DC United v Houston Dynamo - Eastern Conference Championship - Leg 1

Drilling down on: Houston Dynamo 3, D.C. United 1

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Considering all, the visitors can feel OK about the way they played down in Houston. Against the most trying of circumstances, coach Ben Olsen’s team had a good plan, and then was sharper and more committed in the opening minutes.

The reward was a halftime lead … but it all fell apart as D.C. United simply could not keep up, the miles and playoff wear and tear all catching up.

So, credit United with a big, brave effort – but then credit the Houston Dynamo for taking advantage of with the road weary travelers and grabbing this Eastern Conference finals series by the neck.

The Dynamo found the flanks and found three goals after the break in a 3-1 win at BBVA Compass Stadium. So they’ll take that 3-1 lead into next week’s second leg of the total goals series at RFK Stadium.

Man of the Match:

Yes, Andrew Hainault deserved at least a yellow card (and possibly a red) for his drag-down on United midfielder Raphael Augusto just before halftime. But he didn’t get caught. And with that, Houston’s center back remained on the field to have a terrific influence, heading away everything within challenging range and being a major bother on set-pieces. He was also Andrew On the Spot to push in Houston’s first goal, a big one as the home team climbed back into the game.

Threesome of knowledge: What we learned

Young scorers keep getting it done: Nick DeLeon’s first half goal for D.C. United may not look so big now, but if United can score a goal or two early at RFK, the rookie’s latest playoff contribution will begin to look absolutely massive.

What a week for the first-year man out of Louisville. His goal for D.C. United on Thursday at Red Bull Arena is surely the proud organization’s biggest strike in five years. Sunday, by staying alert and following the play, DeLeon was in the right spot to finish strong and give his team some hope in the series.

What DeLeon is doing for United, Will Bruin is doubling down on, at least, for Houston. His busy ways are always troublesome for opposition defenders. But when Bruin is stacking the misery by also scoring goals, Houston’s second-year man really does become a force.

Bruin crashed into position to finish Giles Barnes’ brilliant work along the flank in the 68th minute. That was the game-winner, not to mention his fourth goal of the playoffs. It was also his 21st goal in 61 appearances, regular season and playoffs included. That’s blue ribbon production for a second-year man.

It’s a series of attrition: United is feeling every tick of the season-long clock, and especially feeling the burn of a tough series against New York.

Missing goalkeeper Bill Hamid, right back Andy Najar, creative engine Dwayne De Rosario and defender Daniel Woolard to start, they were also without starting midfielders Chris Pontius and Marcelo Saragosa before halftime Sunday.

Pontius’ loss was potentially devastating. Not only did the livewire left-sided attacker represent the team’s top threat on offense, but leaving so early (in the 12th minute) forced Olsen to burn an early sub.

(Olsen had asked the young attacker whether a groin injury was well enough for starter’s duty. Pontius said it was, so he got the go-ahead. The point is, players sometimes let their emotions take over. It’s up to the coach to insist on honest conversations in these cases. You wonder if Olsen, still a young coach, learned a big  lesson here?)

Since Pontius is now further ailing with a groin problem, it’s possible he could be in trouble for the return leg, too.

Houston is in better shape at this point, but only slightly. Adam Moffat had to leave before intermission, completing the depletion of Houston’s central midfield core. Ricardo Clark was out of the 18-man game-day roster, also injured. Same for center back Jermaine Taylor, although Hainault proved more than adequate as a replacement.

Shame to see this series settled with so many influencers out, but that’s the deal when the playoff schedule gets compressed as it does.

Houston found its way after intermission: United really should feel good about it’s opening 45 minutes. More than getting the tactics right, and more than being the more committed team in tackles and challenges for second balls, they “out-Houstoned” the Dynamo.

Houston plays direct, safe and conservative. They let the other guys make the mistakes and then look to pounce. But United was better at limiting the booboos. Houston center back Bobby Boswell got dragged out of position on the goal, for instance, and then got caught ball watching as DeLeon crashed in uncontested.

Meanwhile, Houston forced ball after ball down the center, mostly with no joy.

Second half looked like a different match. With United increasingly knackered, the Dynamo finally found the flanks. They got balls wide to Mac Kandji, Oscar Boniek Garcia or Bruin. Fullbacks Kofi Sarkodi and Corey Ashe found the wide, advanced spaces, too.

That was the game.

Packaged for take-away

  • Houston ends its first campaign at BBVA Compass Stadium undefeated at their new ground. Going back to the Robertson Stadium days, the Dynamo are unbeaten in 30 straight matches in all competitions.
  • Sarkodi, Houston’s right back, is growing into the playoffs. He was excellent Sunday.
  • Boswell had the defensive play of the match, heading Rafael Augusto’s shot off the line in the 65th minute.
  • Houston is not getting a lot from right-sided attacker Oscar Boniek Garcia in the playoffs. He’s not bad, but nothing special so far in the post-season.
  • In his defense, Boniek Garcia did provide some late inspiration with hustle-bustle. When you’re not doing much else, you can always bounce in spirited effort.
  • Joe Willis, in United goal for the suspended Hamid, did everything he needed to do. He could do nothing on any of the Dynamo goals, contributed a couple of big saves and handled all the crosses within reach with sure hands and plenty of composure.
  • Willis’ best moment came 77 minutes in, as he pawed away Sarkodi’s volley from close range.

Spain names final EURO roster: Lucas Vasquez in, Isco out

CLUJ-NAPOCA, ROMANIA - MARCH 27:  Isco of Spain looks on during the International Friendly match between Romania and Spain held at the Cluj Arena on March 27, 2016 in Cluj-Napoca, Romania.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
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Spain has announced their final 23-man roster for EURO 2016, where Vicente del Bosque’s men will look to win an unprecedented third-straight European Championship.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s EURO coverage ]

The most notable exclusions from the side are that of Real Madrid’s Isco and Atletico Madrid’s Saul Niguez. Isco had previously seen regular playing time in the side leading up to the tournament, and the uncapped Saul misses out after a great campaign for Atleti.

Barcelona has five players in the side along with six Premier Leaguers, highlighted by the Chelsea trio of Cesar Azpilicueta, Pedro, and Cesc Fabregas.

With an overflow of talent in the defense and midfield, the biggest question for this Spain side will come up top. There are quality strikers in this team, but the inexperienced group has combined for just 19 caps and four goals at the senior level.

Goalkeepers: Iker Casillas (Porto), David De Gea (Manchester United), Sergio Rico (Sevilla)

Defenders: Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid), Gerard Pique (Barcelona), Jordi Alba (Barcelona), Marc Bartra (Barcelona), Mikel San Jose (Athletic Bilbao), Juanfran (Atletico Madrid), Hector Bellerin (Arsenal), Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea)

Midfielders: Sergio Busquets (Barcelona), Andres Iniesta (Barcelona), Bruno (Villarreal), Pedro (Chelsea), Cesc Fabregas (Chelsea), Koke (Atletico Madrid), Thiago Alcantara (Bayern Munich), David Silva (Manchester City)

Forwards: Nolito (Celta Vigo), Lucas Vasquez (Real Madrid), Aritz Aduriz (Athletic Bilbao), Alvaro Morata (Juventus)

PSG defender Serge Aurier to stand trial in September

CHARLOTTE, NC - JULY 25:  Serge Aurier #19 of Paris Saint-Germain beats Diego Costa #19 of Chelsea to a loose ball during their Internationl Champions Cup match at Bank of America Stadium on July 25, 2015 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
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PARIS (AP) Paris Saint-Germain defender Serge Aurier will stand trial in September after being charged with assaulting a police officer.

Paris prosecutor’s office said on Tuesday that Aurier has been released from custody and will appear before a court on Sept. 26.

[ MORE: Klinsmann says USMNT to “go for it” vs. Colombia ]

Aurier was arrested in the early hours of Monday near the Champs-Elysees following an argument with police after a night out in Paris. Prosecutors said the police officer needed to take a day off work because of the incident.

Aurier was suspended for six weeks in February after a video emerged on social media showing him making derogatory comments about PSG coach Laurent Blanc, striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic and other players.

The Ivory Coast defender is widely regarded as one of the best right backs in Europe.

Payet, Milner in Top Five of UEFA’s “player barometer” for Euro 2016

SUNDERLAND, ENGLAND - MAY 27:  James Milner of England in action during the International Friendly match between England and Australia at Stadium of Light on May 27, 2016 in Sunderland, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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It’s called the “ultimate form tracker” for players heading into Euro 2016, it’s hardly boring, and you’ll likely be surprised at the Top Ten.

UEFA has a sophisticated “player barometer” that tracks statistics for all players’ form before June’s tournament in France.

It’s no surprise that Cristiano Ronaldo is first and Zlatan Ibrahimovic second, unless you had them flip-flopped. And Antoine Griezmann as third, Dimitri Payet fourth? Sure.

[ EURO 2016: England squad releasedGermany, too ]

But fifth is James Milner of Liverpool and England, one of only three players in the Top Ten who aren’t from UEFA Champions League finalists Atletico and Real Madrid (Ibrahimovic and Payet are the others).

How does the weight work?

As the Barometer acts as a form tracker, the more recent the match, the higher the weighting assigned to the data from it i.e. player stats from yesterday are given more significance than those from last week. If a player is not active (e.g. due to injury or non-selection), his ranking will decrease over that period of inactivity.

Additional weighting is attributed for quality of opposition using UEFA coefficients as the foundation of the values.

Once UEFA EURO 2016 starts, statistical events (e.g. goals, assists, tackles, saves) for the 552 players will be given a significantly higher weighting to maintain an accurate ranking of those performing well in France.

Better chance to advance: Mexico or USMNT at Copa America Centenario?

COLUMBUS, OH - SEPTEMBER 10: Alejandro Bedoya #11 of the United States Men's National Team in action against Mexico at Columbus Crew Stadium on September 10, 2013 in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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We placed Mexico fifth and the USMNT seventh in our rankings of contenders for the Copa America Centenario, which begins Friday in California.

But how wide is the distance between the two sides, and is any gap in talent mitigated by bigger challenges in schedule?

That’s what we’ll try to suss out here.

Mexico embarrassed the United States in the CONCACAF Cup playoff match this Fall, and both sides have since seen more good results than bad.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage ]

The Yanks, of course, suffered the ignominy of a 2-0 defeat in Guatemala in World Cup qualifying, but are 7-1-1 in their last nine matches. Jurgen Klinsmann’s men have looked especially strong in the past match-and-a-half, dominating both Ecuador and Bolivia.

PASADENA, CA - OCTOBER 10: Hector Herrera #16 of Mexico protects the ball against Michael Bradley #4 of the United States during the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup Qualifier at Rose Bowl on October 10, 2015 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Jonathan Moore/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jonathan Moore/Getty Images)

El Tri hasn’t lost since the 2015 Copa America, and that was not a full-strength squad. Following the tournament, Mexico began a 12W-6D run which includes a Gold Cup win — suspect as the run was —  and a draw against Argentina. No, El Tri hasn’t beaten many opponents of power during the run, but the record is far from shaky.

Honestly, Mexico should expect to make a run at history. While they stumbled in qualification for the 2014 World Cup, their U-23s won gold at the 2012 Olympics. This generation of El Tri has been building upward, more or less, since that tournament.

[ COPA AMERICA PREVIEWS: Group A | BC | D ]

Mexico has rarely had trouble with group mates Jamaica or Mexico, and Uruguay will be without Luis Suarez. It would be shocking if El Tri failed to advance from the group, and Mexico should have a chance to win the group. Argentina or Chile likely await in the quarters, so the semifinals are neither a given nor particularly likely.

The U.S. is in a different spot altogether. Yes, they should be able to advance from Group A, but their host status is the only thing that will make them heavy favorites in any match. Costa Rica went further than the Yanks at World Cup, and Paraguay has drawn Argentina twice, Brazil twice (once losing in penalties) and Uruguay once in the past calendar year.

Britain Soccer USA Colombia
(AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

The Yanks should be favored to finish above both those teams, but could be in a hole if they don’t start fast against Colombia on Friday in California. Colombia won its only warm-up match, a 3-1 decision over Haiti in Florida last week, but did not have star man James Rodriguez yet.

Winning the group is key for Klinsmann’s knockout round hopes, as Brazil should easily win Group B and face Group A’s runner-up. There’s a world of difference between facing Ecuador, Peru or Haiti, or tangling with Brazil.

[ EURO 2016: England squad released |Germany, too ]

So you could honestly make the case that while Mexico is far more dangerous side in this tournament, especially given their proximity to home, the United States edging Colombia for Group B gives them a far better chances of making the semis. The best team doesn’t always win. However, if the U.S. finishes second in Group A, it’s very difficult to imagine them taking down Brazil given September’s 4-1 thrashing at Foxborough.

The question is, would you fancy Mexico to have a better chance of upending Chile or Argentina? Most would say, “Yes.”