Four talking points from Manchester City v. Chelsea

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BRONX, NEW YORK – It was another celebratory evening in the world of international soccer exhibitions as Manchester City outscored and Chelsea 5-3 to secure their second straight victory over the Blues in the last three days. Here are four talking points from Saturday’s match.

More of a showcase than a match

Heading into the match it was inherently obvious that both teams would rather be elsewhere. How could they not? It was only one week earlier that they finished a long and hard Premiership season and to make matters worse, they had to play to scrimmages in America while most of their peers relaxed on the beach (or, played in the Champions League final).

But credit to the players of both teams, they put smiles on their faces and provided an entertaining performance. It was a contest that resembled an NBA All-Star match as defending took a back seat to high-octane offense.

Playing on a pitch that couldn’t have been larger than 95 x 55 yards (international pitches are between 110-120 x 70-80), the players spent 95% of the match playing up the spine of the pitch. This made for plenty of 1-2 passes and slip throughs, which, in turn meant goals galore.

It was enjoyable but to classify this as a “soccer exhibition match” seems a bit rich. Perhaps “soccer showcase” would be more appropriate.

Oscar delivers the fluff

Chelsea have some incredibly talented midfielders but perhaps none moreso than Oscar, the 21 year old Brazilian the Blues signed for £25m from Internacional last summer.

The thin playmaker slipped his way throughout the midfield last night, finding whatever space he could to terrorize the City defense. While most players preferred standing on Route 1, Oscar operated in the acres of space on the wings. With devastating foot-skills he repeatedly ran at Pablo Zabaleta and Maicon, forcing the South Americans to back-track into the box to avoid looking silly (which, Maicon frequently did).

Before he was subbed out by Yossi Benayoun in the 67th minute, nearly all of Chelsea’s attacks came through Oscar. He put Fernando Torres through on goal in the 6th minute, provided perfect aerial service to the Spaniard in the 30th, nearly curled in a corner kick in the 34th minute (Joe Hart had to tip it off the bar to prevent it from going in) and swerved one directly onto Demba Ba’s head in the 52nd minute.

And every time Oscar provided service his teammates didn’t need to move or caress the ball because the pass was perfect in every way possible. Forget silver-platter service, Oscar’s delivery is so soft it’s positively fluffy.

Samir Nasri enjoyed himself

Samir Nasri gets a (somewhat deserved) bad rap as both a player and a person.

Part of this stems from his decision to abruptly depart Arsenal and the nurturing hand of Arsene Wenger in favor of the big dollars of Manchester City. Part of this is due to his wildly inconsistent performances for Manchester City. And part of this because Nasri just always has that pissed off French-guy look on his face.

But the fact of the matter is, Nasri is a phenomenal talent and seemingly not half as bad a person as he comes off.

If there were a man-of-the-match on Saturday it would have to be Nasri. The Frenchman danced on the ball and slipped through defenders with childlike delight. His efforts resulted in a brilliant brace that had everyone in attendance picking up their jaw. Both goals were nearly identical cut-ins from the wings that drew Chelsea’s Henrique Hilario off his line, only to be duped by a stabbed back-spinning shot to the far post.

After the match most players, no doubt sick of the same old song and dance walked by journalists without a word. A few did stop to chat (Fernando Torres, Juan Mata, Gareth Barry, Micah Richards, Jack Rodwell) but no one gave more time than Nasri. The winger spoke to French media for 10-15 minutes, glowing over the match and his recent naming to the French National Team’s roster after a nearly one year hiatus.

Who knows how long it will last, but it was good to see Nasri once again enjoying himself.

Nathan Ake looked like the real deal

Although his side did concede five goals, Nathan Ake looks like he could be the real deal for Chelsea. The 18 year old went the full 90 for Rafa Benitez’ squad, spending the first half as a left-back before moving into a center-back role in the second stanza.

The Dutchman was one of the few players who kept his focus through the entire 90 minutes. Defensively, he was quite sharp, cutting out numerous through-passes and crosses while making a number of stunning tackles including a second minute thump of Carlos Tevez that stopped the Argentine truck dead in his tracks. Ake got involved offensively as well, getting off two shots of note – one, a 19th minute effort that blazed just wide and the second, a 25 yard rip that skimmed off the top of the bar to end the first half of play.

Given the lax nature of the match, making hard-and-fast predictions would be a mistake but don’t be surprised if, from time-to-time, Ake slides into Chelsea’s back four in 2013-14.

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.