Drilling down on: Seattle Sounders 1, at Real Salt Lake 0

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The fourth time was a charm for Seattle, who saw Honduran international Mario Martínez – making his first Major League Soccer start – blast the Sounders into the Western Conference final. His left-footed, 15-yard half-volley in the 81st minute beat Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando far post for the series’ only goal, the Sounders winning their first playoff series in franchise history.

After dominating Friday’s first leg, Seattle met an energetic RSL to start Thursday’s match at Rio Tinto Stadium. After setting into the game mid-way through the first, the Sounders saw Real ascend through the second half, slowly gaining control of the match. The home side’s climb halted when Martínez, in the starting lineup for the injured Mauro Rosales, ended their season.

With the win, Seattle moves on to their first Western Conference final, a two-legged series starting Sunday in Los Angeles against the defending champion LA Galaxy.

Seattle advances, 1-0 (aggregate)

Man of the Match: After a poor first half, it looked like Seattle would be better off with Steve Zakuani taking over as a left wing in place of Mario Martínez. But head coach Sigi Schmid persisted with the man who’d played only 40 regular season minute, his loyalty paying off nine minutes from time when Fredy Montero’s chip over RSL’s right side fell perfectly in stride for Martínez. The midfielder strode onto and through a shot that curled toward Nick Rimando’s far post, settling into the side netting to send Seattle through.

The goal, then the analysis (below):

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Threesome of knowledge: What we learned

Sigi Schmid made the right call in midfield.

Brad Evans has played for Sigi Schmid since 2007, so it wasn’t surprising the 27-year-old midfielder drew Thursday’s most important assignment. Moved from left midfield into the center, Evans was tasked with disrupting holding midfielder Kyle Beckerman’s control of RSL’s game. Situated above destroyer Osvaldo Alonso in what played as a 4-1-3-2 formation, Evans’ persistence forced RSL to drop right-sided midfielder Will Johnson back to help their build up.

Slowly, Real adjusted to the tactic, but without Johnson to balance their midfield, RSL became predictably left-leaning, making life easier for Osvaldo Alonso. Late in the match, the Sounder linchpin made a number of key tackles, giving his own Man of the Match-caliber performance.

RSL’s central defenders locked down Seattle’s attack.

The absence of Rosales was huge. Not only did it deprive Seattle of their biggest leg one advantage (Rosales versus RSL’s left back), it also took away the man most likely to augment the Sounders’ battle against Jamison Olave and Nat Borchers (Real Salt Lake’s central defenders).

RSL took the chance of leaving their defenders two-on-two against Eddie Johnson and Fredy Montero. With those numbers, you’d expect Seattle to generate some chance through their forwards, given enough opportunities. But thanks to strong performances from Olave and Borchers, Seattle’s 27-goal duo had very few opportunities. Olave had the speed and strength to compete with Johnson, while Borchers shadowed Montero’s forays backward to connect with his midfield.

With Olave and Borchers in form, Seattle was going to need a goal like Martínez’s to break through.

Alonso, Gspurning key the defense. Again.

Tonight, Michael Gspurning won the battle, even if he didn’t approach Rimando’s Friday heights. Tonight, Seattle’s goalkeeper lived up to Sigi Schmid’s year-long superlatives, making nine saves while keeping his 180-minute clean sheet.

In front of him, it was again Alonso cleaning everything up. Perhaps he was fortunate not to get called for a first half shoulder charge in the box, but after four years in Major League Soccer, the league’s premier destroyer knows how to walk that line. Late in the match, long after he’d picked up a 51st minute yellow card, Alonso made a number of key tackles deep in Seattle’s end that allowed his team to kill off the game’s final moments.

Packaged for takeaway

  • It was not a series to remember for Chris Wingert. The RSL defender, who was left looking at so many first leg crosses, picked up an injury in warmups. Kenny Mansally got the call at left back.
  • RSL also started without Fabian Espindola, Alvaro Saborio’s normal partner held back with an injured hamstring. The Argentine came on in the second half for Paulo Jr.
  • In the first half, Salt Lake was intent on using Paulo Jr.’s speed, repeatedly feeding balls into space behind Seattle’s defense. Nice reads from Gspurning thwarted the tactic.
  • Seattle and Los Angeles met in the 2010 Western Conference semifinals, the Galaxy getting a 1-0 win in Seattle en route to a 3-1 series victory.
  • For Real Salt Lake, the question is whether they keep this core together. They finished second in the West, but after three-straight playoff disappointments, Garth Lagerway and Jason Kreis may look to shake things up.

Southampton pleased to nab “bonus point” vs. Spurs

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Ryan Bertrand had a fine day for Southampton in its 1-1 draw with Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday, forcing Spurs into an own goal and picking up a point for its relegation battle.

[ RECAP: Saints 1-1 Spurs ]

Saints now sit a point back of safety after Stoke City leapt over them with a Saturday win, and Bertrand says the club will be buoyed by a Sunday bonus.

“Very heavy, the rain didn’t help, just pleased to come away with the point,” Bertrand said. “We have to scrap it out. We have to analyze, look at our remaining fixtures, which games you want to win and which games we’ll be slightly be the underdogs and today was a bonus point on our journey.”

Saints host Watford in the FA Cup on Saturday before welcoming Brighton on Jan. 31 for a massive midweek six-pointer (It’s the appropriate time of year to consider matches six-pointers, yes?).

Spurs, Saints play to stalemate

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  • Bertrand forces Spurs own goal
  • Kane levels before halftime
  • Spurs stay fifth
  • Saints one point back of safety

Harry Kane made amends for a Davinson Sanchez own goal as Tottenham Hotspur drew Southampton 1-1 at St. Mary’s on Sunday.

Southampton is now winless in 11 Premier League matches, while Spurs are unbeaten in six.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Spurs entered the game with Christian Eriksen and Hugo Lloris out through sickness and several more not at 100 percent, and Sanchez was surely feeling ill when his sliding attempt to block a Ryan Bertrand cross beat his own keeper to the inside post.

It was 1-1 within moments, as Kane rose over Manolo Gabbiadini after losing mark Jack Stephens on a corner kick.

James Ward-Prowse was fortunate to avoid a card when he kicked out at Jan Vertonghen following a slide tackle from the Spurs center back.

Stephens just missed making up for his error when he zipped onto Ward-Prowse’s free kick but headed just wide of the far upper 90.

Mario Lemina forced Vorm into a save after a 41st minute set-up by Gabbiadini.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Ward-Prowse tried his luck from 25 yards to start the second half, but Vorm saw the ball the whole way into his arms.

Spurs grew into the second half, and Dele Alli lashed wide of the near post in the 65th minute. Vertonghen buzzed the tower with a left-footed shot five minutes later.

Would anything give as the match progressed, with Spurs inserting Erik Lamela and Saints opting for Sofiane Boufal and 17-year-old debutant Michael Obafemi?

Good work from Kane and Sissoko ended with an on-the-doorstep Lamela shooting off a Saints defender and out, poorly adjudged to be a goal kick.

Obafemi misjudged a chance to redirect a cross past Vorm in the 87th minute, and Cedric ventured a laser wide of the goal as Saints looked for a winner. Boufal was then blocked by Sanchez after taking a touch too much in the box.

Kane had late opportunity for Spurs, but dragged his shot or pass through the six without a receiver.

VIDEO: Ronaldo bloodied after diving header goal in Real rout

AP Photo/Francisco Seco
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This hasn’t been a good league year for Cristiano Ronaldo nor his club Real Madrid, and the reigning league winners let their frustrations out on Deportivo de la Coruna on Sunday.

[ MORE: 2 Robbies on Alexis-Mkhi ]

Ronaldo scored twice in the 7-1 rout, and the second saw his face bloodied by a boot when he went low to head home in the second half for Real’s sixth goal.

Fortunately for Ronaldo, he’s the sort of player who doesn’t care about his looks. Hilariously, cameras caught the mega star using a cell phone to assess the damage.

The goals end a three-match league dry spell for the Ballon d’Or collector, who has 17 goals in 25 matches across all competitions this season.

Real is 16 points back of Barcelona in La Liga, on pace to finish fourth in the division.

Judging the Premier League’s in-season managerial changes

Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
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Stoke City, Swansea City, and now Watford have all made managerial changes in the last month, and await the long-term response of their players to new bosses Paul Lambert (so far, so good), Carlos Carvalhal (mixed, but a win), and probably Javi Gracia, respectively.

That means 40 percent of Premier League clubs have ditched their Opening Day bosses this season. Some were overdue, others were debatable, and the latest — Watford’s sacking of Marco Silva after denying Everton’s pursuit of the boss — is a real head scratcher.

[ MORE: Watford fires Silva, blames Everton ]

How have the moves worked so far?

Crystal Palace
Frank De Boer — 0W-4L
Roy Hodgson — 6W-7D-7L

Hodgson is actually on pace to outdo Sam Allardyce‘s 8W-2D-11L campaign to save Palace’s 2016-17 season. FDB’s short-lived campaign is difficult to judge, his lone win coming in the League Cup against Championship competition, but there’s little debate as to whether Hodgson’s discipline has worked at Selhurst Park.

Everton
Ronald Koeman — 2W-2D-5L
David Unsworth (caretaker) — 2W-2D-1L
Sam Allardyce — 3W-4D-3L

Everton’s entire season has been the same tale: beat the lower half clubs but fail to meet expectations against almost anyone of merit. That’s taken a dive in recent weeks, as Allardyce has drawn West Brom twice and lost at Bournemouth. Jury’s out, and Allardyce has a lot to prove as another team brings him in and spends dough on his behalf.

Leicester City
Craig Shakespeare — 1W-3D-4L
Michael Appleton (caretaker) — 1W
Claude Puel — 7W-4D-4L

It’s now two-straight seasons of poor starts dooming the Leicester City manager, and Shakespeare understandably did not get patience considering the Foxes fired the architect of their stored PL run in Claudio Ranieri (who has Nantes fifth place in Ligue 1). Puel got a rough ride from expectation-heavy Saints fans, who’d probably love to have him back right now. This is an unqualified success, and Leicester may just make it back to Europe.

Swansea City
Paul Clement — 3W-3D-12L
Leon Britton (player manager) — 1D-1L
Carlos Carvalhal — 1W-1D-1L

It’s hard to gauge whether Carvalhal was the right hire, but Swans’ record has improved in the five matches since he was fired and the lone losses are to Liverpool and Spurs. The firing, it seems, was the right call.

West Brom
Tony Pulis — 2W-4D-6L
Gary Megson (caretaker) — 2D
Alan Pardew — 1W-4D-4L

The wins still need to come, but West Brom do look a more promising side and Alan Pardew’s desire to play two strikers certainly makes for better entertainment than Tony Pulis’ unit. Like Everton, the jury is still out. If we had to judge, we’d say it’s the right move for a fan base which prefers a more fashionable style of play (but also prefers being in the Premier League).

West Ham
Slaven Bilic — 2W-3D-6L
David Moyes — 4W-4D-4L

So far, Moyes is doing wonders for his reputation while performing feats that Everton is still seeking from Allardyce; West Ham has spent some money, and Moyes is getting performances out of Marko Arnautovic and using his width well (Arthur Masuaku has been impressive at full back).