Winners, Losers from MLS conference semifinal openers

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Never mind the spin and the overly spun … here’s who had a good and bad weekend as the MLS conference semifinal first legs played out over four cities over the weekend:

WINNERS

MLS Cup host hopes for Real Salt Lake, Seattle and Los Angeles: San Jose still has the inside track, of course. But when Houston seized control of its home-and-away series against top Eastern seed Sporting Kansas City, hope began to float for these three Western Conference hopefuls. Previously, even if they had gotten past San Jose (the top Western seed), the conventional wisdom said the big 2012 decider date would go to Kansas City. Now…hmmmmm.

Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando: I’m not quite sure it was quite what it’s been made out to be. The tendency to make the present more historically significant than it really is will always be a powerful force. Still, he was exceptional against Seattle, doing so much heavy lifting in his team’s 0-0 draw.

Every center back on the field in Houston: Sporting Kansas City’s Matt Besler was best of all, but central partner Aurelien Collin (who won everything falling his way in the air), along with Houston’s Bobby Boswell and Jermaine Taylor, all had strong matches. Collin did have one bad moment, getting turned on the home team’s second goal. (And Taylor had to leave, injured, so his day was ultimately undone by misfortune.)

RSL center back depth: Speaking of strong performances along the back line, Kwame Watson-Siriboe is RSL’s fourth choice. But you sure couldn’t tell it from the performance he put in Friday against Seattle.

Dominic Kinnear: The Dynamo manager won two playoff games; his spiffy post-season record now stands at 12-7-4.

LOSERS

Anyone who likes scoring: Four matches, five goals. Blek!

Three home teams that couldn’t get it done: Neither D.C. United nor Seattle could exploit their initial home field advantage. The idea is to win at home, which doesn’t just provide the obvious, numerical edge in goals. It also shifts more of the second-leg pressure over to the other guys. Win at home and you just need a draw on the road – and the other fellows know it. Well, D.C. United and Seattle may be sitting pretty next to the Galaxy, who can win by a goal at San Jose and not be assured of advancing. Houston’s win at home meant the hosts were 1-1-2 during the weekend.

Logic: Yes, logic. Because I keep hearing about how a failure to win at home in these first legs wasn’t so bad. No, it’s not grim disaster wrapped in imminent doom, but it’s certainly not ideal, now is it? Bottom line here, three of four home teams failed to score a goal at home (no matter how hot a certain goalkeeper was). That spells “opportunity lost” in my book.

Landon Donovan: He keeps telling us that he feels older than 30. Now he’s starting to look the part, too. Not only in Sunday’s loss to San Jose, but in the win over Vancouver, Donovan seemed to be missing some his old zip and zoom. He needs to deliver big in Wednesday’s return leg in Northern California.

Andy Najar: Whether you believe the young D.C. United right back’s story, that he wasn’t really throwing the ball at referee Jair Marrufo is really beside the point. It was a silly, silly thing to do. It hurt his team, not just Saturday, but in Wednesday’s return leg, too.

AND SOME “TIES”

Goalkeepers: Rimando, Seattle’s Michael Gspurning and New York’s Luis Robles, held up their end, but gaffes by Los Angeles’ Josh Saunders and D.C. United’s Bill Hamid split the decision here. (San Jose’s Jon Busch and Houston’s Tally Hall were fine, even if neither were too busy.)

MLS attendance: We talked about this one here.

AT THE HALF: Manchester derby scoreless after 45 minutes

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After 45 minutes, the final Manchester derby of the 2016-17 Premier League season — the one that’ll go a long, long way toward deciding which of the city’s sides will finish in the top-four — is scoreless, but not without incident.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE, HERE

The game’s best chances thus far fell Manchester City’s way, as Sergio Aguero missed a clear-cut chance after 10 minutes — Kevin De Bruyne whipped in the perfect ball to the back post, and Aguero put it wrong side of David De Gea‘s post.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Ander Herrera has, once again, be Manchester United’s danger man, combining well with Marcus Rashford and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, but Claudio Bravo made the one save he was forced into during the first half. One thing to keep an eye on during the final 45 minutes: Rashford picked up a knock very early on, and struggled to move around the field after that.

STREAM LIVE: The Manchester Derby

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The third Manchester Derby of the season is the first away from Old Trafford, as Manchester United visits Manchester City (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) at the Etihad Stadium on Thursday.

There’s much on the line, as the sides sit just two points apart in the race for the Top Four. Man City would leapfrog third-place Liverpool with a win, while United could join the Reds on 66 points with a match-in-hand.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE, HERE

Sergio Aguero starts for Man City, with Gabriel Jesus on the bench.

On the other side, it’ll be a physical middle-third guarded by Ander Herrera, Michael Carrick, and Marouane Fellaini. Wayne Rooney and Jesse Lingard start on the bench.

LINEUPS

Manchester City: Bravo, Zabaleta, Kompany (C), Otamendi, Kolarov, Fernandinho, Yaya Toure, Sterling, De Bruyne, Sane, Aguero. Subs: Caballero, Sagna, Fernando, Navas, Clichy, Gabriel Jesus, A. Garcia

Manchester United: De Gea; Valencia, Bailly, Blind, Darmian; Herrera, Carrick, Fellaini, Mkhitaryan; Rashford, Martial. Subs: Romero, Shaw, Fosu-Mensah, Tuanzebe, Young, Lingard, Rooney.

Ex-Liverpool CEO shares biting story of Suarez transfer

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Ian Ayre’s got jokes.

The former Liverpool CEO lifted the lid on some transfer stories during a Merseyside lecture this week.

Of note, Ayre admitted that the club thought Dele Alli demanded too much given what he had produced when the Reds has the chance to sign him as a 16-year-old, and said that Liverpool could’ve landed Alexis Sanchez but the player wanted to live in London (“We couldn’t move the football club to London, unfortunately,” he quipped).

The best part relayed by Sky Sports had to do with Luis Suarez, and shows the relentless nature of the transfer market. Clearly Barcelona had interest in Suarez before the fiery striker bit Giorgio Chiellini at the World Cup, because, well…

“I remember the sporting director of Barcelona calling me during that game, immediately as Suarez bit the player, and he said to me ‘my friend, he’s bitten somebody, how can this be the price?’ I said ‘he’d already bitten somebody when you first bid!'”

We’re sure there’s a certain amount of storytelling in there, but undoubtedly some truth.

Given Barca paid a reported $84 million for the striker, the asking price couldn’t have started that much higher.

Men in Blazers podcast: Chelsea tops Spurs, Top Four predictions

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Rog and Davo return to discuss Chelsea’s FA Cup semifinal victory over Spurs, update their Top Four predictions (again), and dive into the depths of the relegation zone. Plus, the very important movement to change “Hudson Street” to “Ray Hudson Street.”

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