New York Red Bulls v DC United - Eastern Conference Semifinals

Drilling down on: at D.C. United 1, New York Red Bulls 1

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Two own goals and a side trip into Crazy Town for one young D.C. United man made for a rather strange evening at RFK Stadium as the home team and the New York Red Bulls began their two-game series with a 1-1 draw.

It’s clearly “advantage New York” at this point – assuming all the lights are back on in Harrison, N.J., and the Red Bulls can host Wednesday’s second leg as planned. The teams are schedule to decide their Eastern Conference semifinal series at Red Bull Arena four nights from now.

Man of the Match: The match produced a lot of “good,” and just a little bit of “pretty good.” The men who helped create D.C. United’s goal, left back Chris Korb and striker Lionard Pajoy, both offered something in effort and trouble-making for the opposition, for instance. But it was Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles who contributed perhaps one or two more significant moments, saving five times for the visitors.

Threesome of knowledge: What we learned

Kids do the darndest things, don’t they? Three of the least experienced starters helped decide this one, in some cases by not keeping their young wits about them.

We can start with Andy Najar’s mad moment – and what a silly boy he was! Referee Jair Marrufo was reaching into his top pocket to caution the 19-year-old Honduran, who has been magnificent as a right back since making the switch out of midfield late in the year. He had just tripped up Joel Lindpere in what appeared to be a tactical foul – the very kind that deserves a caution.

So, do you take your yellow card and move on? Or do you … What? Throw the ball at the referee?

What could Najar have been thinking, leaving his team to play about 20 minutes a man down? (Oh, additional games are ahead for that one.)

He wasn’t the only youngster struggling.   Heck, he wasn’t even the only right back.

New York’s Conor Lade had a rough night, with an early yellow card while trying to deal with Chris Pontius (which is no easy job, of course). Later, the young right back’s hand ball gave DCU a penalty kick, and he nearly gave away a goal with a ridiculous pass into the middle of the field.

And then there was Bill Hamid, D.C. United’s 21-year-old starter in goal – a man who can stop local supporters’ hearts with his big saves or break hearts with his blunders.

A headed ball near Hamid’s goal line off a corner kick should have been a routine play. But Hamid appeared to attempt to catch the ball with one hand and … disaster.

He lost his balance and fell into goal with the ball, and that was that in a 1-1 draw.

No one in MLS does drama like the Red Bulls.

The night started with Kenny Cooper’s benching. So, his team-leading 18 goals were on the bench, and it sounded like Cooper’s inability to be a better target man was part of the reasoning – never mind that he’s never been a good target man. And never mind that replacement Sebastien Le Toux is anything but a target man.

But that little personnel subplot moved quickly to the back burner at halftime with Rafa Marquez’s halftime removal. (Sigh. Yes, we are talking about Rafa Marquez. Again.)

The old “precautionary, due to calf strain” was cited officially as the reason. But NBC’s Kyle Martino had spotted Marquez and manager Hans Backe arguing as they left the field at the break. So, excuse us for believing that was probably more responsible than a nebulous calf issue for Marquez’s latest bit of potentially distracting business.

Truly – what can be the point of continuing to put up with that guy?

Did it affect things Saturday? Well, Heath Pearce had to slide over from left back. Roy Miller, rusty from inactivity, replaced Pearce at left back and was responsible for the own goal, as his body shape was twisted slightly out of place on Korb’s well-placed cross.

So, yes. Kind of.

Goalkeepers are ruling the playoffs. Nick Rimando was outstanding for Real Salt Lake. Michael Gspurning was everything he needed to be for Seattle. Tally Hall got the job done for Houston.

And then there was Robles in the New York net – in just his fifth start this year, no less, making him the least likely hero of the glove. Not bad at all for a man who had pretty much tumbled out of professional soccer just a few months ago.

But there he was Saturday, stretching athletically to turn away Korb’s early blast. (Mark that save as best of Robles’ night.)  He guessed correctly to push aside Pontius’ first-half penalty kick, and he valiantly took one in the gut later as he thwarted Pontius from point blank range.

Packaged for take-away

  • Kenny Cooper, scorer of 18 goals this year, did replace the generally ineffective Sebastien Le Toux after 81 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, Thierry Henry? It wouldn’t be fair to call him a “passenger” in this one, but it wouldn’t be too far from the truth.
  • Perhaps Henry, wise in the game as he is, was saving something for Wednesday?
  • Dax McCarty had a brilliant season as New York’s holding midfielder. But it easy to see why Backe like Teemu Tainio in there (with McCarty again dispatched to the right.) Tainio doesn’t offer nearly as much in getting New York into the offense, but his tackling was the best on the field Saturday. He certainly does make that area an uncomfortable place for opposition attackers.
  • Outside of Najar (before the devil took over his body), Korb, Pontius and Pajoy … the rest of D.C. United’s men? Meh.

Men in Blazers podcast: Conte v. Pep, Cherries comeback, Spurs-Swans

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Rog and Davo relive the tactical battle between Antonio Conte and Pep Guardiola, marvel at tiny Bournemouth’s comeback win over high-flying Liverpool and duck-and-cover while recapping Spurs 5-0 Swansea.

All of the MiB content — pods, videos and stories can be seen here, but to really stay in touch, follow, subscribe, click here:

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Mourinho accepts Zorya compliment, but says best coach “doesn’t exist”

Manchester United's coach Jose Mourinho, centre, attends a training session with his team at Chernomorets stadium in Odessa, Ukraine, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, ahead of Thursday's Europa League group A soccer match against FC Zorya Luhansk. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
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On the eve of his side playing Manchester United in the UEFA Europa League, Zorya Luhansk boss Yuriy Vernydub called counterpart Jose Mourinho the best manager in the world.

And Mourinho disagreed.

Well, in principle.

[ MORE: Designing the best UCL Round of 16 ]

The Portuguese was flattered by Vernydub’s compliments and isn’t one to turn down praise. Yet at the same time, Mourinho thinks a coach’s success is year-to-year. There’s no clear best in the sport, according to Mou.

From ManUtd.com:

“He was nice by saying that but I don’t think he is right. I don’t think there is a best coach in the world. It doesn’t exist in my opinion. Every season one has to win the FIFA Gold Ball but I don’t think there is the best. You can say the best of the year and that I agree. Every year there is one with the most important result. So he is just being nice, no more than that.”

That’s almost meta, Mou.

Conceptually we understand, and Mourinho would feel he was the best in the world three seasons ago but not last year or this year (yet). Yet it’s difficult to say that the bodies of work from Pep Guardiola, Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti, Unai Emery, Antonio Conte, Luis Enrique, and Jurgen Klopp couldn’t be measured against each other, right?

[ MORE: United, Saints advancement scenarios ]

Onto the little picture Mourinho is worried about a potentially rock hard pitch at Zorya affecting the game. This, from the BBC:

“The pitch is very hard, the pitch is very icy,” said United boss Mourinho.

“They are putting warmth on the top of it, but the pitch is very difficult and people cannot make miracles. Let’s hope everything goes well.”

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Designing the perfect UEFA Champions League Round of 16

BARCELONA, SPAIN - MAY 06:  Lionel Messi of Barcelona chips the ball over goalkeeper Manuel Neuer of Bayern Muenchen to score his team's second goal during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final, first leg match between FC Barcelona and FC Bayern Muenchen at Camp Nou on May 6, 2015 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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With 16 teams settled into their spots for Monday’s UEFA Champions League draw, what would be the most tantalizing octet of matches for February’s Round of 16.

We’ll include a full list of seeded and unseeded teams at the bottom so you can pair ’em up however you like, but let’s start with our best ideas.

Remember: Teams can neither be drawn against teams from their own domestic leagues, or against the other advancing team from their group stage quartets.

[ MORE: USMNT GK off to Belgium? ]

Let’s begin with the reigning champions. Real Madrid is unseeded, and cannot draw Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, and Borussia Dortmund. Our vote would be Juventus and a reprisal of the 2015 final in Berlin.

Real boss Zinedine Zidane would not be pleased.

Staying in Spain, seeded Barcelona only knows it will avoid Manchester City, Real Madrid, and Sevilla. We’re interested in attractive soccer, so how about a bombastic battle with Bayern Munich.

Manchester City is the lone Premier League team in the unseeded pool, and cannot face Arsenal, Leicester City, or Barcelona. We’re thinking Sky Blue vs. Sky Blue, and a match-up with Napoli.

Leicester City completes the Premier League trio. Given our above draw and group mates Porto, that leaves Benfica, Bayer Leverkusen, Sevilla, and PSG as potential rivals. We’ll chose Bayer Leverkusen as the match-up likely gives the Foxes their best chance to hit the snooze button and keep dreaming.

The biggest name left is Paris Saint-Germain (with apologies to BVB). Unai Emery’s bunch would be left with Atletico Madrid as the lone option, and another tete-a-tete between the ex-Sevilla boss and Diego Simeone works for us.

Now Arsenal… who do you draw with the hopes of a quarterfinal berth in ages? The remaining options are Benfica, Sevilla, and Porto. We’ll give Benfica a trip to the Emirates, leaving Porto to face Monaco, and Sevilla on the road to Borussia Dortmund.

Our final draw:
Arsenal vs. Benfica
Monaco vs. Porto
Borussia Dortmund vs. Sevilla
Barcelona vs. Bayern Munich
Atletico Madrid vs. Paris Saint-Germain
Napoli vs. Manchester City
Leicester City vs. Bayer Leverkusen
Juventus vs. Real Madrid


Seeded
Arsenal
Atletico Madrid
Barcelona
Napoli
Monaco
Leicester City
Juventus
Borussia Dortmund

Unseeded
Paris Saint-Germain
Bayern Munich
Manchester City
Benfica
Bayer Leverkusen
Porto
Sevilla
Real Madrid

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Europa League preview: Saints, Man Utd hope to join Spurs in Round of 32

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 03:  Yuto Nagatomo of Internazionale (R) and Ivan Perisic of Internazionale close down Nathan Redmond of Southampton during the UEFA Europa League Group K match between Southampton FC and FC Internazionale Milano at St Mary's Stadium on November 3, 2016 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
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Tottenham Hotspur will be seeded in the UEFA Europa League’s Round of 32. What do Manchester United and Southampton need to do Thursday to join them?

Both the Red Devils and Saints enter the final group stage match day in their respective groups’ second place, but only United can claim a seeded place in the Round of 32.

[ UCL: Scenarios for Premier League sides ]

United can still win Group A, and would need to better Fenerbahce’s result on Thursday. Jose Mourinho’s men are in Ukraine against bottom-dwelling Zorya Luhansk, while Fener are away at Feyenoord.

Manchester United will advance with a draw, and could also go through if they lose and Feyenoord doesn’t defeat Fenerbahce.

As for Saints, Claude Puel‘s men are level with Hapoel Be’er Sheva and welcome the Israel side to St. Mary’s after drawing 0-0 in the reverse fixture.

Southampton needs to beat Hapoel or hold them to a scoreless draw. A scoring draw would push HBS through via road goals.

Full UEL schedule

11 a.m. EDT
Konyarspor vs. Gent
Qarabag vs. Fiorentina
Osmanlispor vs. Zurich
Braga vs. Shakhtar Donetsk
Villarreal vs. Steaua Bucuresti
PAOK vs. Liberece

1 p.m. EDT
Vikrotia Plzen vs. Austria Wien
Apoel Nicosia vs. Olympiacos
Sassuolo vs. Genk
Anderlecht vs. Saint-Etienne
Zorya Luhansk vs. Manchester United
Rapid Wien vs. Athletic Bilbao
Young Boys vs. Astana
AZ Alkmaar vs. Zenit Saint Petersburg
Feyenoord vs. Fenerbahce
Maccabi Tel-Aviv vs. Dundalk
Mainz vs. Gabala
Astra Giurgiu vs. Roma

3:05 p.m. EDT
Panathinaikos vs. Celta Vigo
Standard Liege vs. Ajax
Inter Milan vs. Sparta Prague
Southampton vs. Hapoel Be’er Sheva
RB Salzburg vs. Schalke
Nice vs. Krasnodar

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