Offshore drilling, England: at Manchester United 2, Everton 0

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Avoiding the type of undo drama that usually defined their matches, Manchester United gave one of their most impressive performances of the season, a controlled effort that saw the Premier League leaders post a 2-0 win over sixth place Everton.

With a strong start followed by their trademark passive governance, United was never in danger of dropping points. Ryan Giggs’ 13th minute goal gave the Red Devils the lead, and although Everton controlled possession for most of the next half-hour, United doubled their lead through Robin van Persie in first half stoppage time.

Massaging play throughout the second half, the closest United came to conceding was a mid-period chance for substitute Nikica Jelavic. It was one of the few instances that stressed goalkeeper David de Gea. For much of the match, he enjoyed the scenery behind a suddenly solidifying Red Devil defense.

For most of the season, the defense has been a weakness, though nothing that’s prevented United from establishing a 12-point lead in England. With the domestic race firmly under control, the Red Devils can shift focus to Champions League, where their renewed defense will face Real Madrid Wednesday at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Man of the Match: With apologies to Nemanja Vidic (strong defensively) and Rafael (who contributed to both goals), when you play the key part of both goals of a 2-0 win, it’s going to be difficult to take Man of the Match honors away from you. On the opener, Robin van Persie won his one-on-one with John Heitinga to set up Giggs’ goal. On the second, he timed his run correctly and beat a poorly executed Everton trap, running onto a Rafael ball and rounding Tim Howard to score United’s insurance.

He could have had more. In the 10th minute, van Persie failed to take advantage of an exposed goal, shooting into the right side netting. In the 81st minute, van Persie had both posts to choose from at 12 yards out before pulling his shot wide right. On another day, the normally clinical striker would have had at least one more goal.

But even with misgivings, van Persie’s contributions to the game’s only goals make him the Man of the Match.

Threesome of knowledge: What we learned

Nemanja Vidic’s returning to his former self – You can’t blame the Manchester United captain for taking a little time to round into form. Making his 11th appearance after missing most of the 2011-12 campaign, Vidic looked close to his former elite self. He dominated his physical battle with Everton striker Victor Anichebe, handled the responsibility of marking Marouane Fellaini on set pieces, and made some astute first half reads during the half-hour stretch where Everton dominated possession. If Vidic and Rio Ferdinand continue to round into form, United’s biggest problem is solved.

Marouane Fellaini needs, gets special attention – Phil Jones hasn’t been given many starts in midfield this season. Most of that comes down to injuries, but Michael Carrick’s performances, Anderson’s health, and a full season of Paul Scholes have also played into it. With Fellaini set to occupy the space in front of United’s defense, Alex Ferguson brought Jones into midfield and tasked him with marking the big Belgian.

The results were mixed, though the scoreboard speaks for itself. Fellaini’s life was made more difficult, but he still saw a lot of the ball. Jones’ assignment allowed him to be pulled out of position, leaving more space in front of Vidic and Jonny Evans. Thanks to the awareness of Tom Cleverley, Ryan Giggs, and Wayne Rooney (who covered the space between midfield and the left flank), United was never punished for the tactic.

The approached highlighted Fellaini’s importance. He’s so key to Everton’s success that Ferguson elected to essential man-mark him. As Gary Neville noted on broadcast, it’s something Ferguson’s rarely done.

Everton’s defense just not good enough – On the first goal, you saw why John Heitinga’s no longer a regular starter. Phil Neville and Phil Jagielka each contributed to the second. Tim Howard made a number of bad reads (with poor execution) coming off his line. Everton’s defense wasn’t near good enough to contain a United team who, while they don’t generate a ton of chances, are the most clinical team in the league.

Packaged for takeaway

  • Ryan Giggs looked like he has another year in him. He scored for the 21st consecutive season, showed good flexibility and awareness in defense, and created what should have been a second van Persie goal. 
  • The two teams set up nearly identically, both in 4-4-2 formations with a forward withdrawn. A big tactical difference was how the defenses dealt with that withdrawn forward. United marked Fellaini with Jones. Everton did nothing special for Rooney.
  • Rafael had a very good day at right back. He started the movement for the first goal, assisted on the second, and make a number of good defensive plays, including a key first half clearance on a Kevin Mirallas ball sent through the six-yard box.
  • Everton flipped their wings to start the game, putting Steven Pienaar on the right with Kevin Mirallas on the left. It worked so well Moyes reversed his decision after 15 minutes.
  • For the third straight match, Nikica Jelavic started on the bench for Everton. Victor Anichebe again got the call up top.
  • Social media conversation noticed the off day from Tim Howard and compared it to the performance Brad Guzan gave against West Ham. Whether it’s being replicated within the national team, there’s a conversation starting about the U.S.’s No. 1. (More on Guzan’s strong season at Aston Villa.)

Sky Blue’s Sam Kerr named NWSL league MVP for 2017

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CHICAGO (AP) Sky Blue FC forward Sam Kerr has been named the National Women’s Soccer League’s Most Valuable Player for this season.

Kerr, a standout on the Australian national team, had a league-record 17 goals and became the league’s fifth Golden Boot winner to also be named MVP.

[ MORE: MLS Decision Day preview ]

She became the first NWSL player to score four goals in a game on Aug. 19 against the Seattle Reign. Kerr rallied Sky Blue from a 3-goal deficit to beat the Reign 5-4.

Kerr’s award was announced Friday. The league had earlier announced the season’s other award winners: North Carolina’s Abby Dahlkemper was named Defender of the Year, teammate Ashley Hatch was named Rookie of the Year, Portland’s Adrianna Franch was named Goalkeeper of the Year and the Thorns’ Mark Parsons was named Coach of the Year.

The Mendy Effect: Pep praises injured back

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Full back Benjamin Mendy cost Pep Guardiola and Manchester City $68 million, but perhaps he’ll be just as valuable as a very expensive sports psychologist.

The “Shark Team” member was amusing on social media even before his ACL injury sent him to the sidelines until at least April, but he’s become a must-follow Twitter fixture with his in-game messages (See some of his work below).

[ MORE: MLS Decision Day preview ]

City faces Burnley at 10 a.m. ET Saturday (Watch live on CNBC and online via NBCSports.com).

It’s fairly clear his act has translated in private, too, as apparently Mendy is just as good in group messages (Let us in, Pep. We won’t tell anyone). From ManCity.com:

“Usually, players who are out for a long time with injury are sad. They sometimes train apart and feel isolated.

“Mendy decided to be present. He is communicating on social media, WhatsApp and he calls his teammates and messages me. He is going to be so important outside the pitch because people like him make the atmosphere much better.”

It’s not surprising for anyone who’s been following the former Le Havre, Marseille and Monaco man.

Keep in mind, these Tweets below are from the last few days alone!

Ozil to Manchester United?!? Wenger reacts to gossip

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Sometimes, even the biggest Arsene Wenger detractors have to feel for the guy.

Coming off a thrilling late win in Serbia, one that saw Olivier Giroud cap off a team goal straight out of the creative Wenger playbook, the manager should’ve been discussing how to stretch those good vibes into this weekend’s visit to Goodison Park.

[ MORE: MLS Decision Day preview ]

Yet no. Instead of talking about how the Gunners would respect the struggling Toffees, Wenger had to address speculation from several outlets claiming Mesut Ozil would move to Manchester United, perhaps as soon as January.

Feeling it? No, no Wenger was not feeling it. From Arsenal.com:

“We have to deal with all kinds of speculation when the players are at the end of their contracts. On the other hand, to be professional is to give 100 per cent as long as you are somewhere. For the rest, we came out many times and said that’s the situation. It [the media] can come out tomorrow and say that he extends his contract here. It will be exactly the same, it will not change anything. When you play the next game, commit 100 per cent. … When a player plays for Arsenal Football Club, his commitment cannot be linked with the length of his contract, it has just to be linked with the responsibility and the ambition he has to win the football game.”
Of course most big clubs have to deal with such drama on a year-to-year basis and, yes, having Ozil and Alexis Sanchez still in town was completely avoidable. But the idea that Ozil could leave, for free, to Manchester United? We’re sure Gooners the world over will be thrilled with the gossip.

MLS Decision Day preview: Much at stake

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Four teams can claim a Western Conference second round berth, while four more can earn a valuable first-round bye in the East.

Yep, there’s plenty to play for beyond the West’s final playoff spot Sunday during Major League Soccer’s Decision Day, when every team will take the pitch for 4 p.m. ET kickoffs.

[ MORE: Conte feels pressure ]

Here’s what we do know regarding the playoffs:

  1. Supporters’ Shield winning Toronto FC gets a first round bye, while No. 6 seed New York Red Bulls are headed to the road for a first round playoff
  2. New England, Montreal, Philadelphia, Orlando, DC, Minnesota, Colorado, and LA will not make the playoffs
  3. Full stop.

So, yes, this will be fun.

First, let’s look at the Eastern Conference Standings ahead of Sunday’s extravaganza:

Eastern Conference
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Toronto FC 33 20 8 5 72 35 37 13-3-1 7-5-4 68
x – New York City FC 33 16 8 9 54 41 13 10-4-2 6-4-7 56
x – Chicago 33 16 7 10 61 44 17 12-3-2 4-4-8 55
x – Atlanta 33 15 9 9 68 38 30 11-2-3 4-7-6 54
x – Columbus 33 16 5 12 51 47 4 12-2-3 4-3-9 53
x – New York 33 13 8 12 51 46 5 9-6-2 4-2-10 47

— New York City FC controls its bye destiny, though Columbus could join them on 56 points and would pass them on tiebreakers (wins).

— If that happens, Chicago could claim the second bye with a win or draw in Houston (The Fire owns the goal differential tiebreaker).

— If New York City and Chicago lose or draw, Atlanta could finish second with a home win over TFC.

— Columbus can finish second with a win and non-wins for Chicago and Atlanta.

Western Conference
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
x – Vancouver 33 15 7 11 49 47 2 9-5-3 6-2-8 52
x – Portland 33 14 8 11 58 49 9 10-4-2 4-4-9 50
x – Seattle 33 13 11 9 49 39 10 10-5-1 3-6-8 50
x – Sporting KC 33 12 13 8 39 27 12 10-6-1 2-7-7 49
x – Houston 33 12 11 10 54 45 9 11-4-1 1-7-9 47
San Jose 33 12 7 14 36 58 -22 9-5-2 3-2-12 43
FC Dallas 33 10 13 10 43 47 -4 7-7-2 3-6-8 43
Real Salt Lake 33 12 6 15 47 54 -7 8-4-4 4-2-11 42

Byes

— Vancouver finishes first with a win or draw at Portland. The ‘Caps could finish as low as third with a loss to Portland and a Seattle win versus Colorado.

— Portland finishes first — and wins the Cascadia Cup — with a win over visiting Vancouver.

— Seattle can claim a first round bye with a win over visiting Colorado and a Vancouver win over Portland.

— Sporting KC can finish second with a win at Real Salt Lake and non-wins for Portland and Seattle.

Final playoff spot

— San Jose claims the sixth seed with a home win over Minnesota. They can also finish sixth with a draw joined by non-wins for FC Dallas at home to LA and Real Salt Lake at home versus SKC.

— FC Dallas claims the sixth seed with a win over LA and a San Jose draw or loss versus Minnesota. FCD gets sixth with a draw, and a San Jose loss coupled with a RSL loss or draw versus SKC.

—  Real Salt Lake gets sixth with a win over SKC, and non-wins from San Jose and Dallas. RSL could also get sixth with a draw and losses for San Jose and Dallas.

(Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images)

Schedule
FC Dallas vs. LA Galaxy
DC United vs. New York Red Bulls
San Jose vs. Minnesota United
Real Salt Lake vs. Sporting KC
Houston vs. Chicago
Seattle vs. Colorado
Philadelphia vs. Orlando City
Portland vs. Vancouver
Montreal vs. New England
New York City vs. Columbus
Atlanta vs. Toronto

Predictions

— NYCFC hangs on for a draw against Columbus, earning a bye, leaving Chicago to host New York Red Bulls and Atlanta off to Columbus for the first round of the playoffs (We have Toronto beating Atlanta on Sunday).

— Vancouver and Portland draw, while Seattle beats Colorado. The ‘Caps and Sounders get byes, while Seattle takes back the Cascadia Cup.

— San Jose beats Minnesota, gaining the West’s sixth seed. The Quakes head to Portland for the first round, while SKC hosts Houston.