Drilling down on: Houston Dynamo 2, at Chicago Fire 1

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If you need one win on the road in Major League Soccer’s playoffs, you sure want Dominic Kinnear coaching your team.

For the second year in a row the Dynamo launched their post-season with a huge road win, this time as the No. 5 seed over No. 4 Chicago Fire at chilly Toyota Park.

Will Bruin had both goals, early on a corner kick and then straight-away after the break. Houston has to rest up quickly; up Sunday is a home match against Eastern Conference champion Sporting Kansas City.

Man of the Match: Will Bruin struggled when Houston asked him to play as a lone striker in a 4-3-3, but he sure looks comfortable when the Dynamo reverts to its tried-and-true 4-4-2. The Dynamo’s “Dancing Bear” scored both of the visitors’ goals by doing what Chicago Fire players mostly could not: ruthlessly finishing his chances in those decisive moments.

Threesome of knowledge: Things We Learned

Hard to say what was more at fault, Chicago’s questionable tactics or Chicago’s curious absence of urgency. It’s the playoffs, fellows! (Maybe that weak crowd had the home town men bummed out.)

Patrick Nyarko on the right and Chris Rolfe up the middle looked up for the job for Chicago. Any others? Not so much. And the Fire’s 4-2-3-1 just didn’t provide enough support. Chicago’s defensive shape generally worked, but Fire manager Frank Klopas sacrificed a lot for the sake of it.  Specifically, holding midfielders Pavel Pardo and Logan Pause proved redundant elements, rarely straying far enough forward to link up with and provide an additional option for Rolfe.

The result was a muted attack. By the time Klopas brought on Brazilian midfielder Alex for Pause at halftime and rearranged the look, it was too late.

Kinnear also used two defensive-minded midfielders. The difference was in Ricardo Clark’s positioning; he played ahead of Adam Moffat in more of a diamond, although he dropped back into a “flat” midfield when Chicago controlled the ball. But getting Clark  forward in his positioning was the tactical checkmate. Well, having Corey Ashe rampaging up and down the left side helped a lot, too.

Don’t blame Fire veteran center back Arne Friedrich for anything that happened. He was everything you’d expect of a man with all that experience, always in the right spots and winning everything coming his way.

Friedrich even supplied the big pass out of the back that led to Chicago’s late goal.

Klopas will do himself a huge favor by convincing the German veteran to stay around for another season.

Neither team’s right back covered himself in glory out there. Chicago’s Jalil Anibaba will remember this one as a Halloween horror. It certainly wasn’t his fault that he slipped while marking Bruin on Houston’s opening goal. Whether that shook his confidence or whether this just wasn’t his night afterward, hard to say. But … ooof!

He struggled to deal with Houston’s left side, Brad Davis coming inside and Ashe overlapping along the outside. Chicago needed to provide more cover, either from Patrick Nyarko or from one of the defensive midfielders. When there wasn’t, Anibaba either had to foul or he struggled to prevent the crosses.

For Houston, young Kofi Sarkodi’s night was a similar orgy of the unfortunate, bad passes, poor-one-on-one defending and failure to step up with the line quickly enough. He did, at least, demonstrate the recovery speed a few times to get himself out of the ditch.

(MORE: Dominic Kinnear pushed the right buttons)

Packaged for take-away

  • Houston manager Dominic Kinnear is now 11-7-4 in the MLS playoffs.
  • Houston didn’t play a perfect game either, but the Chicago Fire’s finishing simply was not as brutally efficient.
  • Chicago’s Sean Johnson is one of the U.S. international up-and-comers, but he sure didn’t look like one early, flubbing an attempted punch and spilling a long-ranged shot into rebound-danger territory.
  • Meanwhile, Houston’s Tally Hall had six saves generally added credibility to the argument that he deserves the national team calls more than Johnson or D.C. United’s Bill Hamid. (Although Hall is a bit older at 27.)
  • We beat on referee Baldomero Toledo on this blog quite a bit. So, only fair to say that he got on top of things early Wednesday, mostly kept the cards in his pocket and managed the match pretty well. He did fall back into the old Toledo habit of not calling fouls late, but it was still one of his better matches.
  • That killer goal for Houston right after second half kickoff started on a Gonzalo Segares give-away.

Serie A: Inconsistent Milan lose at Sampdoria; Inter, Lazio win

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MILAN (AP) AC Milan’s problems with consistency continued as a poor performance saw it lose 2-0 at Sampdoria in Serie A on Sunday.

Milan didn’t even have a shot on target as late goals from Duvan Zapata and substitute Ricky Alvarez condemned the Rossoneri to its second defeat of the season.

“Samp was superior to us and deserved the victory,” Milan coach Vincenzo Montella said. “We didn’t perform. We were insufficient on a mental level and in our determination as well as technically.

“It’s a defeat which hurts us and we will have to understand why it happened. We’ll need to analyze everything without hiding ourselves.”

Milan slipped to sixth, six points behind leaders Napoli and Juventus. Inter Milan is two points below the top two after a narrow 1-0 victory over Genoa, with Lazio three points further back after beating Hellas Verona 3-0.

There was a huge scare for Milan in the second minute as the referee awarded a penalty to Sampdoria for handball but changed his mind after video review, as Franck Kessie’s arm was against his back when it was hit by Ivan Strinic’s cross.

Sampdoria had a number of chances before eventually breaking the deadlock in the 72nd. Milan defender Cristian Zapata inadvertently nodded an attempted clearance straight at his cousin, Duvan Zapata, who fired it in from six yards (meters).

Alvarez sealed the result in stoppage time, seconds after coming off the bench.


Inter goalkeeper Samir Handanovic pulled off a number of saves before a late goal helped the Nerazzurri secure a 1-0 win over Genoa, which ended the match with nine men.

Inter had lost its perfect record midweek in a surprise 1-1 draw against Bologna so needed a win to keep up the pressure on Napoli and Juventus.

It was Genoa which had the better of the chances, although Inter did hit the post through Marcelo Brozovic on the stroke of halftime.

However, Inter scored what was to prove the winner three minutes from time when Danilo D’Ambrosio headed in a corner.

“There’s still a bit of difference with Juventus and Napoli, we have to narrow the gap by reconsolidating the certainties which should belong to a great club like Inter,” coach Luciano Spalletti said.

“This team hasn’t reached its limits yet … we have to reach those limits and then surpass them.”

Genoa players Stephane Omeonga and Adel Taarabt were shown straight red cards within minutes of each other in stoppage time. Omeonga was ejected for bringing down Eder and denying a clear goalscoring opportunity, and Taarabt for a two-footed tackle on Yann Karamoh.


Ciro Immobile maintained his impressive scoring streak as he netted another two goals to help Lazio win 3-0 at Verona and bounce back from its hefty midweek defeat to Napoli.

Both Immobile’s goals came in the first half, opening the scoring from the penalty spot after Adam Marusic was tripped by Samuel Souprayen,

Immobile’s second was a stunning solo goal as he weaved his way past two Verona defenders before firing into the far bottom corner for his 11th goal in all competitions for Lazio this season. The Italy forward has only failed to score in one match, in a 0-0 draw against Spal.

Immobile also set up Lazio’s third for Marusic.

Crotone scored its first goals of the season in a 2-0 win against Benevento, which is still seeking its first points in Serie A.

Rolando Mandragora netted a stunning strike for his first career goal and Marcus Rohden doubled Crotone’s lead. Nicolas Viola hit the post with a late penalty for Benevento.

Elsewhere, substitute Orji Okwonkwo scored a late winner, two minutes after coming off the bench, to fire Bologna to a 1-0 win at 10-man Sassuolo.

Chievo Verona won 2-0 at Cagliari.

MLS Snapshot: SKC top LA 2-1, make it 3 home wins in a week

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The game in 100 words (or less): Sporting Kansas City avoided the dreaded U.S. Open Cup hangover on Sunday, four short days after lifting the Cup here at Children’s Mercy Park, by beating the LA Galaxy, 2-1, to remain just a point back of the first-place Vancouver Whitecaps in the race for home-field advantage in the Western Conference. Daniel Salloi, scorer of the USOC-winning goal on Wednesday, and Diego Rubio put the exclamation point on a dominant first-performance by putting Sporting KC 2-0 ahead after 35 minutes. LA got a goal back through Romain Alessandrini’s curling free kick just before the hour mark, but that’s as close as Sigi Schmid’s side would get on the afternoon. The victory sets up a top-of-the-table clash between Sporting and Vancouver next Saturday. Also, Gyasi Zardes played 90 minutes at right back. It went about how you’d expect it to go.

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

Three Four moments that mattered

1′ — Dos Santos should have seen red after 26 seconds — If video review wasn’t implemented to review plays like this, we should just get rid of video review altogether.

18′ — Salloi gets to Rubio’s cross, toe-pokes it home — Maybe Peter Vermes knew what he was doing when he traded Dom Dwyer, thus opening a boatload of minutes for Salloi and Rubio.

35′ — Rubio taps it in after Sinovic puts it on a platter — Sporting made this one look really, really easy.

58′ — Alessandrini curls a beauty past Melia — Not a whole lot Tim Melia could do about that one.

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

Man of the match: Diego Rubio

Goalscorers: Salloi (18′), Rubio (35′), Alessandrini (58′)

Americans Abroad wrap: Goals for Boyd, Gooch, Ariyibi

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Not every American player abroad found himself beneath a cleat this weekend, like DeAndre Yedlin.

[ PL PREVIEW: Arsenal vs. West Brom ]

The Magpies right back went 90 minutes for Newcastle and delivered good service in the 1-0 loss to Brighton and Hove Albion. How did other Americans fare abroad?

Germany

Bobby Wood led Hamburg in attempts on goal in Hamburg’s 3-0 loss at Bayer Leverkusen.

— American teenager Weston McKennie made his second-straight start for Schalke, but was again on the losing end in a 2-0 defeat at Hoffenheim.

— Fellow 19-year-old Christian Pulisic went 64 minutes for first-place Borussia Dortmund, leaving with BVB up 5-0 and en route to a 6-1 victory over Borussia Monchengladbach.

— Not many Foals had good matches in that 6-1 defeat to BVB, and Fabian Johnson departed after 72 minutes with his side down four.

— Credit Timmy Chandler for a match-best four crosses in Eintracht Frankfurt’s 2-1 loss at RB Leipzig.

— In the second tier, Terrence Boyd came off the bench to fire his first goal of the season, a 90th minute header that was joined by Tobias Kempe’s 93rd minute marker to give Darmstadt a 3-3 draw versus Dynamo Dresden.

— Alfredo Morales went 90 minutes in the midfield as Ingolstadt lost 2-0 at Bochum.

— Julian Green got another 90 at left midfield/wing but Greuther Furth fell 3-1 at home to Nurnberg.

— On loan from Schalke, Haji Wright went 59 minutes at center forward as Sandhausen fell 1-0 at Erzegebirge Aue. Ken Gipson was on the bench for the ninth time but did not feature for the eighth.

— Jann George had an assist for Jahn Regensburg in a 2-1 win against visiting Eintracht Braunschweig.

England

— Yedlin went 90 for Newcastle, as detailed above.

— On the otherside of the Tyne-Wear rivalry, Sunderland midfielder Lynden Gooch had a moment to remember in a loss to Cardiff City. Gooch converted a penalty that briefly leveled the match.

— Eric Lichaj isn’t getting Championship run for Nottingham Forest, but went 90 minutes at right mid in a 5-1 League Cup loss to Chelsea at midweek.

— Tim Ream has played all 810 league minutes for Fulham, who drew 1-1 versus Middlesbrough at Craven Cottage

— On loan from Everton, Antonee Robinson is still yet to taste victory as a member of Bolton Wanderers. They fell 3-0 to Brentford, with Robinson putting in 75 minutes at left mid.

— On loan from Spurs, Cameron Carter-Vickers went the distance for Sheffield United in a 4-2 derby win over Sheffield Wednesday. The Blades have won both of the 19-year-old’s starts.

— In League One, Gboly Ariyibi scored for the third time in six days as MK Dons won 2-0 at AFC Wimbledon.

— Duane Holmes put another 90 in the books at right mid for Scunthorpe United in a 2-0 win over visiting Portsmouth.

Elsewhere

— Ethan Horvath picked up a win as Club Brugge went to RSC Charleroi and won 2-1. Brugge is 7W-1L in league play this season, and the 22-year-old has played every minute.

— On loan from Chelsea, Matt Miazga went 90 minutes at center back for Vitesse in a 2-1 win at Ajax.

Benitez peeved by block on Brighton’s clever set piece goal (video)

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Brighton midfielder Dale Stephens and Newcastle United boss Rafa Benitez obviously feel quite different about the match-winning goal the Gulls nabbed off a set piece on Sunday.

[ MORE: Recap | Hemed denies intent vs. Yedlin ]

Both agree on one thing, though, there’s blocking involved in the play’s success.

“We’ve tried it a few times,” Stephens said. “I’m glad it paid off. We change the blocker each time.”

Benitez saw his club’s three-match winning streak end largely on the merit of that goal, and thinks a foul should’ve been spotted by Andre Marriner.

Ciaran Clark is partially and purposely blocked from moving toward Stephens at the back post, and also misses the ball after Stephens nods back across goal.

It’s a clever play which led to an important goal, but Benitez feels it was insidious and illegal.

“I am not happy with the way we conceded. It was a block, an illegal block. You cannot argue too much but it is very difficult to understand some things. They pushed my players.

What do you think? There’s not much in the block. At the same time, it’s hard to call it anything but a block.