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Offshore drilling, England: Chelsea 2, at Arsenal 1

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Man of the Match: It wasn’t quite his old self, but  Fernando Torres flashed a little bit of his peak Liverpool form with a creative finish around Laurent Koscielny in the 20th minute, giving Chelsea the lead. But despite the goal and some good play with the ball at his feet, Torres’s main contributions came when Chelsea wasn’t in possession, the Blues’ striker proving a pest tracking back to disrupt Arsenal, particularly when the Gunners were hogging the ball in the second half.

NBC Sports: Chelsea wins 2-1 at Arsenal to stay top of EPL

Packaged for takeaway:

  • The teams matched up in near-identical formations: lone strikers up top; four at the back; two deep midfielders. With Ramires and John Obi Mikel set to sit deep in Chelsea’s midfield, Arsenal wasn’t going to enjoy the same advantages they did against Manchester City.
  • Of note, given this was Chelsea’s first big Premier League match of the year: Frank Lampard was on the bench (though he did start against Juventus in Champions League).
  • One of Arsenal’s advantages against City was in possession, but on Saturday, it was Chelsea who controlled most of the play early. The Gunners would even the numbers by half, but over the first 45 minutes, this wasn’t your typical Arsenal match. Arséne Wenger’s side wasn’t able to dominate the ball.
  • The home side was dealt a blow early with Abou Diaby had to come off, the midfielder straining his left hip after a 12th minute shot on goal. Wenger brought on Alex Oxlade Chamberlain, pushing Aaron Ramsey to the middle.
  • It’s the story of Diaby’s career: injuries. The frequency with which he’s hurt in matches has to be a tactical concern. Even if Diaby’s healthy, you can’t start him if you don’t have a substitute to spare.
  • Chelsea broke through fist, with Torres wrapping his right leg around Laurent Koscielny to redirect a Juan Mata restart past Vito Mannone at the left (far) post. For those hoping Torres can somebody (after all this time) find his old self, it was a very encouraging goal, one set up after a touch from the Chelsea striker helped draw the original foul, Thomas Vermaelen caught diving in for a ball perfectly laid off for Eden Hazard.
  • Even after the goal, it took Arsenal some time to get going. Ramsey was slowing down play through the middle, getting caught on the ball, while Oxlade Chamberlain still hadn’t found a rhythm. It was only after the Gunners started pestering Oscar, himself caught on the ball multiple times near the end of the half, that Arsenal came into the game.
  • That was also the same time that Santi Cazorla started popping up everywhere. After being relatively quiet for the first third of the match, Cazorla started coming a little deeper for the ball, making some runs to the right that he wasn’t making before – generally trying to get more involved.
  • Near the 40th minute, Cazorla’s work helped create a chance down the right, the Spaniard putting a shot out of play off a pass from Carl Jenkinson. Although nothing came from it, the movement exposed two things about Chelsea’s defense that would come into play a few minutes later. First, Ashley Cole was playing very narrow on the left, giving Jenkinson or Oxlade Chamberlain all the room they wanted down the attack’s right. Second, Chelsea’s line was collapsing far too deep – right to the edge of Petr Cech’s six-yard box.
  • In the 43rd minute, those factors conspired to give Arsenal their equalizer. Jenkinson played a ball wide to Chamberlain, whose cross found Gervinho open near the spot, set up in front of the defense but behind the midfield two. The Ivorian was able to trap, turn and fire the equalizer past Cech.
  • The second half opened with Arsenal in firm control, something that worked against them when a 52nd minute Mikel Arteta giveaway allowed Chelsea to catch the Gunners on the counter. A fifty-fifty ball won by Ramires forced Vermaelen to take down Torres 35 yards for goal, a textbook professional foul (for which he saw yellow).
  • Mata put the ensuing restart at the far post, Mannone frozen when a ball grazed off Koscielny’s left shin and in.
  • From there, Chelsea showed what’s becoming a trademark pragmatism under Roberto Di Matteo. They didn’t threaten Mannone again, but they didn’t need to. Staunchly maintaining their shape while getting good work from Ramires and Torres, Chelsea made their good fortune hold up.
  • In doing so, they also created a match that played to Arsenal’s reputation. No doubt Gooners will insist they outplayed Chelsea, a debatable assertion. Even if you grant it, Saturday’s game adds to a long list of Arsenal results that betray their on-field play. It’s still unclear when they will award trophies for finishing with the most style points.
  • They do award trophies for finishing first, which is where Chelsea stay with three points at the Emirates. The result also alleviated the biggest qualm about Chelsea’s start: A weak schedule. Their first big win of the season may have announced the Blues as title contenders.

Morgan, USWNT cruise past Costa Rica 5-0 behind early flurry of goals

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The U.S. Women got off to a flying start in Olympic qualification Group A play by torching Costa Rica 5-0, including goals from Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd, and Crystal Dunn.

Morgan led the way with a double, including one in the opening 12 seconds – only six passes off the opening kick – that set the record for quickest goal in U.S. Soccer history. Lloyd and Dunn both struck in the opening 15 minutes to make it 3-0 before Costa Rica even had time to blink. Lloyd’s came on a penalty after Dunn was felled for the captain’s 83rd international goal, and then the latter bagged one of her own minutes later on a rebound off a shot by Morgan.

[ VIDEO: Alex Morgan caps off a 12-second, six-pass goal ]

The visitors were able to make it Morgan scored her second after the hour mark to cap the goal tally. Jill Ellis completed her trio of substitutions after the fourth goal and the U.S. saw the game out easily.

The fifth came late on a cross from Tobin Heath that fell to Christen Press in the box. With her back to the goal, the 27-year-old produced a simply stunning first touch, back-heeling the ball down before whipping around the opposite direction to lose her defender and firing home the fifth goal.

With the final whistle, the United States improved their record against Costa Rica to a perfect 13-0. The U.S. will play Mexico next on Saturday before finishing out Group A play against Puerto Rico on Monday, February 15.

VIDEO: Alex Morgan scores goal against Costa Rica in 12 seconds

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The United States got off to a historically roaring start in Olympic qualifying. Taking on Costa Rica in Frisco, Texas to begin Group A play, Alex Morgan opened the scoring in just 12 seconds, taking just six passes to complete the masterpiece.

According to the USWNT twitter account, the goal is the fastest in U.S. Soccer history.

According to CONCACAF, the goal is also the quickest in CONCACAF Olympic qualifying, breaking Abby Wambach’s of 35 seconds in a 14-0 domination of the Dominican Republic in 2012.

[ WATCH LIVE: USWNT vs Costa Rica live online on NBC Sports Live Extra ]

The United States scored three goals in the first 15 minutes against Costa Rica tonight. They will take on Mexico and Puerto Rico across the next five days.

Watch Live: USWNT vs Costa Rica in Olympic qualifying

SAN DIEGO, CA - JANUARY 23:  (L-R) Carli Lloyd #10 of the United States is congratulated by teammate Alex Morgan #13 after a goal against Ireland at Qualcomm Stadium on January 23, 2016 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)
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The United States women are set to begin Group A play in Olympic qualification, taking on 36th ranked Costa Rica at Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas at 8:30 a.m. ET.

The game takes place after a 17-day camp at the national training camp in Carson, California.

[ WATCH LIVE: USWNT vs Costa Rica live online on NBC Sports Live Extra ]

Other teams in the group include Mexico and Puerto Rico. The Mexicans dominated Puerto Rico 6-0 in the first game.

LINEUP

United States: Solo; Krieger, Johnston, Sauerbrunn, Klingenberg; Brian, Horan, Dunn, Lloyd, Heath; Morgan.

Columbus, NYCFC release new kits to mixed results

NYCFC
New York City FC
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Two Major League Soccer clubs have put their kits out there for the 2016 season. They’ve received a mediocre welcome at best.

Columbus was the first, and their kit makes a bold statement moving away from the traditional yellow and black that so often adorns their regular shirts. Instead, the kit incorporates the Columbus flag onto it. The release has seen quite a negative reaction on social media.

The kit was unveiled at the Columbus City Hall on Wednesday, featuring the traditional adidas stripes, although instead of the usual placement on the shoulders, the stripes come down the side of the torso. Recently, adidas has the tendency to copy general jersey patterns across its multiple properties, so look for this design with other clubs in the near future.

The negative reaction to the Columbus release isn’t terribly surprising considering fans often enjoy sticking to tradition, and backlash is common when clubs deviate from the norm. As an additional hurdle, the color contrast between red and yellow is somewhat stark, lending to the difficult reception. Add in the bright pastel blue shorts and…yikes.

While the club didn’t describe how they will utilize this kit during the season, it’s likely to be the primary (at least for now) as the club release says the kit portfolio also includes last year’s black kit, which is traditionally the away kit.

NYCFC’s release of their secondary kit was more positive, receiving a mixed response on social media.

As you can see, adidas again copied their general outline with the stripes down the side of the torso. However, the German clothing manufacturer did much better with the general design of these kits than the Columbus ones. I will give a bit of personal opinion here: I absolutely love these kits. The ripple effect accentuates the crest with a near-3D effect, and the colors mesh perfectly which serves to assuage the eye from being overwhelmed by a busy design. If there’s any criticism, it’s that without an outline, the Etihad logo tends to get in the way a bit, but that’s nitpicking. Well done NYCFC. Columbus…I’ll leave that one to you all.