Clint Dempsey returning to normal self (and the rest of the day in Europa League)

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It hasn’t been a smooth transition across London for Clint Dempsey, but given the U.S. international had not been training with Fulham prior to his move to Tottenham, it was reasonable to expect a period of adjustment. New coach, new club, new system, and having to recover from a broken routine is a recipe for struggles. That Dempsey was frequently leaving his new teammates to join the U.S. for third round CONCACAF World Cup qualifying didn’t help.

But now in December, the effects of those excuses are started to run out, which is why today’s Europa League performance against Panathinaikos was so encouraging. Dempsey set up Spurs’ opening goal (a 29th score from Emmanuel Adebayor) and forced an own, game-winning goal in the 76th. When he came off in the 80th, Dempsey had been his team’s best performer, Spurs going on to win at White Hart Lane, 3-1.

Beyond his strong performance, what was most interesting about Dempsey’s day was André Villas-Boas’s formation. The Spurs manager deployed a 4-4-2, pushing Dempsey out of the middle, to the same wide left position where he enjoyed much of his success at Fulham. The spot produced one of Dempsey’s best performances since moving to Tottenham.

Don’t expect Dempsey to keep that spot. When Gareth Bale returns to full health, the wide left position will be all his. However, if Dempsey can use this interlude to gain some confidence, he might be able to take some swagger back into his role in the middle of the park.

Other results (by group)

Group A: Liverpool tops the group after their 1-0 win at Udinese (23′ Jordan Henderson) coupled with Young Boys’ 3-1 win over a 10-man Anzhi Makhachkala left three teams tied atop the group with 10 points. Young Boys end up missing out.

Group B: Hapoel Tel Aviv and Atlético Madrid were through before the day started, but a 2-0 home win over Académica combined with the Atleti’s 1-0 loss at Viktoria Plzen gives the group to the Israeli club.

Group C: Borussia Monchengladbach routed Fenerbahçe in Istanbul (3-0) but it didn’t matter. The two teams had already locked up second and first in the group (respectively). Marseille and Cyprus’s AEL are out.

Group D: Bordeaux’s 2-0 win over Newcastle give the Ligue 1 side the group. The Magpies had already confirmed a knockout round spot. Portugal’s Marítimo and Belgium’s Club Brugge go hom.

Group E: Molde’s 1-0 upset in Stuttgart guaranteed the group to Steaua Bucharest, but it was the Romanian club’s draw at Copenhagen that ensured the German side squeaked through in second place, besting the Danes on a tiebreaker.

Group F: Ukraine’s Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk finished a 15-point group stage with a 4-0 rout of Sweden’s AIK, while third place PSV got a for-pride win in Napels, 3-1 over second place Napoli.

Group G: Basel’s 0-0 draw at Genk assured the two club go through, the Belgian’s in first place. Sporting’s match against Hungary’s Videoton was suspended because of a waterlogged field in Lisbon. When it’s played on Friday, it won’t matter.

Group H: Rubin Kazan and Inter Milan were guaranteed first and second going into the day. Each drew on Thursday, Inter at home to Azerbaijan’s Neftçi and Rubin at Partizan Belgrade.

Group I: Another group that was settled two weeks ago. Lyon’s 2-0 win over Israel’s Ironi Kiryat Shmona put them on 16 points, while Sparta Prague finished second after their 0-0 drew at Athletic Bilbao.

Group J: Tottenham finished two points behind Lazio after the Italians win 4-1 in Maribor. Sergio Floccari had two goals. For Spurs, Brad Friedel got the start in goal.

Group K: Ukraine’s Metalist Kharkiv and Germany’s Bayer Leverkusen had already locked up spots one and two. Metalist lost a meaningless game at 10-man Rapid Wien (1-0) while Bayer defeated Rosenborg (1-0) at home. Both Mix Diserkud (Rosenborg) and Terrence Boyd (Rapid) saw time, though Boyd started on the bench.

Group L: Hannover’s 1-1 draw at Levante kept the group in their hands, holding the Spaniards in second place. Steve Cherundolo played the last 20 minutes for Hannover. Helsingborg’s 3-1 win at Twente was meaningless.

MLS Snapshot: Toronto FC hold Crew on the road

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The game in 100 words (or less): Without two of its stars, Toronto FC set out to play compact and hold on for a draw on the road, and that’s exactly what they did. Michael Bradley recorded 17 recoveries and a trio of interceptions as TFC broke up play and covered the passing lanes, frustrating the Columbus Crew all night. The best chance fell to Harrison Afful late, but TFC goalkeeper Alex Bono made a crucial save to keep it at 0-0.

Three moments that mattered

‘ — The starting lineup — In a game with chances few and far between, the tactical set-up by Greg Vanney – in which his side without Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore came out in a 4-1-4-1 formation – proved to be the difference in the game, frustrating the Crew all night.

52′ — Pedro Santos penalty kick no-call — Justin Meram plays a neat pass through the TFC backline that Santos runs on to, and he appears to be taken down in the box by Bono. Referee Robert Sbiga doesn’t blow the whistle and lets play continue, where Ola Kamara takes a shot that’s deflected away. Santos appeals for video review, and receives a yellow card for his efforts.

85′ — Big Save Bono — Gregg Berhalter’s 77th minute substitution to bring on Kekutah Manneh helped to push Afful higher up the field, which led to this late-game chance. Bono, who hadn’t had a whole lot to do, came up with a massive stop to keep the tie level.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the Match: Alex Bono, Toronto FC

Three things: Being happy with 0-0, and sabotage by Precourt

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On what felt sure to be a seminal night in franchise history, Columbus Crew SC were held by Toronto FC to a 0-0 draw in the first leg of the 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs Eastern Conference finals on Tuesday. Leg 2 will be played next Wednesday, Nov. 29.

[ RECAP: TFC hold Crew SC to scoreless draw in leg 1 of East finals ]

We learned (roughly) three things over the course of the 90 minutes…


Who’s happiest with 0-0?

There’s a case to be made that both sides will be quite happy with Tuesday’s result — Crew SC for the fact they conceded no away goals, and TFC facing no deficit whatsoever before their home leg — but it’s quite clear that TFC should be the happier of the two, given 1) they were the best regular-season team in MLS history, this season; and, more importantly, 2) Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore were suspended for leg 1 (they’ll both be back for leg 2) and Crew SC failed to capitalize anywhere meaningful.

TFC lost once at BMO Field all season, while Columbus managed just four victories away from home. Granted, any draw where both sides score would see Crew SC through to MLS Cup, which they would host no matter the opponent (54 points in the regular season; Seattle Sounders and Houston Dynamo finished on 54 and 50, respectively).


TFC’s tactical adjustment pays off

For all of the regular season, TFC head coach Greg Vanney deployed a back-three, with great success — 69 points, an all-time regular-season record. Nov. 21, three games from lifting (or losing) MLS Cup, is hardly the ideal time to deviate from the only path you’ve known.

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Alas, the absences of Giovinco and Altidore, TFC’s permanent strike partnership in the 3-5-2, changed everything. Without Altidore’s hold-up play bringing the best player to ever grace the league into attacking moves, the 3-5-2 would have quickly devolved into a 5-3-2, followed in short order by a 5-4-1. Columbus need no invitation to hold north of 60 percent of possession in a given game, which is exactly what would have happened. Not just meaningless possession, either, but camping-inside-TFC’s-defensive-third possession; 50-crosses-into-the-box possession; get-the-center-backs-forward-too possession.

Vanney was proactive with his starting lineup, putting another body in midfield by sacrificing a striker for another man in the middle, and it paid off. At right, you’ll see Crew SC’s attempted passes into/from TFC’s defensive third. Woof.


Anthony Precourt sinks to a new low

How low is Anthony Precourt willing to go in order to sabotage Crew SC, the club he owns and efforts to move to Austin, Tex., without so much as a phony attempt at a non-relocation resolution, and alienate the fans that have supported the franchise since MLS’s debut season in 1996? Tuesday night saw Precourt and Co. up the ante as they intentionally restricted entry (two gates for the entire stadium, causing thousands to miss the game’s opening minutes) into MAPFRE Stadium with the presumed intent of a half-empty venue when the television broadcast kicked off and panned left to right.

You pay good money for a ticket so you can see your team play, which ultimately results in filling the pockets of the villain whose no. 1 goal it is to steal your team, and this is how you’re treated on gameday.

This is shameful stuff from all parties involved — Crew SC, under the leadership and direction of Precourt, and MLS, who have allowed this entire saga to be played out in a public forum and enabling Precourt every step of the way.

Report: Crystal Palace to build new stadium

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Crystal Palace may have a new home in the next few years.

That’s according to reports out of English, which state that Crystal Palace owner Steve Parish is set to make a major stadium announcement before Christmas.

Crystal Palace’s home stadium, Selhurst Park, is nearly 100 years old, and the club has looked over the last few years at either new locations for a stadium in South London or ways to renovate the current ground.

“When I came into this thing, the aim was to bring something for all of us to be proud of on the pitch and very importantly off the pitch,” Parish told the Croydon Advertiser. “We want to give everybody in Croydon a south London stadium that we can all be proud of and not lose our atmosphere and uniqueness.

“That’s a dream for me, a lifelong dream and one that hopefully everybody will share when they see what we’ve put together. It’s fantastically exciting times for us to look forward to.”

Unlike in America, where many sports owners demand a new stadium every 20-25 years or so, in England, there are many stadiums still in use across the Football League and Premier League that were initially built in the 1800s.

It’s unclear who would pay for a new Crystal Palace stadium, what it would look like and how many seats it would hold, but perhaps a new stadium and facility could help

FOLLOW LIVE – MLS Conference Finals, Leg 1

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There’s never been more on the line in the latest Trilliam Cup matchup.

For the first time, Toronto FC and the Columbus Crew will meet in the MLS Cup playoffs, kicking off at 8:00 p.m., with both teams taking different paths to the Eastern Conference finals.

Toronto FC battled the New York Red Bulls to win on away goals, after a 2-1 win in Red Bull Arena in the first leg, but tempers flared and the Supporters Shield winners will be without both Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore on Tuesday night. The Crew meanwhile survived an incredible 120 minutes at Atlanta United to win in a shootout, and then carried that momentum into a 4-3 aggregate victory over New York City FC.

[FOLLOW: MLS Conference Finals Play-by-Play]

Now, with the Crew’s status in Columbus still up in the air, Crew fans have one chance to pack MAPFRE Stadium to support their team and prove to the league they can support an MLS franchise.

Meanwhile, in the Western Conference, the upstart Houston Dynamo host a sold-out crowd as the defending MLS Cup champions Seattle Sounders visit, with kickoff set for 9:30 p.m.

The Dynamo stunned the injury-riddled Portland Timbers in the last round and the Dynamo has lost just once at home in MLS action this calendar year. On the other side, the Sounders are getting a major boost, with Osvaldo Alonso and Jordan Morris close to returning, either in this game or next week, and Clint Dempsey remains fit and raring to go back in his home state.

Follow all the action from tonight’s MLS Cup playoff matchups.