to Serie A in the coming months as he admitted he misses Italy.

“I miss it, that’s beyond doubt,” Conte said. “Italy is my homeland, so once I have had some good experiences, formative experiences, important and life-changing experiences, I’ll be back. I don’t know when but that’s the aim.

“It’s always difficult to predict the future. Us managers have the most precarious job of all. Today you’re working, tomorrow you’re out. I want to succeed, to finish one project and make the right decision about the next. This experience has given me so much, has improved me so much, but perhaps in the future I won’t be a manager. Perhaps I’ll work as a director of football. I don’t know.”

Conte has been linked with the managers job at Inter Milan and with comments like this, those links will not go away.

Adding further fuel to the fire was his decision to only signed an improved contract over the summer rather than extending his stay at Stamford Bridge. Conte’s current deal is due to expire at the end of the 2018-19 season.

After a tough summer and a tough start to the season which saw a feud with Diego Costa dominate the talk surrounding Chelsea, a loss to Arsenal in the Community Shield, an opening day defeat at home to Burnley, plus some questionable dealings in the transfer market, the pressure was piling on Conte.

His team have responded with five wins in their next six games in all competitions and are right up there with the early pacesetters in the Premier League.

That said, the fact that Conte was under any pressure whatsoever was a joke considering what he had achieved last season when nobody expected Chelsea to seriously challenge for the title. Therein lies why he could want out when his current deal at Chelsea is up, or maybe even sooner than that.

In situations like this I often think about what Eric Cantona did: leave before anybody else expects you to and you’ll go out, and remain, a hero.

Mourinho escapes ban after sending off

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Jose Mourinho will face no further action from the English Football Association after he was sent off at Southampton on Saturday.

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Towards the end of United’s 1-0 win — which keeps them unbeaten and in second-place in the standings — Mourinho encroached slightly onto the pitch (we are talking half a yard here) and referee Craig Pawson sent him to the stands after being called over by fourth official Mike Jones who pulled Mourinho back into his technical area.

Mourinho, in true fashion, then delayed his sending off by shaking the hands of every member of Southampton’s coaching staff before he took his place in the stands for the final few seconds of the game.

After being sent off nine times in his career for various discrepancies over the years, Mourinho is no stranger to having the FA’s rule book thrown at him.

However there is an argument out there, and a credible one, that due to his high profile and history of misdemeanors Mourinho is treated rather differently than most managers.

In his long list of previous incidents where he has stepped out of line, stepping slightly over the touchline at Southampton was incredibly minor.

Common sense has prevailed.

MLS Snapshot: POR carve up 9-man ORL, keep pace with VAN, SKC

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The game in 100 words (or less): All of a sudden, the Western Conference has sprung to life as the 2017 regular season winds down — Vancouver Whitecaps, winners of five of their last seven games (unbeaten); Portland Timbers, winners of four of their last six following Sunday’s 3-0 victory over 10-man nine-man Orlando City SC at Providence Park; Sporting Kansas City, losers of just two of their last 15 games; Seattle Sounders, who had their 13-game unbeaten run snapped on Saturday; and Real Salt Lake, winners of four of their last five. With fewer than a handful of games remaining, Vancouver’s lead on Portland and Sporting KC remains one point after all three sides won this weekend; RSL and Seattle are separated by just three points, three points back of second and third. As for Saturday’s game, Diego Valeri is now a top-two candidate for MVP after scoring two more goals (his 19th and 20th, to go with 9 assists) against 10-man Orlando.

[ MORE: TFC’s Shield celebration delayed | RSL end Seattle’s run at 13 ]

Three moments that mattered

15′ — Valeri extends his streak, makes it 1-0 — The last time Valeri failed to score in a game, the date was July 23.

29′ — Mattocks taps it home after Asprilla’s cross — Huge credit to Diego Chara for the through ball to spring Dairon Asprilla into acres of space. The ball to Mattocks was simple, and he got it right.

59′ — Valeri gets no. 20, makes it 3-0 — Joe Bendik managed to deny Mattocks’ initial effort, but Valeri followed up when everyone in white had already quit on the play.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Diego Valeri

Goalscorers: Valeri (15′ – PK, 59′), Mattocks (29′)

The 2 Robbies: City Sparkle, Chelsea Shine, Liverpool Hold On

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Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe take a look at some of the weekend’s biggest storylines, including Liverpool’s thrilling victory over Leicester City, Tottenham Hotspur’s frantic win away to West Ham United and Manchester City’s demolition of Crystal Palace.

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

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