Hey Nerds! Zonal Marking geeked out on your MLS Cup!

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Just imagine Liz Lemon saying that headline …

… and please, don’t take offensive to it.. Anybody who reads the site regularly (a) is a saint!, and (b) knows I’m not above digging deep into the tactical side of things (as you’ll see in about 300 words).

Of course, if the virtual mecca for that kind of stuff is Michael Cox’s Zonal Marking, which once a year casts its eye west for Major League Soccer’s final.

The first time I remember Cox doing this was for the Colorado-Dallas final in Toronto (2010). Hopefully he didn’t make too many judgments based on that game, because that was rough 120 minutes (albeit with a decent payoff).

The last two seasons have given ZM some better soccer to write about, with Saturday’s match turning into an exhibition of what MLS 2.0 has to offer.

Click here to get all of Zonal Marking’s thoughts, but the general points:

  • 4-4-2 vs. 4-4-2 made for a straight forward battle;
  • Kofie Sarkodie overlapping a pinched-in Boniek Garcia made Houston’s right the first half’s key battle zone;
  • Unusual for today’s style of soccer, a working the channels approach dominated the game on both sides;
  • Calen Carr’s departure hurt Houston’s ability to utilize that approach in the second half;
  • LA’s dominance on set pieces defined the second half, Houston lacking somebody to counter Omar Gonzalez’s aerial dominance.

A couple of things that help round out the picture, things that are difficult to pick up without watching the teams throughout the season:

  • Part of LA’s success on set pieces was due to Tally Hall’s tendency to stay on his line. On the second goal, Gonzalez was able to cut him off, winning Beckham’s chip;
  • Houston was playing a higher line than usual, perhaps a consequence of Kinnear asking Clark to venture forward more to try and contain Beckham (and moving his defense up to keep from being stretched). At one point in the first half, LA was called for offside within five yards of the center line;
  • I would say the freedom Beckham had was less to do with Clark playing deep than LA’s adjusting to Clark staying at the same level as his wide midfielders (if not higher). Beckham ended up dropping deep and to the right, at times drawing Calen Carr’s attention because of how far he’d drifted;
  • Landon Donovan was pulling Houston’s center backs all over the place. The 12th minute long ball from Beckham to Robbie Keane (which ended in Donovan missing a sitter) was created by Donovan pulling Bobby Boswell out of position. Jermaine Taylor also had trouble deciding when to release and when to track Donovan.
  • Aside from Adam Moffat’s assist on Calen Carr’s goal, Houston’s central midfield really struggled in the offensive phase. Ricardo Clark continually let himself get lost between Beckham and Juninho, while neither he nor Moffat where getting the ball to Garcia and Brad Davis quick enough.

LIVE: Seven Premier League clubs in League Cup action

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Six Premier League teams enter the League Cup (officially known as the Carabao Cup in 2017-18) on Wednesday with plenty of potential upsets lined up for the second round.

[ LIVE: Follow League Cup scores ]

Out of the seven PL clubs who began their League Cup quest on Tuesday, six remain with Watford the only casualties to lower-league opposition.

Newcastle, Southampton, West Ham and Stoke City are all in action on Wednesday as all six PL clubs face lower-league opponents for a spot in the third round, which is when the seven PL teams in European action enter the competition.

U.S. national team players to watch out for include Huddersfield Town’s Danny Williams who starts against Rotherham, while Eric Lichaj starts for Nottingham Forest at Newcastle United.

Below is the schedule for the League Cup games on Wednesday with all games to kick off at 2:45 p.m. ET unless otherwise stated.


Wednesday’s League Cup second round games

Newcastle United vs. Nottingham Forest
Southampton vs. Wolves
Huddersfield Town vs. Rotherham United
Cheltenham vs. West Ham United
Stoke City vs. Rochdale – 3 p.m. ET
Blackburn Rovers vs. Burnley

LIVE: Liverpool-Hoffenheim headlines UCL playoffs

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Expect another big UEFA Champions League night at Anfield on Wednesday as Liverpool look to get by Bundesliga side Hoffenheim and reaching the UCL group stage.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ] 

Jurgen Klopp’s side lead 2-1 after the first leg in Germany last week, meaning Hoffenheim will have to score twice at Anfield to have any chance of advancing. Given the fact that Hoffenheim had a penalty kick saved and spurned several glorious chance at home in the first leg, Liverpool’s shaky defense could provide another nervous evening for the home fans.

Klopp will be hoping his jet-propelled attack of Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino will have enough to put Liverpool in the UCL group stage for the first time since 2014.

Liverpool and CSKA Moscow are the only home teams to return with a first leg lead, while Sporting Lisbon head to Steaua Bucharest after a 0-0 draw in Portugal for the first leg.

APOEL Nicosia travel to Prague to take on Slavia with a tidy 2-0 lead on aggregate but an early goal for the hosts could change the entire complexion of that tie. Azerbaijan outfit Qarabag head to the Danish capital with a 1-0 lead over FC Copenhagen but, again, an early goal for the hosts will make all the difference.

The five winners of these ties will join Celtic, Sevilla, Maribor, Napoli and Olympiacos in the group stage draw on Thursday as those five teams qualified via the playoffs on Tuesday.

Below is the full schedule for Wednesday’s games, which kick off at 2:45 p.m. ET, while you can click on the link above to follow live commentary on all five matches.

Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League playoff second legs

Liverpool vs. Hoffenheim (Liverpool lead 2-1 on aggregate)
FC Copenhagen vs. FK Qarabag (FK Qarabag lead 1-0 on aggregate)
Slavia Prague vs. APOEL (APOEL lead 2-0 on aggregate)
CSKA Moscow vs. Young Boys (CSKA Moscow lead 1-0 on aggregate)
Steaua Bucharest vs. Sporting Lisbon (0-0 after first leg)

Premier League player Power Rankings – Week 2

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For the second time in the 2017-18 Premier League season we rank the form players and, somewhat predictably, there are plenty of new entries and lots of chopping and changing in our rankings.

[ MORE: Power Rankings archive ]

Remember: this is a list of the top 20 performing players right now in the Premier League.

Let us know in the comments section below if you agree with the selections of the top 20 players in the PL right now.


  1. Paul Pogba (Man United) – New entry
  2. Romelu Lukaku (Man United) – Down 1
  3. David Luiz (Chelsea) – New entry
  4. Javier Hernandez (West Ham) – New entry
  5. Wayne Rooney (Everton) – New entry
  6. Sadio Mane (Liverpool) – Up 2
  7. David Silva (Man City) – Down 3
  8. Henrikh Mkhitaryan (Man United) – New entry
  9. Aaron Mooy (Huddersfield) – Up 7
  10. Riyad Mahrez (Leicester City) – New entry
  11. Marcos Alonso (Chelsea) – New entry
  12. Alexandre Lacazette (Arsenal) – Down 7
  13. Willian (Chelsea) – New entry
  14. Steve Mounie (Huddersfield) – Down 12
  15. Manolo Gabbiadini (Southampton) – New entry
  16. Dele Alli (Tottenham) – Down 9
  17. Jordan Pickford (Everton) – New entry
  18. Harry Maguire (Leicester City) – New entry
  19. Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) – Down 9
  20. Anthony Martial (Man United) – New entry

Men In Blazers pod: Chelsea, Man United, Rooney all feature

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Rog and Davo break down Chelsea’s win at Tottenham’s footballing Airbnb, Wembley. Plus, another 4-0 win for Manchester United. And Wayne Rooney scores in Everton’s 1-1 draw with Manchester City.

All of the MiB content — pods, videos and stories can be seen here, but to really stay in touch, follow, subscribe, click here:

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