Drilling down on: at Chivas USA 1, FC Dallas 1

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Man of the Match: Dallas remains mathematically alive in the playoffs only because of Kevin Hartman. Among his seven saves was one absolute stunner on Juan Pablo Angel’s sharp half volley.

Packaged for take-away:

  • Dallas remains mathematically alive, but the odds are awfully long. Long story short, Vancouver just took a very big step toward its initial MLS playoff appearance. Dallas was without Brek Shea and Jackson, and George John was only fit enough for a second half appearance. That said, FCD simply does not look like a team right now that deserves to be in the playoffs.
  • Another match for Shalrie Joseph at center back, his second consecutively for Chivas USA, this time alongside Bobby Burling.
  • Ricardo Villar got his first start for Dallas since early in the season. Then he was a creator, the assigned replacement for David Ferreira. Sunday, Villar was stationed along the outside, filling in for the injured Shea.
  • The Chivas USA defense, shredded with regularity lately, was shredded immediately as Blas Perez put a sharp header on goal that Dan Kennedy did well to push wide. Right after, Perez got in behind the Goats back line, although nothing came of it. And immediately after, Ferreira timed a run in behind the back four and Chivas USA was behind within eight minutes on Perez’s tap-in off a rebound.
  • Forced so early out of the defensive bunker, Chivas began pressing the visitors. Only a tremendous, athletic goal-line clearance by center back Hernan Pertuz kept the game from going level just before the 20-minute mark.
  • After the goal, Dallas got the tactics all wrong. They sat back too defensively – and then went even more defensive in the second half. Thing is, that’s not how the team is built. The players are mostly technical, more comfortable in possession than in rugged defending.
  • Besides, perhaps someone needed to remind the men from Dallas that this was Chivas USA and not Barcelona FC. To keep pressing, to keep their foot on the home team’s throat and get that second goal was the way it had to be. Chivas is an absolute mess, probably in for the mother of all organizational and roster overhauls in the off-season, and is subsequently vulnerable to that kind of pressure. Rather, Dallas’ defensive crouch handed Chivas a way into the game.
  • Fabian Castillo, playing wide right for the injured Jackson, continues to be impressive in his ability to generally make the wrong decision with the ball on most occasions. More than a few attacks died with one of his turnovers.
  • Juan Pablo Angel’s second-half introduction changed things for Chivas USA, adding sophistication in the runs and the movement in Dallas’ back third. Two quality saves from Hartman kept Angel from scoring within 25 minutes of his entrance. Then, one of his well-timed runs helped create enough chaos and confusion around Dallas’ six-yard box that got the Goats their equalizer. That was just their second goal in more than a month.
  • Ferreira is playing OK, but he is not the arresting, peerless creator from two years ago before the injury. It could be the team around him, too; the pieces just aren’t assembled as well, the balance not nearly as useful. It’s also about familiarity of the pieces around him; Dallas’ injury situation hasn’t allowed anything close to a settled lineup around their DP playmaker.
  • And frankly, it would help if Dallas players made just a little more effort to find him with the ball. Too many times, the Colombian attacker is available, working the angles and spacing for players around him, but ultimately unused.

Kevin de Bruyne questionable for injury-laden Belgium

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Belgium, already without superstar Eden Hazard for the upcoming World Cup qualifier against Greece, will now be without playmaker Kevin De Bruyne, who picked up an injury in training on Friday and will miss both the match against Greece and the subsequent friendly against Russia three days later…maybe.

The Belgian National Team official Twitter account sent out a quote from manager Roberto Martinez that confirmed De Bruyne would miss the pair of matches, but the tweet was quickly deleted.

Instead, this one was pushed out in its place, correcting his availability and also updating the type of injury:

Should De Bruyne miss out, it means Belgium would likely rely heavily on Dries Mertens and Kevin Mirallas for the playmaking duties, with midfielder Radja Nainggolan potentially taking on a more attacking role as well.

Belgium and Martinez also confirmed that right-back Thomas Meunier will miss out after failing to recover from an ankle injury, while Marouane Fellaini‘s status is unknown after he was held out of Thursday’s training session.

The injury also leaves De Bruyne’s status for Manchester City up in the air, with a pair of massive games in London in quick succession after the injury break. City visits Arsenal next Sunday, followed by a hop over to Stanford Bridge on Wednesday.

Landon Donovan retires again, this time for good

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After coming out of retirement last fall to join the LA Galaxy for one more shot at an MLS Cup, Landon Donovan has once again called time on his career, saying he’s certain he will not play again.

With a number of other ventures on his plate, the USMNT all-time leading scorer is looking forward to spending his time elsewhere.

“Yeah, I’m done,” Donovan said. “I’m done. No more playing for me. I have not [gone public with it yet]. But that is definitely the case.”

Donovan scored one goal in nine games for the LA Galaxy in his comeback bid, with the club ravaged by injuries and still gunning for the Cup. However, after the season was over with a loss to Colorado in the Conference Semifinals, the Galaxy confirmed it was nothing more than a short-term stopgap.

“With Landon, when he came back, it was always going to be a short-term thing,”team president Chris Klein said to the L.A. Times in December. “He’s enjoying what he’s doing and we see we’re comfortable in the direction that we’re headed.”

In January, reports claimed Real Salt Lake had offered Donovan a Designated Player contract, but it appears he’s turned it down, and will now have time to concentrate on his other ventures. Off the field, Donovan is an analyst on Fox’s soccer coverage, is on the advisory committee for the Los Angeles 2024 Olympics bid, and has joined the ownership group attempting to bring an expansion MLS team to San Diego.

Former Spurs midfielder Paulinho scores thunderbolt for Brazil

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Brazil topped Uruguay 4-1 to move on the verge of World Cup qualification, but there was much more to the first half of this match than meets the eye.

Uruguay went ahead 1-0 on a 9th-minute penalty won and scored by Edinson Cavani, and for a moment it seemed like the home side might find its way to pull within a point of Brazil at the top of the CONMEBOL standings. That would not last very long.

[ MORE: Full roundup of CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying action ]

Just 10 minutes later, a bad giveaway near the midfield stripe saw Neymar casually feed Paulinho a good 50 yards from goal. The former Spurs man took matters into his own hands, charging forward and unleashing a vicious strike that continued to rise until it ripped the chords in the top-right corner.

 

Not only was the goal a sight to behold, it was an important moment in the match. Brazil was back level at 1-1, and Paulinho would be on his way to an eventual hat-trick with a pair in the second half. Neymar scored once as well to complete the 4-1 final scoreline, and the three points for Brazil saw them remain perfect in the World Cup qualifying round as they march seven clear of Uruguay at the top of the standings.

For Paulinho, the hat-trick brings him to four goals in the World Cup qualifying round, adding to his score in the 3-0 win over Argentina. They also mark an important moment for the Chinese Super League, where Paulinho now plays, having moved from Spurs in July of 2015. Some national team coaches have left players on the outside of the squad for moving to leagues such as the Chinese League or Major League Soccer, but Paulinho has clearly been an asset to Brazil despite his club situation. In fact, in China, Paulinho has scored four goals in his four league matches for Guangzhou Evergrande this season plus another in the Asian Champions League, leaving him in top goalscoring form coming into this international break, something which has clearly translated directly to international play.

The 28-year-old had lost his place in the national team squad in 2014, going over two years without a single international appearance, but has been a mainstay in the Brazilian side during this World Cup qualification cycle.

Dele Alli banned three European games for straight red card

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Spurs may be out of the Europa League this season, but should they end up qualifying for the Champions League next season, they will start the campaign short-handed.

Tottenham will be without midfielder Dele Alli for the first half of the group stage after his horrifying tackle on Brecht Dejaegere of KAA Gent in their 2-2 draw which saw Spurs out of the competition on aggregate in the Round of 32.

Alli went to ground on the 39th-minute challenge, and made contact on high up on Dejaegere’s leg with both his studs, finishing with a scissior-whip motion. It was a blatant red card, and now UEFA’s disciplinary committee has handed down the three-match ban. Straight-red cards for violent conduct only carry a minimum penalty of one match in UEFA tournament play, but the disciplinary committee clearly thought a longer punishment was necessary, with the ability to sentence anyone up to five matches.

The straight red was the first of Alli’s professional career. Alli apologized to Dejaejere after the match, according to the Gent midfielder. He’s since scored in four straight matches, and when asked on Sunday if that moment was still in his mind, he said, “I’m never going to say sorry for wanting to win or trying as hard as I can but things happen and you have to learn from them.”

Spurs currently sit in second place in the Premier League table with 59 points and look to be in a strong position for Champions League qualification, with a seven-point cushion on fifth-placed Manchester United.