ProSoccerTalk’s daily soccer re-set

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Soccer birthdays:

Huge, huge day in birthdays ….

Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea turns 22.

United States international Jonathan Bornstein, who took his spins on the revolving wheel of U.S. left backs, turns 28.

England international and Manchester United defensive staple Rio Ferdinand turns 34.

Dutch international Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink (whose name is actually even longer than that, because his proper name is Johannes Vennegoor of Hesselink) also turns 34

Scottish international and Vancouver Whitecaps chatty midfielder Barry Robson turns 34. (Come to think of it, perhaps the fact that one of their central midfielders is 34 helps explain the Whitecaps demise over the second half of the season, which is when Robson joined up.)

Former England international and Liverpool legend left winger John Barnes turns 49.

Finally, while guys like Pele and Giorgio Chinaglia absorbed most of the headlines, guys like the fabulously talented Vladislav Bogicevic were just as important to those illustrious Cosmos teams of the late 1970s and early 1980s. The former Yugoslavian international, who is a member of the American National Soccer Hall of Fame, turns 62

Big Important Stories of the Day:

The United States learns its World Cup final round qualifying schedule today as FIFA and CONCACAF conduct the draw for six teams that have made it to the remaining stage, the so-called “Hexagonal.”  The draw from Miami takes place tonight at 8 p.m. ET

It’s MLS playoff day – three of the four conference semifinal series will be settled today. By late into the evening, five Major League Soccer clubs will remain in contention for the 17th MLS Cup.

Plus, it’s another Champions League Day, with the other half of group play rolling out today from Europe.

RASNoD (Random American Soccer Name of the Day:  Jennifer Grubb

*Ahead on the blog today:

More on the three MLS matches today, including the one in San Jose, where Major League Soccer’s reigning champs, the star-packed L.A. Galaxy, have some heavy lifting ahead just to remain in contention.

Later, we’ll have analysis and highlights from the trio of eliminators.

We’ll also tell you what happened in the UEFA Champions League, where the big matches include Scottish giant Celtic against inimitable Barcelona and title holder Chelsea against Shaktar Donetsk.

Twitter daps:

source:

What you should watch on TV today:

  • Braga host Manchester United live from Portugal at 2:35 p.m. ET on Fox Soccer Channel. (The photo above is from Braga’s beautiful grounds.)
  • Celtic hosts Barcelona on delay at 5 p.m. ET on FSC.
  • In MLS, the New York Red Bulls host D.C. United at 8 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network.
  • And San Jose hosts Los Angeles at 11 p.m. ET on ESPN2.

Background noise while blogging today:  All the fallout from another historic night in American will be fascinating. And if that gets tiresome, last night’s speech from the President of the United States is worth replaying a time or two. That was powerful stuff.

We’ll leave you with this:  As someone who appreciates what Dutch soccer offered the game back in the day, it’s nice to see Ajax become a bigger player in European competition once again.

Liga MX wrap: Pachuca earns first win, Leon stays unbeaten

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All of Saturday’s action from around Mexico’s top flight…

Pachuca 3-1 Lobos BUAP

A strong first-half push from the hosts was all Pachuca needed on Saturday night to earn their first victory of the 2018 Clausura season. Angel Sagal brought the home side in front after just 10 minutes off of a near-post header, before Pachuca’s lead soon doubled 14 minutes later from the penalty spot when strike Franco Jara converted on the dead-ball attempt.

Just prior to halftime, Pachuca was out to a 3-0 advantage when 20-year-old outside back Erick Aguirre tallied his first goal for the club.

Last-place side Lobos got on the board three minutes into the second stanza via a finish from Heriberto Olvera, however, it wasn’t enough to provide anything more than a consolation for the visiting side.

Necaxa 1-3 Chivas Guadalajara

Mexican international Alan Pulido made it a dream start for the visitors from Guadalajara at the Estadio Victoria, however, that lead was cancelled out in first-half stoppage time after Carlos Gonzalez leveled the match up at 1-1.

The difference proved to be with 25 minutes left to play, when a goalkeeping error by Marcelo Barovero allowed Chivas to regain possession inside the Necaxa penalty area, before Ronaldo Cisneros tapped home the winner.

Then, a third goal came just prior to the end of regulation when Edwin Hernandez killed the game off for Matias Almeyda’s men, who also earned their first victory of the Clausura season.

Rest of Saturday’s Liga MX action

Cruz Azul 0-0 Club Leon
Queretaro 0-0 Tigres UANL
Monterrey 0-0 Club Tijuana

Sunday’s matches

UNAM vs. Club America — 1 p.m. ET
Santos Laguna vs. Morelia — 7 p.m. ET

The 2 Robbies: Alexis/Mkhitaryan transfer saga and more

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Robbie Mustoe and Robbie Earle recap all the key stories from the latest Premier League Saturday fixtures including Manchester City’s 3-1 win over Newcastle (0:20), Chelsea’s 4-0 victory at Brighton (10:15) and the latest on the Alexis Sanchez/Henrikh Mkhitaryan saga after wins for Arsenal and Manchester United (19:00). Plus, a closer look at the bottom of the table and thoughts go out to James McCarthy after his serious injury against West Brom (29:00).

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

All of the The 2 Robbies content can be accessed by clicking on this link:

Click here for The 2 Robbies archive ]

Follow them on Twitter @The2Robbies

Video: Stoke’s Imbula scores stunner on loan at Toulouse

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Stoke City supporters know the name Giannelli Imbula, and perhaps they’ll be clamoring for the Frenchman to return to the bet365 Stadium if he can score more goals like this.

[ MORE: PL Roundup — Top three all victorious; Gunners thrash Palace ]

The holding midfielder is currently on loan with Ligue 1 outfit Toulouse, and for the first time this season, Imbula opened his goalscoring account in some fashion.

Right on half-hour mark, Imbula unleashed a left-footed strike from nearly 40 yards out to give Toulouse the lead over Montpellier (below).

Imbula joined Stoke during the 2015/16 PL season, and has made 26 appearances for the Potters in his time with the club, prior to his loan to France.

Willian proves he’s Chelsea’s x-factor against Brighton

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There’s a considerable difference when watching a Chelsea team that plays with and without one of its Brazilian influences in the attacking part of the field.

Willian — who first debuted for the Blues back in 2013 — hasn’t always managed to be a regular starter for Chelsea, whether it was Jose Mourinho, Guus Hiddink or current manager Antonio Conte at the helm, though.

[ SOURCES: Jack Harrison expected to join Stoke City this winter ]

The 29-year-old plays with considerable flair, something that certainly isn’t uncommon amongst many players that have grown up in Brazil.

At times Willian’s overconfidence is a significant blessing, and at others it can be considered a curse, however, the former Corinthians player’s presence is something that Chelsea needs now more than ever.

That was on display on Saturday during the side’s 4-0 win at Brighton, a match in which Chelsea dominated from start to finish with Willian on the pitch. While the performance cannot solely be attributed to the attacking midfielder’s showing, it’s easy to argue that the Blues midfielder is becoming the club’s biggest x factor — one that can determine the outcome of a match.

Just look six minutes into the match, when the Blues put together one of the best team goals you’ll see in a match this year (or any year for that matter), which of course, was started and finished by none other than Willian.

What stands out about the play isn’t the brilliant slicing shot into the near post corner by the veteran playmaker, but instead the confidence that Willian exudes and brings to a Chelsea lineup that has plenty of talent to be considered one of the best teams in England and all of Europe.

After all, Conte’s group is just a season removed from winning the Premier League and still sits inside the top three in the world’s top league.

Then, there’s the Blues’ third goal against Brighton, which was set up by a smart, and instinctive, through ball played into the path of Eden Hazard by Willian (below).

Even though Hazard ends up with a ton of time on the ball to make his next decision, which was ultimately to cut inside on his preferred right foot, the run by Willian towards the end line dragged a defender away from the Belgian international — allowing the sequence to progress.

Arguing Willian’s importance isn’t a knock on Hazard — a world-class player in his own right — or Alvaro Morata, who has had the intolerable task of replacing a key player like Diego Costa.

Instead, it simply shows that Chelsea has a plethora of talent, and that some of the club’s attacking struggles throughout the 2017/18 season can be chalked up to Willian being left out of the starting XI on a regular basis.

[ MORE: Sergio Aguero continues to display brilliance for Man City ]

The Brazilian international has scored eight goals and added seven assists this season in all competitions for the Blues, despite only starting 19 matches.

The mind of manager Conte is an ever-changing one, so maybe Willian still doesn’t get the starting nod on an every week basis, but just by watching the team’s performance at the Amex Stadium it’s quite hard to argue against the player being on the field as much as possible.