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.

MLS playoff scenarios heading into the final weekend

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Time certainly has flown by, and just like that the MLS Cup playoffs are well within sight.

While the Eastern Conference is all locked up in terms of which teams will be in the postseason, seeding can change drastically on the final weekend.

[ MORE: Tab Ramos confirms interest in USMNT job ]

Meanwhile, the West sees three clubs vying for one final spot in what has proven to be a very intriguing battle over the last several weeks.

All eyes will be on three teams in the Western Conference as the San Jose Earthquakes, FC Dallas and Real Salt Lake all have an opportunity to move into the sixth spot.

Below, PST takes a look at where clubs can finish in relation to the playoff race.

Eastern Conference

#1 seed: Toronto FC is locked into the top spot

#2 seed: NYCFC — clinches the two seed with a win; Chicago Fire — clinches two with win and NYCFC draw or loss; Atlanta takes two with win plus NYCFC loss/draw and Fire loss/draw

#3 seed: Fire — finishes third with win; NYCFC — takes third with loss to Crew and Fire win; Atlanta — third with win and Fire loss; Crew — finish third with win over NYCFC and don’t overtake NYCFC on GD, plus losses by Fire and Atlanta

#4 seed: NYCFC — fourth with loss to Crew and overtaken on GD, plus Fire win; Fire — finish fourth with loss and Atlanta win, plus NYCFC win or draw; Atlanta — takes fourth with loss and NYCFC/Fire wins; Crew — fourth with win over NYCFC, Fire win and Atlanta loss/draw

#5 seed: Crew — finish fifth with loss/draw; Atlanta — finishes fifth with loss and Crew win; Fire — takes fifth with loss and Atlanta/Crew victories; NYCFC — drops with loss to Crew, Atlanta win and Fire win/draw

#6 seed: New York Red Bulls are locked into sixth spot

Western Conference

#1 seed: Whitecaps — clinch top spot with win; Timbers — finish first with win and Whitecaps loss

#2 seed: Whitecaps — finish second with loss to Timbers; Timbers — second with loss/draw and Sounders/Sporting KC losses; Sounders — finish second with win and Whitecaps win

#3 seed: Timbers — third with loss and Sounders win; Sounders — loss to Rapids and Sporting KC/Dynamo losses; Sporting KC — finish third with win, Sounders loss and Whitecaps/Timbers draw; Dynamo — third with win, Sporting KC loss and Sounders loss

#4 seed: Whitecaps — finish fourth with loss to Timbers, Sounders/Sporting KC wins; Timbers — loss to Whitecaps, plus Sounders/Sporting KC victories; Sounders — finish fourth with loss/draw and Sporting KC win; Sporting KC — fourth with loss and Dynamo loss/draw; Dynamo — finish fourth with win and Sporting KC loss

#5 seed: Timbers — fifth with loss to Whitecaps and Sounders/Sporting KC/Dynamo wins; Sounders — loss to Rapids, plus Sporting KC/Dynamo victories; Dynamo — finish fifth with loss; Sporting KC — fifth place with loss and Dynamo win

#6 seed: San Jose Earthquakes clinch with win; FC Dallas takes sixth with win/draw and Earthquakes loss/draw; Real Salt Lake clinch with win/draw, Earthquakes loss and Dallas loss/draw

The next Pulisic? A 10-year-old American is heading to AS Roma

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With everything that has transpired since last week’s U.S. Men’s National Team debacle, American soccer fans can use a pick-me-up.

What better could there be than perhaps another young star-in-the-making? Dare I say, the next Christian Pulisic?

[ MORE: Bruce Arena is out as USMNT manager ]

Perhaps, but it’s way too early to say that.

His name is Alessandro Cupini, a 10-year-old from Kansas City, Missouri that is about to complete a dream that a soccer player of any age would be thrilled to achieve.

Less than two weeks ago, Cupini and his family announced that the Kansas City Fusion midfielder/striker would be accepting a spot in the AS Roma academy starting in the Spring 2018, after having trained with the club for the better part of two years off and on.

Pro Soccer Talk had the opportunity to speak with Cupini’s father, Eddie, ahead of his son’s big move to Italy.

“This is something that Alessandro has worked really hard for,” Eddie Cupini told PST. “There are times where I tell him that he needs to take a step back and be a normal kid, but he doesn’t have any of that. He’s an incredibly hard-working and driven kid that does more than most people regardless of his age.”

Alessandro — who recently turned 10 years old — isn’t the typically American youngster though, according to his father.

“There are times where I wish Alessandro would take a break and be a kid, but that’s just not in his desire,” Cupini said. “We built him a mini stadium downstairs where he trains basically every day after school. As soon as he gets home from school he’s doing work down there and always looking for other kids to come over to practice with.”

That’s where the comparisons to Pulisic can be worked into the conversation.

Pulisic followed a very similar path to the professional level when he left his hometown of Hershey, Pennsylvania at the age of 16 to sign with Borussia Dortmund. Now, he’s U.S. Soccer’s most promising star as the USMNT looks to rebuild.

“We’re very familiar with Christian’s story, and he’s certainly somebody that Alessandro looks up to,” Cupini said.

Cupini is already on the radar of U.S. Soccer and the Olympic Development Program (ODP), which helps identify young talent in the United States starting at the Under-12 level.

However, because of Cupini’s Italian heritage and his unique opportunity to move to Italy next year, Alessandro could potentially have the chance to represent either the USMNT or the Azzurri in the future.

“It’s a long ways away and we’re taking things slow in that regard,” Cupini said in regards to his son’s international plans. “We’d certainly be willing to explore our options, but I think it would be a real dream and his main goal to play for Italy.”

New Jersey-native and former Italy international Giuseppe Rossi made a similar career choice when it came down to choosing a national team. Despite living in the United States for much of his youth years, Rossi appeared for a number of Italy’s youth teams before holding a stint with the senior side from 2008 to 2014.

Prior to making the announcement that Roma would be where Cupini will ply his trade next year, the young American also had the opportunity to train with Italian academies Empoli and Atalanta.

“My father is from Rome, so for Alessandro to have the opportunity to play for his hometown club it was almost a no-brainer,” Cupini said. “We were very grateful to the other clubs for the chance Alessandro had to train with them, but Roma is a club that is very close to our family.

Leicester City 1-1 West Brom: Mahrez nets first goal of PL season

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The Foxes haven’t had the start to the season that Craig Shakespeare and Co. would have hoped for, but Monday’s performance was certainly a step in the right direction.

[ MORE: Mike Ashley puts Newcastle up for sale ]

Leicester City pulled out a 1-1 draw against West Bromwich Albion at the King Power Stadium, however, the Foxes remain in the bottom three of the Premier League.

Riyad Mahrez had plenty of chances on the day, and he rescued his side with 10 minutes remaining after powering home a strike into the far corner. The goal marks the Algerian’s first of the 2017/18 campaign.

Despite a frustrating opening hour, the visitors led on 63 minutes when Nacer Chadli curled home a brilliant free kick that left Leicester goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel stunned.

For the Belgium international, Chadli becomes West Brom’s seventh different goalscorer of the season.

Leicester nearly came out flying in the second stanza whenMahrez had an open chance in the center of the Baggies penalty area, however, the Algerian winger’s left-footed attempt was too high to hit the target.

[ MORE: Liverpool’s Lovren accuses Lukaku of deliberate stamp ]

Mahrez’s chance came just minutes after West Brom keeper Boaz Myhill was nearly sent off after the 34-year-old took out a streaking Jamie Vardy on the edge of the penalty box.

Monday’s result means both clubs have now gone six matches with a win in PL play.

Liverpool’s Lovren accuses Lukaku of deliberate stamp

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Saturday’s titanic clash between Liverpool and Manchester United ended in an uneventful draw, but that didn’t mean the match itself was short on drama.

[ MORE: Mike Ashley puts Newcastle up for sale ]

Reds defender Dejan Lovren wasn’t happy with Romelu Lukaku‘s action after the former made a tackle on the Man United striker during the first half of the 0-0 draw.

The Liverpool center back spoke ahead of Tuesday’s Champions League match against Maribor.

“I made a tackle there and I just felt he was over me and could just move away,” Lovren said in regards to the play in question. “To be honest, my point of view is that he did on purpose.”

Despite his claims of Lukaku’s malice, the FA has already come out and stated that they won’t take any action against the Belgium international.

“It is not my decision,” Lovren continued. “He seemed nervous during the game and maybe that’s why. Normally if you do it, you apologise.

“It happened and it’s over. Nobody can change it.”