Nick DeLeon,  Lionard Pajoy, Chris Pontius

Drilling down on: D.C. United 1, at New York 0


The men of D.C. United keep doing what they do best these days, find a way. Any way, and quite often by the teeny tiniest of margins, through these 1-0 squeakers.

An 88th minute goal game United its latest 1-0 win, and definitely its biggest.

But that’s all it takes. Just one goal Thursday from Red Bull Arena decided what will be written as one of Major League Soccer all-time post-season memory makers, for reasons good and bad.

Quick recap of what this absolutely bananas two-leg conference semifinal series had: a Hurricane Sandy-related (and somewhat controversial) venue swap, a 24-hour match postponement due to a different winter storm, two own goals, two missed penalty kicks, one rare penalty kick retake order, three red cards and then the late, game-winner from a rookie.

While D.C. United, which advanced 2-1 on aggregate, prepares for the Eastern Conference finals against Houston, New York could well be prepping for a coaching change … and who knows what the team’s quirky management will do with an expensive, underachieving roster?

Man of the Match:

D.C. United rookie Nick DeLeon may go on to play year after glorious year in Major League Soccer and yet never score a bigger goal. He shook free (exploiting the positional gaffe of a fellow rookie) to take a clever pass from right back Robbie Russell and made no mistake with his right-footed finish in the 88th minute.

Threesome of knowledge: What we learned

Referee Mark Geiger got things right:

D.C. United goalkeeper Bill Hamid was apoplectic, but he was wrong. Referee Mark Geiger got this one right, as Hamid made contact with the onrushing Kenny Cooper with about 20 minutes remaining.

Hamid has done this before, getting out of control as he rushes out to confront shooters. Given the situation, Geiger had no choice; It’s a red card and a penalty kick – although Hamid was quite close to the edge of the penalty area.

Then the choice to order a re-take after Cooper nailed the original penalty kick? Geiger was right on that one, too.

It’s not a decision we see very often, and surely one that should only be ordered on egregious violations. Thierry Henry, getting about three big steps into the penalty area (trailed by two encroaching teammates) qualifies as egregious.

Cooper’s signature stutter-step worked against Henry and his teammates here – but they’ve seen Cooper do this before, right? We certainly have.

Oh, and Rafa Marquez’s red card (two yellows, that is)? Yep. That one was easy for Geiger.

Missed opportunities, the scourge of the Eastern Conference playoffs so far:

Let’s be clear, this wasn’t the orgy of squander we saw last night from Kansas City, where the Eastern Conference champs crashed out of the MLS playoffs while missing chances after begging chance. But the Red Bulls’ finishing simply wasn’t good enough Thursday. When you take a 0-0 match into the late minutes at home, you’ve left yourself open to the possibility of something unforeseen – like a goal against the run of play from a rookie.

That came about 15 minutes after United backup goalkeeper Joe Willis saved Cooper’s penalty kick. It came about five minutes after Dax McCarty skied a brilliant arrangement from Henry (who was far more lively and energetic in this one that in Saturday’s first leg in Washington.)

Henry went just wide off Cooper’s cross in the second half. Before the break, New York failed to score on three shots from in close as United struggled to clear the ball.

Again, we see that the MLS playoffs are all about timing:

The talented teams keep falling, Sporting Kansas City and San Jose last night, and star-strewn New York tonight.

And that’s not such a shocker, historically speaking; it’s been said so many times that this is MLS Playoff cliché No. 1, but here it is again: More than being about having the best team, MLS playoffs are really about being hot at the right time.

D.C. United certainly is, now 6-0-3 over the last two months. All this, of course, without their best player, Dwayne De Rosario.

Beyond strong and headstrong play from Chris Pontius, Brandon McDonald, DeLeon, Perry Kitchen and a couple of others, the side is thriving on belief and desire – and that’s a powerful marriage when the blend and the timing is stacked just so.

Packaged for take-away

  • Of all the shockers in this one, how about this for the night’s top head-scratcher: Awarded a free kick two minutes into stoppage time, from the top of the penalty area, with Henry standing over the ball and the season in the balance — reserve New York left back Roy Miller took the shot. Roy. Miller. That’s just not something that can be explained.
  • Kenny Cooper was 10 for 10 in spot kicks in MLS before tonight.
  • Best, ongoing battle of the night: DCU striker Lionard Pajoy and Red Bulls center back Markus Holggerson.
  • Rafa Marquez? There’s just too much to say for this post. We’ll have more later.
  • Willis was United’s starter in goal to begin the season and he very nearly kept the injured Hamid on the bench for an extended run. He’ll be in goal for at least one more while Hamid sits for the mandatory one-game suspension.
  • New York outshot the visitors 18-8.
  • Geiger was also the man in the middle on another “re-take-gate.” In that one, D.C. United was the offending party, and team president Kevin Payne had some very unkind words for Geiger, who had ordered a penalty kick re-take against his team.

Match highlights are here:


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Premier League Black Friday bargains: Players that might be up for sale

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 25:  Charlie Austin of QPR reacts during the Barclays Premier League match between Queens Park Rangers and West Ham United at Loftus Road on April 25, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
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While most people are out looking for good deals on televisions and electronics on Black Friday, ProSoccerTalk is eyeing bargains on midfielders and strikers.

[ MORE: Transfer Rumor roundup ]

With the transfer window just over a month away, we’re taking a look at a few players that could be up for sale come January 1.

Charlie Austin (Queens Park Rangers)

One of the biggest surprises of the summer transfer window was that Charlie Austin stayed at QPR and didn’t move to a Premier League club. The English striker scored 18 goals in the PL last season, and a move away from Loftus Road seemed like a guarantee when QPR was relegated. However, Austin stayed loyal to the club and said he wanted to help them earn promotion back into the top flight.

Things aren’t going as planned though, as QPR sit 15th in the Championship and sacked manager Chris Ramsey earlier this month. Despite the club’s struggles, Austin has scored seven goals in 12 games, showing he is still a top talent. QPR turned down some offers for Austin before the season, but with his contract expiring in June, they may be willing to sell their striker for a discounted price, or risk him leaving on a free transfer in the summer.

Dwight Gayle (Crystal Palace)

Dwight Gayle has fallen out of favor at Palace, as the striker has been limited to mostly a bench role under Alan Pardew. That may work out well for some suitors, as his lack of playing time could bring down his market value a bit. He was close making a move away from Selhurst Park this summer, and it doesn’t look like he’s in line for a new deal. Gayle seems to have lost his way a bit, but is the type of player that would have a chip on his shoulder and be eager to prove he has what it takes to be a starting striker in the Premier League.

[ MORE: Top storylines to look out for in Week 14 of the Premier League ]

Jermain Defoe (Sunderland)

The 33-year-old Sunderland striker can still score goals, seen when he bagged the game-winner for the Black Cats against Crystal Palace last week. While Sunderland supporters would like to keep Defoe to help the club survive relegation, it has been reported the striker and manager Sam Allardyce don’t exactly see eye-to-eye. When asked about a possible January sale of Defoe, Big Sam didn’t help the situation by answering “Whatever happens, happens.” While he may have lost a bit of pace, Defoe is still the 11th-highest goalscorer in Premier League history, and seems to always be good for a goal in crunch-time.

Ravel Morrison (Lazio)

The 22-year-old has reportedly left his Italian club Lazio for “personal reasons” just months after joining the side in July. Morrison is one of those “What could have been?” stories, as he came up through the Manchester United academy pegged to be a star, only to have off-the-field issues put a damper in his career. He has previously played in the Premier League with West Ham, and played first-team football with Birmingham City and QPR in the Championship. With Morrison expected to return to England, a team could take a flyer on the mercurial talent and see if it pays off.

[ RELATED: Will Mourinho-Costa feud lead to transfer activity for Chelsea? ]

Emmanuel Adebayor (Unattached)

After being told he was not in Mauricio Pochettino‘s plans at Tottenham, Adebayor was happy to sit out and collect a paycheck, a pretty big paycheck that was reported to be upwards of $100,000 per week. He was eventually released from his contract in September, and many suspected the 31-year-old’s career was over. However, his name has begun to pop up in some transfer rumors for a possible return. The main question has to do with his attitude, and if he really wants to play anymore. If Adebayor were to return to the PL, he would get far less than his wages at Spurs, and could be a low-risk, high-reward option.

Away fans banned from French league games until mid-December

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France has placed a temporary ban on traveling supporters for upcoming league games due to security concerns in the wake of the Paris attacks.

Play resumed last weekend in Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 without away fans, and the French League (LFP) announced that ban would extend until at least mid-December.

[ MORE: Europa League roundup ]

A statement from the LFP said the ban was “because of a lack of availability of security forces during the state of emergency” as security has been tightened throughout the country. Paris is also hosting a United Nations summit from November 30-December 11.

Not only will league games be affected, but also European competition, as PSG is set to host Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League on December 8.

Paris Saint-Germain currently sits atop the Ligue 1 table, the only team remaining without a loss. Just 14 matches into the season, PSG already has a 13-point lead over second place Lyon.

Week 14: Top Premier League storylines – Leicester vs. Man United for the top spot

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - JANUARY 31:  Leonardo Ulloa of Leicester City and Marcos Rojo of Manchester United compete for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Leicester City at Old Trafford on January 31, 2015 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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Week 14 of the Premier League is upon us, as teams get ready to kick-off one of the busiest and most important stretches of the season.

[ WATCH: PL TV schedule — Week 14 ]

Below are five things to keep an eye out for as things get underway on Saturday morning.

Can Vardy keep Leicester top?

Just as we all expected, Leicester City is currently top of the table in the Premier League. This weekend, the Foxes have a massive match against Manchester United, who sit in second place just one point behind Claudio Ranieri‘s men. In last season’s fixture between these two sides at the King Power Stadium, Leicester stunned United in a wild 5-3 victory. While you should expect to see a bit of a different scoreline on Saturday, there’s a good chance Jamie Vardy could find the back of the net yet again. Vardy scored Leicester’s fifth and final goal in that match last season, and is currently on a record run with goals in ten straight Premier League games. One of the hottest strikers in Europe right now, Vardy will look to extend his streak to 11 straight in an effort to keep Leicester at the top of the table.

[ MORE: Ranieri still focused on reaching 40 points with Leicester ]

Not only does Saturday’s match pin the top two teams against each other, it also pins the most potent attack in Leicester against the stingiest defense in United. Leicester’s 28 goals lead the Premier League, while United has conceded just nine goals on the year. While the Foxes have shocked everyone, United and Louis Van Gaal have taken their fair share of criticism despite the fact that the Red Devils sit second on the table. A win on Saturday would move United into first place, as LVG is looking to prove that defense really does win championships.

Spurs look to stay hot vs. Chelsea

While Jamie Vardy is the hottest English striker right now, Harry Kane isn’t far behind. Kane has scored nine goals in his last six matches in all competitions for Tottenham, a major reason why Spurs are the most in-form team in the league. Mauricio Pochettino‘s men have not lost since opening day, currently sitting just outside of the top four. On Sunday, Tottenham will keep their unbeaten streak intact as White Hart Lane hosts Chelsea in a London derby. Despite their poor start, the Blues come in on the heels of two straight wins and are playing some of their best football of the season. While Norwich City and Maccabi Tel-Aviv are far from the quality of Tottenham, there have been good signs as Eden Hazard is starting to find his game while Willian continues to produce. A win over Tottenham could be the spark Chelsea needs to go on a big run before Christmas.

[ RELATED: Prince-Wright’s Premier League Picks — Week 14 ]

Will City rebound after two straight losses?

Manchester City has dropped two straight matches, losing the top spot in both the Premier League and their Champions League group. City was thrashed at home to Liverpool before losing away to Juventus, as it’s no longer smooth sailing at the Etihad. Factor in a disappointing 0-0 draw against Aston Villa, and Saturday’s match against Southampton is City’s last chance to earn a league win in the month of November. Injuries have been a big reason for City’s drop in form, with captain Vincent Kompany missing out again this weekend, as will Joe Hart, who injured his hamstring against Juventus. Pellegrini’s men could receive a massive boost though, as David Silva is hoping to make his return against Saints after a seven-week absence. A result at home against Southampton is massive, as a loss could see City drop out of the top four for the first time this season.

Swansea in desperate need of a result at Liverpool

Swansea City’s last Premier League win came way back on October 24 against lowly Aston Villa, as Garry Monk‘s side has hit a bit of a rough patch. After being kept off the scoresheet in consecutive losses to Arsenal and Norwich City, the Swans found themselves two goals down at home against Bournemouth last week, needing to fight back to earn a draw. The side from Wales has dropped to 14th on the table, and must try to stop the slide in a tough trip to Anfield. Liverpool won both meetings between the two clubs last season, and are looking to build on a huge 4-1 win over Manchester City in Week 13. With this match being so important to Swansea City, Jurgen Klopp must make sure there is no letup from his men on Sunday.

[ MORE: Klopp gives injury updates on Sturridge, Henderson ]

Bottom feeders look to climb

With a vital stretch of games from Saturday to the New Year, teams towards the bottom of the table will look to start things off on the right foot. Sunderland returns home after a big win over Crystal Palace in a vintage Sam Allardyce performance, as the Mackems host a Stoke City side that has not conceded in three matches. Newcastle travels to Palace and will try to follow in the footsteps of their North East rivals and get a result at Selhurst Park. Bournemouth hasn’t won in the league since September, and with a tough match against Everton this weekend before matches against Chelsea and Manchester United, things could go from bad to worse for the Cherries.

Friday’s Transfer Rumor Roundup: Messi to Man City for $1.2 million per week

BARCELONA, SPAIN - MAY 05:  Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona (R) hugs his Head coach Josep Guardiola of FC Barcelona after scoring his team's third goal during the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and RCD Espanyol at Camp Nou on May 5, 2012 in Barcelona, Spain. This is the last match as head coach of FC Barcelona for Josep Guardiola at the Camp Nou Stadium.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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The rumor mill is officially wide open.

After reports came out yesterday that Pep Guardiola could be on his way to manage Manchester City next season, today they are saying Guardiola could be in for a reunion at the Etihad with Lionel Messi.

[ WATCH: PL TV Schedule — Week 14 ]

The Sun is reporting that Messi’s camp has had discussions about a move to Manchester City that would see the superstar take in a ridiculous $1.2 million in weekly wages. With both Messi and Neymar in need of new contracts at Barcelona, it is believed that the club would not be able to afford both players, making a move for one of them a possibility.

If Guardiola was to move to Man City, he would have quite the pull in trying to lure Messi there as well, as the two achieved unparalleled success together at Barca. City’s massive finances and Messi’s ongoing tax issues in Spain make a move to Manchester a possibility.

Andre Ayew’s time at Swansea City could be shorter than expected, as Liverpool is reportedly interested in bringing the winger to Anfield. Ayew moved to Wales from French side Marseille this summer and has been brilliant for Garry Monk, scoring six goals through 13 matches. Speaking to French radio station RMC, Ayew admitted he had gotten offers from bigger clubs, and has put teams on high alert as he said that although he is happy at Swansea, “Now, I am ambitious and we will see what happens.”

[ RELATED: Manchester United send James Wilson on loan to Brighton ]

Tottenham are hopeful they can fend off the likes of Manchester United and Chelsea, as the two are keen to move Harry Kane away from White Hart Lane. With Radamel Falcao‘s loan a flop and reported tension between Diego Costa and Jose Mourinho, Chelsea is believed to be preparing a bid for the Spurs striker, who has scored nine goals in his past six games for Tottenham.

In other news, often-troubled midfielder Ravel Morrison is on his way back to England after leaving Italian side Lazio for “personal reasons.” Morrison came up through the Manchester United academy before moving to West Ham and bouncing around on a few loan deals. Still 22-years-old, it is believed Morrison could look to rejoin the Hammers or Queens Park Rangers, who he played for in 2014.