Drilling down on: Chicago 2, at Red Bulls 0

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Man of the Match

Was Sherjill MacDonald offside on the second goal? Yeah, probably. But they counted it. And the Dutch target man certainly wasn’t offside on his first strike, a calm and technical finish that will go a long, long way to getting the Fire into better playoff positioning. Around his two goals, MacDonald also worked his blue socks off, harassing defenders and holding the ball in high positions.

Packaged for take-away:

  • Some very good performances could be found around the park for Chicago, including Chris Rolfe, center back Arne Friedrich and right-sided attacker Patrick Nyarko.
  • Frank Klopas drew up a good plan. The Fire are better when they keep things tight in the back and let Rolfe run the counter attack, which is exactly how it worked Saturday. The key, of course, is MacDonald’s steady hold-up work, which brings Rolfe and others into the play.
  • New York needed about 10 minutes to match the visitor’s intensity, and to work out Chicago’s early high pressure.
  • Ricardo Salazar reached for the yellow card 13 minutes in as Red Bulls left back Wilman Conde hooked Nyarko from behind. It was the kind of tactical, cynical foul that frequently goes without a booking. So, good for Salazar; the games are better to watch for everyone when players assess and understand early that tactical fouling will be dealt with.
  • Nyarko continued to trouble Conde. Remember, Conde is really a center back
  • Last two matches, Kenny Cooper has simplified his game. It’s working for him, although …
  • On the other hand, Cooper doesn’t always read situations as well as he should. Case in point, a 19th-minute opportunity that Tim Cahill teed up wonderfully for him — only Cooper cut his run short and the opportunity died without an attempt on goal.
  • Dax McCarty’s passing lacked a little zip at times, and a bit of precision at other times. He wasn’t bad, and had plenty of energy, as usual. But passing to the wrong foot, or slowing the attack with something that takes a teammate off stride, those little things matter in the tight matches.
  • Just as last week, Thierry Henry was “in the mood,” as they say in the first half. The Red Bull’s primary attacking threat, playing a free role behind Cooper, was active and finding good spaces. On the ball … And he did a fair amount of running, providing early pressure in high areas and occasional cover when Cahill or someone else was drawn out of position.
  • Henry may have burned up too much fuel in those first 45, however. He played higher up the field after the break, less dutiful in working into those spots and making himself available, and the Red Bulls’ midfield suffered for it. Henry saw much less of the ball, which limited the Red Bulls possession and reduced their dangerous moments. Meanwhile, more comfortable in the central third, Chicago slowly took hold.
  • Rolfe had some wonderfully creative moments, early as the home team had a little trouble sorting its midfield and determining how to deal with his movement into the “hole” between the back line and the line of New York midfielders. Later, Rolfe did more damage off those counter-attack chances.
  • Clearly concerned about the yellow card, and about his left back’s ability to contain the speedy Nyarko, Red Bulls manager Hans Backe removed Conde at halftime. That provided young defender Connor Lade with his next chance to impress. The Red Bulls instantly added more push up the left side, but his inexperience dented the home side in a couple of places.
  • About twice a match, Fire center back Friedrich decides to have a quick stroll forward, and he’s quite foxy about it. He put himself in just the right spot in the 52nd minute, guiding the attack initially and then getting on the end of a short cross to force a credible save from Luis Robles.
  • The Red Bulls got caught being too slow in organizing defensively after losing a ball in midfield. Rolfe took advantage as center back Heath Pearce dropped off and Lade remained up a little too high. MacDonald recognized the lack of shape and shot into the space just as Rolfe took a good first touch and played his striker through to goal.

Championship Playoff Final preview: Huddersfield Town vs. Reading

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These two teams weren’t supposed to be here, at Wembley on Monday at 10:00 a.m. ET playing for a spot in the Premier League.

Everyone talked about how beautiful Fulham played. Everyone talked about how Sheffield kept on winning. Everyone kept talking about the favorites. Everyone wrote off the other guys.

Yet here we are. Reading, owner of a +4 goal differential. Huddersfield Town, owner of a -2 goal differential. Reading, winners over Fulham thanks to a bogus handball. Huddersfield, on to Wembley after a penalty shootout in the rain.

Here we are. The game that will catapult one team to the riches of the Premier League, the game that will send another team back to the depths of the Championship, consigned to progress with the heartbreak of knowing they were so close.

[ MORE: USMNT roster announced for upcoming World Cup qualifiers ]

The Championship playoff final is one of the biggest enigmas in the European soccer landscape. Teams like Reading looking to return to familiar lands of plentiful bounty, others like Huddersfield looking for glory never experienced before.

Huddersfield has not seen top flight action since 1972, and former American international David Wagner has them on the precipice. “There were a lot of statements before the semi-finals about momentum and about form,” Wagner said. “It is another example where we have proven that experience and what has happened in the past is irrelevant. After the 120 minutes against Sheffield Wednesday there were a lot of tired legs, but now after a training camp in Portugal and training on the grass here, everybody is ready to go.”

As far as form goes, Town is struggling. They drew both legs of the Sheffield Wednesday playoff semifinal 0-0, and finished the regular season on a three-match losing streak. They haven’t won a match since April 14th.

Reading, meanwhile, finished the year with wins in seven of their final nine regular season games, and they downed an attacking Fulham side 1-0 at home in the second leg of their semifinal. They’ve been stellar at winning close games all year, winning 18 regular season games by just a single goal, and losing just four, with seven draws. If Jaap Stam can lead his side back to the Premier League, it would mark just a four-year turnaround from their previous relegation from the top flight.

Riches await the winner. The sides couldn’t be more different, and yet on Monday, they both face the same brick wall.

Epic fake injury mars Hungarian league title match

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Sometimes it works out perfectly. Two teams, a title on the line, one match to decide it.

The top two teams in the Hungarian top flight, also known as the NB I, were set to play each other on the final day of the season to decide the title winner.

Budapest Honved hosted Videoton, with the winner set to win the league title. A draw would have given Videoton the victory on goal differential.

With the match 0-0 at halftime, it progressed tensely through the second half. So tense, in fact, that the teams felt they needed to do everything in their power to earn an edge. Even fake injuries. Terribly.

34-year-old Videoton striker Danko Lazovic, a veteran who has been around Europe with Zenit St. Petersburg, Bayer Leverkusen, and a host of Eredivisie teams,  looked to earn a foul in the attacking half. He put so much effort into selling the foul that, well, he went a little overboard. And by a little overboard, we mean he went berserk on the field, rolling around and flailing on his back.

There are many factors that make this an absolutely epic moment. First, his team had already earned a foul without the dive. The referee had blown the whistle for a shove moments before Lazovic went down. Second, his teammate looks to come over and help him sell the foul a little more realistically, and instead of accept his teammate’s assistance, he shrugs off the help and continues to flail. Third, as karma would have it, Honved would score the title-winning goal six minutes later as they would go on to win 1-0.

Kids, don’t try this at home. It’s not a good look.

MLS Snapshot: Atlanta United 3-1 NYCFC

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The game in 100 words (or less): Revenge, at the hands of a 3-1 scoreline. The match started out a little too fast for Atlanta, one of the quickest teams in MLS, but they settled things down and finished ruthlessly. NYCFC, meanwhile, defended miserably and failed to match the intensity of the hosts. First-round draft pick Julian Gressel was an utter menace down the right, and Miguel Almiron was decisive in front of net. NYCFC took advantage of the weekly Atlanta defensive mistake for a lifeline with 20 minutes to go, but it was too little too late.

Three moments that mattered

16′ – A big deflection off a NYCFC midfielder sprung an Atlanta attack, but the hosts took the chance well. Gressel latched onto the ball on the right edge of the box, and he cut the ball back where three Atlanta attackers were waiting unmarked. It came to Almiron, and while his finish was less than ideal, some ugly goalkeeping saw the ball slip under the armpit of a diving Sean Johnson who overshot the effort.

19′ – It came unraveled for NYCFC in a heartbeat. The right side of the defense fell asleep for a split second, allowing Hector Villaba to burst through on a ball by Yamil Asad, and Villaba finished expertly into the far top corner with Maxime Chanot unable to catch up.

23′ – Not even a half-hour gone and the game was already wrapped up, with the third goal sporting the most glaring defensive mistake by the visitors. As Gressel battled with Alexander Callens for a loose ball down the right, Callens appeared to have the edge, but instead of playing the ball, he went down under the slightest contact from Gressel. When the referee let play continue, Gressel was all by himself, and with a 4-on-1 developing, he found Almiron for the easiest of finishes.

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Man of the match: Juilan Gressel.

Goalscorers: Almiron (16′, 23′), Villaba (19′), Harrison (71′).

Serie A roundup: Roma pips Napoli for 2nd, Lazio falls

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Francesco Totti’s legendary career came to a close in fitting fashion as Roma scored a last-minute winner to secure 2nd place in the Serie A table.

On the final day of the season, Napoli’s win at Sampdoria moved them momentarily into second, but Roma snatched the spot back as Diego Perotti scored in the 90th minute to beat Genoa 3-2. Totti had come on as a 54th minute substitute.

[ MORE: Francesco Totti’s career achievements make him an all-time great ]

The win saw Roma end the season on 87 points, one above Napoli’s 86. That puts Roma into the Champions League group stage, while the third-place finish for Napoli places them in next season’s Champions League playoff round. They finish the season with a dominating 4-2 win over Sampdoria that saw four different Napoli goalscorers find the back of the net.

Below the Champions League battle, Atalanta held onto its fabulous fourth-place finish as Lazio fell 3-1 at Crotone. With Lazio already down 2-1 midway through the first half, Angolan defender Bastos received a second yellow card. Down to 10 men, Lazio still controlled the majority of possession but saw themselves outshot, only able to pop off three shots on target. The loss has no significant bearing, as both Atalanta and Lazio qualify for the Europa League group stage, while AC Milan seven points adrift in sixth makes the Europa League third qualifying round.

AC Milan finishes the season a point above rivals Inter despite a 2-1 final-day loss to Cagliari. The game was tied 1-1 down the stretch, but Gabriel Paletta was sent off with 15 minutes remaining, and Fabio Pisacane scored three minutes deep into stoppage time to give Cagliari the win.

Inter, meanwhile, finished the year on a high note as they hammered Udinese 5-2, most notably on a brace from Eder. Ivan Perisic and Marcelo Brozovic also scored in the win, while the fifth came on a late own goal. Inter finished the year on 62 points, five less than last season’s 67 which was good enough for fourth place.

Elsewhere, Fiorentina finished a disappointing season with a disappointing 2-2 home draw with last-placed Pescara, while Palermo beat Empoli 2-1 and five goalscorers helped Torino pound Sassuolo 5-2.