Houston Dynamo v DC United - Eastern Conference Championship - Leg 2

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

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No one does the playoffs like Houston – and they are going back to MLS Cup. Again.

This will be Houston’s fourth trip in seven seasons.

Dominic Kinnear’s team held a semi-cushy two-goal lead heading into RFK Stadium, and Oscar Boniek Garcia’s first-half goal turned a hill into a mountain for a young D.C. United team with good days apparently ahead.

For now, it’s Houston’s day to celebrate.

Kinnear’s men in orange had the right plan and the right players to professionally manage out a 1-1 draw, earning them a 4-2 win on total goals aggregate after Sunday’s Eastern Conference final at RFK Stadium.

Man of the Match:

The visitors had sterling performance all over the field, and most certainly all along the back five (the back four, plus goalkeeper Tally Hall, who never had a foot or a glove out of place. But veteran center back Bobby Boswell, who started his career at RFK with United, was a picture of calm command back there. He won headers, poked balls away, kept from being dragged out wide and even got a little tough when the situation called for it. For 75 minutes, United had done little to both Hall, and Boswell was a major reason why.

Threesome of knowledge: What we learned

Houston had the perfect plan, executed flawlessly:

Talk about a calm, disciplined and professional performance.

Dominic Kinnear did it again. The master of manufacturing playoff results got a little help when his top pair of central midfielders, Adam Moffat and Ricardo Clark, were adjudged healthy enough to start.

So he lined up the team in a 4-5-1, pushing Brad Davis and Clark up higher in the middle, allowing Moffat to sweep up behind them. They did concede some possession, but that was built into the scheme, and the men in orange more or less had things in control all along.

That’s because they were able to get just enough offensive push up the flanks through Mac Kandji and Garcia to create some opportunities. Meanwhile, Davis helped keep enough midfielder possession, while Clark covered his ground and Moffat kept that critical positional discipline.

Meanwhile, United choice to go with two defensive midfielders once again looked iffy; sure enough, Marcelo Saragosa, redundant alongside Perry Kitchen, was removed at halftime.

So all that DC United possession led to … precious little for the home side, which was missing too much offensive energy without a fully fit Dwayne De Rosario and without left-sided dynamo Chris Pontius.

United had just one shot on target – just one! – in the first 60 minutes. And Ben Olsen’s side had no corner kicks for almost 60 minutes through the middle of the match, from the 12th until the 68th.

For Houston, there was never a moment of defensive panic, and the Dynamo didn’t make the same mistake it made two weeks ago in a second-leg escape from Kansas City, where they sat back too far and absorbed too much pressure.

Not this time. This was under control all the way. In fact, if the Dynamo did one thing wrong, it was a failure to cinch this series off sooner. Will Bruin, Davis and Kandji wasted beautiful second-half chances on the counter attack.

DCU defense just not good enough:

From United’s side, the series wasn’t lost Sunday; it was dropped a week ago in Houston, when the Dynamo built a brick house of confidence while stacking up three goals.

All year, United’s weak link was along the back, where a collection of adequate defenders (but no commanding ones) gave up 43 goals this year. Defensive mistakes were abundant in last week’s loss at Houston.

And there were the pimples again on Sunday when Brad Davis shot through United back line along the right, while United midfielder Nick DeLeon and DCU’s center backs lost track of Oscar Boniek Garcia in the middle. Goal! And that was pretty much it.

That first-half heartbreaker sucked the life right out of Sunday’s big crowd at RFK, a gut punch from which a deflated United simply could not rally past.

In the bigger picture, United management was overly smitten with attacking DPs. And given the chance to trade late in the season, they picked up … Lionard Pajoy, another striker.

Meanwhile, Olsen had to arrange a system with two holding midfielders to present the back line with sufficient protection. That did get United into the playoffs, but it wasn’t the ticket for breaking all the way through.

United conceded five goals in four playoff games; Houston conceded four in five games, and they’ll go to MLS Cup once again as a result.

Houston’s main men delivered, a couple from the home team did not:

Davis is Houston’s most creative player, which may not be saying much on a meat-and-potatoes side like Houston’s.

But he did create a meaningful moment, and that’s the point. Meanwhile, Hall, Boswell and Jermaine Taylor all had afternoons that deserve long, slow applause. The other Dynamo men were sturdy as battleships.

But “sturdy” isn’t always enough to drive into an MLS Cup; it takes decisive moments from the difference makers.  And that’s where the comparison moves to United’s side, a ledger of lesser. Because United desperately needed one man in particular to deliver: Branko Boskovic.

Originally brought as a Designated Player, he was ostensibly the playmaker to open gaps in defenses around RFK. His struggles have been well documented – but what a moment this would have been for the veteran midfielder to re-write the narrative!

Instead, we saw a quiet symphony of lateral and negative passes. We saw Boskovic defer to teammates time and again. It really was a stark contrast to the way De Rosario made his emotional comeback and immediately enlivened the attack. He actually got balls into the penalty area. He pushed the attack. He finally helped make Houston’s center backs look less comfortable.

Boskovic did finally slice through the Dynamo defense. But where was that earlier? The home team needed that kind of attacking push out of the midfield from the first minute, not just in the 83rd.

Then again, at least he got the start. Hamdi Salihi, another failed DP around RFK, couldn’t he get that. He did get in late, but never did a thing to rattle Hall in Houston’s goal.

Packaged for take-away:

  • Following up on the last point,  Salihi came into Sunday’s contest with just one minute in the playoffs so far. Yikes.
  • The save of the match came from Hall, who pushed away Chris Korb’s perfectly struck, wildly knuckling half-volley in the first half.
  • Houston’s Clark will finally get to play in an MLS Cup; He missed two for Houston due to suspension.

ProSoccerTalk will keep up the discussion of the chase for MLS Cup through the Dec. 1 final.

Wayne Rooney back to Everton? Koeman is keen

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - AUGUST 02:  Wayne Rooney of Everton and Manchester United runs on to the pitch as he replaces Tom Cleverley of Everton during the Duncan Ferguson Testimonial match between Everton and Villarreal at Goodison Park on August 2, 2015 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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Wayne Rooney would be welcome back to Everton with open arms.

[ MORE: Who should stay at Liverpool?

That was the general message from Ronald Koeman and Director of Football Steve Walsh on Tuesday as the Sky Sports cameras went live from Everton’s Finch Farm training ground throughout the day.

Speaking to Koeman about the possibility of Rooney, 31, returning to Goodison Park at the end of this season, Everton’s Dutch manager hardly swatted away the questions.

“I still think Wayne Rooney is playing at a high level and he made a good choice staying at Manchester United and in the Premier League,” Koeman said. “He still has two or three years in front of him to play at the highest level. What will happen at the end of the season, I do not know? In my opinion he’s one of the players who can make Everton stronger than they are now. It’s all about what the players likes, what Manchester United need to do and we are not involved in that project. Every player who we feel can make the team stronger is welcome at Everton.”

Walsh, who is in charge of recruitment at Everton after finding great success at Leicester City last season, echoed Koeman’s views as he stated they’d be stupid not to be interested in the services of Manchester United and England’s captain if he was to move away from Old Trafford this summer.

“Wayne Rooney is one of the greatest players that has ever played the game in England and for us not to be interested would be wrong,” Walsh said. “He started his career here and if the opportunity arose that he could come back and it sat well with everyone, it is something we would consider. He is a class apart, he sees things, and all the things that have been said about Wayne are true.

“He comes into that category of being one of England’s greatest ever players, so why wouldn’t we be interested? I think the whole thing would be euphoric.”I think we could sell a lot of shirts, that’s for sure. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Wayne is contracted to Manchester United and made a decision to continue to play for them. Let’s wait and see what happens in the future.”

So, it’s pretty obvious Rooney would be welcome back at Everton by not only the current staff but also the fans. He held his testimonial against Everton at Old Trafford last summer and also played in Duncan Ferguson’s testimonial in 2014 at Goodison Park. Some of the fans wished he would’ve stayed at Everton but even they would understand why he moved on.

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Rooney left Everton 13 years ago for $31.1 million and has become the all-time leading scorer at Manchester United and for England.

Most Everton fans will forgive him for going on to achieve great things with United and if he could return to the Toffees for the final years of his career and help them get into the top four and challenge for silverware, surely that’s a win for everyone? At United he has the likes of Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Juan Mata and Henrik Mkhitaryan to compete with.

If Rooney decided to join Everton he’d be a focal point of their attack and could easily make things tick in a No. 10 role. He’d be a starter. No doubt. The comments from Koeman and Walsh back that up.

After dismissing a move to the Chinese Super League last week, Rooney’s options in Major League Soccer could also be limited with a shift towards veteran DPs no longer arriving in the league after the departures of Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba this offseason. His wages could be a stumbling block at Everton, but you’d think United wouldn’t ask for much of a transfer fee for a player who will only have one more year on his contract this summer. That would be a sort of good will gesture to smooth over Rooney’s potential move to Everton.

A born and bred Evertonian, Rooney seems to be comfortable living in the north west of England like he has his entire life. With his young family, surely he would rather head back to Everton for the final few years of his career rather than going to the U.S. or China? The money may well be better abroad but Rooney’s achievements in the game mean he won’t be short of endorsements, media opportunities and more after he retires.

Then again, he only seems to be focused on playing. If that’s the case, then he wouldn’t play regularly for any other of the PL’s current top six so signing for Everton and helping them in a playmaking role certainly seems to make sense.

The more you think about it, the more this deal makes sense for everyone concerned. Everton get a playmaker with incredible quality. Rooney gets to play regularly and play for the club he supports. United get to move on a star edging towards the end of his career and safe face doing so.

Manchester United sign Welsh wonderkid

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My word, there’s going to be a lot of pressure on this shoulders of this teenage talent…

Remember the name: Levent Gundogan.

[ MORE: United, Mourinho lucky in EFL Cup ]

Welsh side Connah’s Quay Nomads have announced that 14-year-old academy product Gundogan has left to join Manchester United.

Described as a “very gifted player, who is comfortable up front or in attacking midfield” his club have revealed exactly how another Gundogan (Sorry, Ilkay, you’ve got company now) has ended up at a Premier League side in Manchester after spending two years under the tutelage.

Over to you Connah’s Quay

Levent is a great example of the pathway for players within the FAW Academy system, and the opportunities that are available to move to a higher level.

Levent was selected for North Wales development squad this season, which leads into the Wales under 16 National team. After being selected from a Nomads Academy game Levent performed well with North Wales squad and was selected for a friendly game for the side away at Manchester United at the start of 2017.

He performed well in the game which saw him score four goals in a 4-4 friendly, away at Carrington. From this he was awarded a six week trial, for which he has been successful and signed a full time contract with Manchester United Academy last week.

Now, if he’s young, Welsh and a talented attacker, there will immediately be comparisons drawn between this youngster and United legend Ryan Giggs who played 963 times for the Red Devils, winning 24 major titles.

Of course, Giggs’ great success in a career which spanned over two decades at Old Trafford will probably never be replicated.

Still, a young Welsh attacker now has the chance to have a go at it.

Which Liverpool players are “playing for futures” with Klopp?

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 17:  Jurgen Klopp, Manager of Liverpool talks with Loris Karius of Liverpool after the Premier League match between Liverpool and Manchester United at Anfield on October 17, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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Following Liverpool’s humbling defeat at Leicester City on Monday the post-game comments of manager Jurgen Klopp hit home.

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“It’s getting more serious now. We all play for our future, myself included. We get judged every day, especially on match days,” Klopp told Sky Sports after the 3-1 loss which saw Liverpool put in a truly woeful display.

Liverpool currently still sit in fifth place, four points off second place, but a team which led the Premier League earlier in the season have won just one of their seven PL games so far in 2017 as they’re now battling for their lives just to finish in the top four.

Klopp was handed a new six-year contract in the summer, so he will stick around, but there are some big concerns for him to address if Liverpool are to become anything more than just a top four contender.

It begs this question: how many of these current Liverpool players will be around next season?


Let’s take a look at the best starting lineup for Klopp this season…

—– Mignolet —-

— Clyne — Matip — Lovren — Milner —

—- Henderson —- Wijnaldum —-

—- Lallana —- Coutinho —- Mane 

—– Firmino —–

Heading into next season, here are the areas he needs to address…

—– ? —-

— Clyne — ? — Lovren — ? —

—- Henderson —- ? —-

—- Lallana —- Coutinho —- Mane 

—– ? —–


Defensively is where the biggest improvements are needed.

In goal both Simon Mignolet and Loris Karius have made high-profile mistakes, so surely someone like Joe Hart would be a good pickup and help turnaround Liverpool’s woeful defense? Dejan Lovren and Nathaniel Clyne will stick around but the jury is out on Joel Matip and although James Milner puts in a great shift at left back that just isn’t his natural position. Liverpool need at least one quality center back and a new left back.

Those defensive issues just haven’t been addressed over the past few seasons. They’ve conceded an average of 1.3 goals per game in each of the past four PL campaigns, and they are well on track to do that again. In simpler terms, Liverpool concede 50 goals every season and expect something to change. It won’t.

In midfield they’re pretty set although you can question Jordan Henderson‘s role as a true holding player at times. He is much better playing alongside a destructive force and with Lucas set to leave and Emre Can hot and cold, he hasn’t got that. Georginio Wijnaldum has impressed at times this season but his attacking instincts often leave Henderson outnumbered. Klopp has yet to find the correct balance in midfield, especially defensively.

We all know how good they are going forward and the only change you could argue is either playing Daniel Sturridge up top or bringing in a prolific goalscorer as Roberto Firmino is far from a poacher in front of goal. Sadio Mane is Liverpool’s top scorer this season with 11 goals.

Premier League announces schedule changes

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 10: Wayne Rooney of Manchester United (L) and Kevin De Bruyne of Manchester City (R) battle for possession during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Manchester City at Old Trafford on September 10, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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The Premier League have released new dates and times for games throughout April, as domestic broadcasters in the UK line up their schedules for the business end of the 2016-17 season.

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Plenty of derbies, top four battles and relegation scraps will take center stage in April as a busy month of action will be pivotal in deciding the fate of teams across the league.

Remember, you can watch every single Premier League game live online via NBCSports.com.

Just click on the link above to keep up to date on when and where you can watch each game.

Below is the new schedule for games in April, and on on May 1, with all times listed as Eastern Standard Time.


Saturday 1 April
7:30am Liverpool v Everton
12:30pm Southampton v AFC Bournemouth

Sunday 2 April
8:30am Swansea City v Middlesbrough
11am Arsenal v Manchester City

Tuesday 4 April
3pm Manchester United v Everton

Wednesday 5 April
2:45pm Arsenal v West Ham United*
*Consequent to Arsenal v Manchester City moving to Sunday 2 April
2:45pm Hull City v Middlesbrough*
*Consequent to Swansea City v Middlesbrough moving to Sunday 2 April
2:45pm Swansea City v Tottenham Hotspur*
*Consequent to Swansea City v Middlesbrough moving to Sunday 2 April
3pm Chelsea v Manchester City

Saturday 8 April
7:30pm Tottenham Hotspur v Watford*
*Subject to movement to Sunday 9 April should Arsenal or Leicester City play in the UEFA Champions League on Tuesday 11 April.
12:30pm AFC Bournemouth v Chelsea

Sunday 9 April
8:30am Sunderland v Manchester United
11am Everton v Leicester City*
*Subject to Leicester City’s possible participation in the Champions League on Tuesday 11 April.

Monday 10 April
3pm Crystal Palace v Arsenal*
*Subject to Arsenal’s possible participation in the Champions League quarter-finals

Saturday 15 April
7:30pm Tottenham Hotspur v AFC Bournemouth
12:30pm Southampton v Manchester City

Sunday 16 April
8:30am West Bromwich Albion v Liverpool
11am Manchester United v Chelsea

Monday 17 April
3pm Middlesbrough v Arsenal*
*Subject to Arsenal’s possible participation in the Champions League quarter-finals

Saturday 22 April
7:30am Manchester City v West Bromwich Albion*
*Subject to Manchester City’s possible participation in the FA Cup semi-finals

Sunday 23 April
7am Leicester City v Tottenham Hotspur*
*Subject to Tottenham Hotspur’s possible participation in the FA Cup semi-finals
9:15am Burnley v Manchester United*
*Subject to Manchester United’s possible participation in the FA Cup semi-finals
9:15am Chelsea v Southampton*
*Subject to Chelsea’s possible participation in the FA Cup semi-finals
11:30am Liverpool v Crystal Palace

Saturday 29 April
12:30pm Crystal Palace v Burnley

Sunday 30 April
7am Manchester United v Swansea City
9:05am Everton v Chelsea
11:30am Tottenham Hotspur v Arsenal
*Subject to Arsenal’s possible participation in the Champions League semi-finals

Monday 1 May
3pm Watford v Liverpool