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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.

Mourinho’s agent: Coach paid $27 million in taxes in Spain

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 04:  Jose Mourinho manager of Manchester United stands alongside his substitute Marouane Fellaini of Manchester United during the Premier League match between Everton and Manchester United at Goodison Park on December 4, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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MADRID (AP) Jose Mourinho’s agent says the Manchester United manager paid more than 26 million euros ($27 million) in taxes when he lived in Spain from 2010-13.

The information was made public on Tuesday by Gestifute, a company run by Mourinho’s agent, Jorge Mendes.

[ MORE: Pulisic wanted by Arsenal, Spurs ]

The Portuguese company has been releasing details about its clients’ tax declarations after European media outlets published what they claimed were details of apparent tax arrangements made by top soccer players and coaches, including Mourinho, Cristiano Ronaldo and Mesut Ozil.

Gestifute, which also has Ronaldo as a client, has already published documents allegedly showing that Spanish fiscal authorities have certified that Mourinho and Real Madrid star Ronaldo are “up to date on … obligations.”

Mourinho coached Real Madrid from 2010-13 and took charge of United this season.

Staying in Dallas: New contract for MLS Defender of the Year Hedges

HOUSTON, TX - MARCH 12:  Giles Barnes #10 of the Houston Dynamo battles for the ball with Matt Hedges #24 of FC Dallas during their game at BBVA Compass Stadium on March 12, 2016 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
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This is going to turn out to be one of the most exciting years of Matt Hedges’ life.

The FC Dallas man lead one of the best back lines in Major League Soccer to the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup and the Supporters’ Shield.

[ MORE: PST talks with Hedges, Zimmerman ]

He’s also likely set for a chance to return to the USMNT fold under new coach Bruce Arena, as Hedges is one of the best players to be largely ignored by Jurgen Klinsmann.

Hedges, 26, was named the MLS Defender of the Year and made the Best XI, and now he’s inked a new long-term deal with FC Dallas.

The four-year deal will keep Hedges in Dallas through his 30th birthday. Capped once, Hedges has 159 appearances with 11 goals for FCD.

Follow @NicholasMendola

Two more Pulisic suitors in North London? USMNT teen in demand

Dortmund's Emre Mor, left, celebrates with Dortmund's Felix Passlack and Dortmund's Christian Pulisic, right, after scoring during the German Bundesliga soccer match between Borussia Dortmund and SV Darmstadt in Dortmund, Germany, Saturday, Sept. 17, 2016. Dortmund defeated Darmstadt with 6-0. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
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Christian Pulisic is one of the most exciting young prospects in the world.

It’s a statement that isn’t often said without hyperbole when it comes to American standouts, but the 18-year-old Borussia Dortmund man has seen his names in the gossip pages a few times this year.

While Liverpool has often been the destination, Italian site Calcio Mercato says Premier League interest is wider than Merseyside. The clubs? Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur.

[ VOTE: Who should win USMNT player of year? ]

Dortmund doesn’t want to sell the youngster, who is locked up through 2019. The whispered price has been $31 million at a minimum, but perhaps BVB would be tempted given their wealth of young attacking options.

Pulisic has made 27 appearances for Borussia Dortmund, nabbing four goals and six assists. He has 11 caps and three goals for the USMNT as well.

Follow @NicholasMendola

Real Madrid asks for “utmost respect” to Ronaldo following tax drama

BARCELONA, SPAIN - DECEMBER 03:  Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid reacts after missing a chance during the La Liga  match between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid CF at Camp Nou on December 3, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Cristiano Ronaldo had been linked with massive tax evasion, but Real Madrid would ask you to kindly go back to treating him like a king now that he’s proven his innocence.

In a move usually reserved for politicians aiming for high office, Ronaldo’s agent released some of his tax documents to prove everything’s above board.

It all looks good, unlike what befell Neymar and Lionel Messi, so back off, huh?

[ MORE: Wednesday’s Champions League preview ]

From Real Madrid:

In view of the stories published over recent days and in consideration of the certificate issued by the Spanish Tax Agency which confirms that our player Cristiano Ronaldo is up to date with all of his tax obligations, Real Madrid C. F. call for the utmost respect to be shown towards Cristiano Ronaldo, whose conduct has been absolutely exemplary throughout all of his time at our club.

Only the utmost for CR7.

Real Madrid hosts Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday in a match which will decide Group F of the UEFA Champions League.

Follow @NicholasMendola