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


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.

Further crowd trouble could see Lyon’s European ban made active

AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani
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Lyon has not enjoyed sportsmanship on and off the pitch this season.

You’ll remember an ugly incident between its players and Everton fans this season, but it’s been Lyon’s support which has had the Ligue 1 club under the microscope for some time.

[ MORE: (Very) Fresh faces for USMNT ]

Lyon had a two-year ban suspended in April, and antics before Thursday’s Europa League match versus CSKA Moscow could see the French side’s suspension from European competition put into action. From the BBC:

Lyon have been charged with racist behaviour, crowd disturbances, throwing objects and setting off fireworks and blocking stairways.

Police say up to 150 ultras attacked officers outside Lyon’s stadium on Thursday.

Twenty-Three* thoughts for Week 3 in MLS

Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press via AP
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Almost half of Major League Soccer’s clubs have two weeks off to either lick wounds, right wrongs, or celebrate fine starts to their season.

There are 23 clubs in MLS, and we’re here to highlight what happened this week with the clubs who took the pitch for league play.’

[ MORE: (Very) Fresh faces for USMNT ]

Atlanta United and Vancouver Whitecaps — Call this one “V-A-R-you kidding me?”

A match we’d been anticipating all week gets a straight-shot to the gut from a trio of bad decisions.

First, Atlanta’s Leandro Gonzalez Pires works himself into position on a Five Stripes free kick, clearly and purposely aiming to find a way to hit the deck against Vancouver center back Kendall Waston.

Then Waston, who is known for his physical play, gets his elbow up against Gonzalez Pires, allowing the theatrical center back to go down like he’d been de-spined Sub-Zero/Mortal Kombat-style (Yes we made up a word there).

Finally, and probably most egregiously, referee Ismail Elfath goes to the Video Assistant Referee and somehow thinks he has a conclusive angle to send Waston off.

Can Waston have a red for that? Sure, but it was built and aided by embarrassing acting from LGP and it’s just not the sort of play we think should be reviewed and go from zero to red.

Chicago Fire — Veljko Paunovic’s men are a disappointing 0-2 start, but will feel pleased to see second-round pick Elliott Collier get off the mark. They’ll also know they lost to Minnesota with Bastian Schweinsteiger tending to more important matters:

Columbus Crew — The Twenty-Three would like to issue a too-soon apology to Columbus in case they “do a Burnley” and make our miserable preseason predictions even worse. The Crew could easily be 3-0 with a bit better finish from Gyasi Zardes.

DC United — Seemingly serial disappointment Darren Mattocks has two goals and 10 shots in two matches. Maybe Ben Olsen is what the Jamaican needed all along. Now both men would like a win, and soon.

FC Dallas — Granted Oscar Pareja’s men earned their 3-0 win on the back of Clint Dempsey‘s red card, but FCD now has a win and a draw in rebounding from a calamitous performance against Tauro in the CONCACAF Champions League.

Philadelphia Union — Threats were few for the hosts at Talen Energy Stadium, with David Accam taking a pair of shots and CJ Sapong held without an attempt. Still, the Union are unbeaten in two matches and showed good mettle in keeping Columbus off the board.

Houston Dynamo — There’s good Houston and there’s bad Houston. The first half saw electric attackers Mauro Manotas and Alberth Elis scored one minute apart in cooking up a 2-0 lead. But the Dynamo didn’t threaten much in the second half as the hosts found a way to a point in the seventh minute of stoppage time.

Minnesota United — Rebounded from the season-ending loss of Kevin Molino to pick up a second win of the season, something it took the Loons eight matches to do in their MLS debut last season. Seven combined shots from Sam Nicholson and Ibson helped do the trick.

Montreal Impact — Remi Garde is going to be exhaling after his Impact scooped the first win of his tenure, and in home derby style. Montreal has won its last two regular season 401 Derbies, which is not too shabby even if this one needed a huge deflection and perhaps some quite tired TFC legs to get the job done.

New York City FC — No David Villa meant NYC had a little more work to do in breaking down Orland this weekend, but it’s 2-0 win was very positive in taking a 3-0 record atop the Supporters’ Shield table. NYC has allowed just one goal through three matches, and winger Jesus Medina has been very, very good.

New York Red Bulls — Given that CCL sides went 0-3 this week in league play and the fact that Major League Soccer doesn’t have every team going every week, perhaps scheduling a bye here would’ve made more sense? RBNY’s 1-0 loss in Utah featured eight total shot attempts from the visitors.

Orlando City — The Lions are still waiting on their lineup to find its flow with one point through three matches, but “How long will Jason Kreis be allowed to run a losing team?” is starting to feel like a real question. Yes, it’s only three matches. No, this isn’t very good.

For more on Orlando’s plight, head here.

Real Salt Lake — Mike Petke will be feeling a lot better after his reading of the riot act inspired a win over his former team at Rio Tinto. This save is making the rounds, understandably so, and what we like best about this from RSL elder Nick Rimando is the wisdom to figure the show was coming low and the quickness to get there.

San Jose Earthquakes — Valeri Qazaishvili felt underused last season, or at-best poorly deployed. Not this go round, as Mikael Stahre is proving he’s going to fire at will with his weapons. To allow three goals on four shots on target, however, is an issue.

Seattle Sounders — Deuce has a reputation. Whether it was for his right-handed slap to Jacori Hayes’ private parts or the left-handed follow-through, we still really don’t have a read on Seattle thanks to travel congestion and a red card. Dallas went on to win 3-0.

Sporting KC — We thought SKC-SJ would be a good one, and it again delivered. Peter Vermes is opening up the attack, and now has seen seven Sporting goals in a pair of wins.


Toronto FC — Given the Reds’ CONCACAF Champions League success/travel and a playoff structure as forgiving as Major League Soccer’s means TFC’s 0-2 start to the season is only cause for alarm in terms of:

A) Retaining the Supporters’ Shield

B) Losing a 401 Derby

Part B happened this weekend. Chances were even, as were battles, and Montreal’s game plan to foul TFC to death helped hamper flow. Jeisson Vargas’ goal took a massive deflection after the Reds’ back line gave Ignacio Piatti significant room to set up his teammate (Not a great idea). It’ll be fine.

Introducing #AskJPW: On West Ham and the Top Four

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You’ve read his reports from the hallowed grounds of the Premier League, hung out with him during Facebook Lives outside those same stadia, and now there’s a new way to interact with ProSoccerTalk‘s lead writer and editor.

Joe Prince-Wright is now bringing you #AskJPW, a place to quiz the whiz on every aspect of the Premier League, and the goings-on around it.

[ MORE: (Very) Fresh faces for USMNT ]

Just use the #AskJPW (and follow him on Twitter at @JPW_NBCSports).

In this edition, Joe delves into fan trouble at West Ham, who will finish 2-4 on the table, and more.

Ronaldo versus Messi: Scoring race heats up in Spain

Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images
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MADRID (AP) Regardless of who wins the Spanish league title, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo will be battling it out to the end.

Real Madrid doesn’t have much chance of keeping Barcelona from winning the league, but Ronaldo is making a strong run to snag the scoring title from Messi with nine matches remaining.

[ MORE: (Very) Fresh faces for USMNT ]

Ronaldo added another four goals in Madrid’s 6-3 win over Girona on Sunday, giving him 22 for the season. That is only three below Messi, who scored his 25th in Barcelona’s 2-0 win over Athletic Bilbao.

“Hopefully he can catch him,” Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane said of Ronaldo. “It’s important for him and for us, too. When he’s playing well, the team plays well. He transmits an important and positive energy to the group. He’s always in very good form come the end of the season. He’s got an eye for goal and he’ll never lose that.”

Ronaldo has scored at least one goal in his last eight matches in all competitions. He has 21 goals in his last 11 games.

“He’s unbelievably ambitious and that comes across in every training session and in everything he does on the field,” Zidane said. “If he has a penalty in training, he will take it with the maximum concentration. It’s what makes him different from the rest.”

Ronaldo is trying to keep Messi from winning the top-scorer’s “Pichichi” trophy for the second consecutive year. The Argentina forward scored 37 league goals last season, 12 more than Ronaldo.

Ronaldo hasn’t won the award since 2014-15, when he had 48 goals. That was still shy of Messi’s record of 50 goals in 2011-12.

Despite’s Ronaldo’s impressive run, Madrid’s chances of repeating as league champion remain slim. Madrid trails Barcelona by 15 points after 29 matches. The teams will play again in May in a league match at Camp Nou. They could also meet in the Champions League semifinals or the final.

Messi scored twice against Madrid this season – in a 3-1 loss in the Spanish Super Cup final at the beginning of the season and in a 3-0 win at Santiago Bernabeu Stadium in a league match late last year. Ronaldo scored against the Catalan club in that Spanish Super Cup game.

Messi has scored at least a goal in his last six matches in all competitions. He has scored at least 25 league goals in nine consecutive seasons with Barcelona.

“Messi is the best player in the world and he shows it game after game,” Athletic defender Unai Nunez said after his team’s loss to Barcelona on Sunday.

Ronaldo has scored at least 25 league goals in the last eight seasons. He scored four or more goals in a match with Madrid eight times.

“He’s on unbelievable form at the moment,” Madrid forward Lucas Vazquez said of Ronaldo. “He helps the team with his work, goals and assists. Everyone benefits from it.”

More AP Spanish soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/LaLiga

Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni