When a “fortress” in soccer is not very fortress-like

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Show me a stadium that TV types enjoy referring to as a “fortress,” as a place that’s Kevlar-tough on opposition and I’ll show you … a place that probably is none of the above.

Don’t get me wrong. I love a scarf-sporting, beer-chilled, rocking wall of synchronized noise as much as the next foam-fingered fellow.

It’s just that media members, particularly those paid for adding words to the HD moving pictures, have always found it easy to falsely equate lively grounds and packed seats with prodigious home-team performance.

Only, it’s frequently nonsense.

BMO Field was the classic case — it took forever for TV broadcasters to knock off the hyperbole, referring to Toronto FC’s ground at Exhibition Place as “Fortress BMO” and as “one of the toughest places to play in MLS” and such. It finally became painfully obvious that the team stunk, no matter how faithfully fantastic the crowds were back in the late 2000s.

Tonight MLS gives us a couple more comparative examples:

Sporting Kansas City performs insides its sumptuous, teeming ground. I really love Sporting Park, a place where owners spent generously – and absolutely nailed it. When the place is rocking, the noise trapped marvelously by the glistening roof overheard, few of those storied European or South American grounds have anything on the place.

All that said, Sporting Kansas City has never truly made it a “fortress” in terms of results. True enough that the team’s former high-pressure ways made it a difficult place to play – but the numbers are the numbers.

And they ain’t that great.

Peter Vermes’ team is a pedestrian 4-3-2 at Sporting Park this year. They tumbled out of the playoffs in 2011 and 2012 there. Plus, a crushing U.S. Open Cup loss in June to lower tier Orlando City was more devastating still because it happened inside the team’s suburban KC ground.

(MORE: Sporting Kansas City-Vancouver preview)

Since the swell and sparkly place opened three years ago, Sporting KC is 23-8-12 at home, a .674 winning percentage.

Last year’s 9-3-4 mark was ninth-best in MLS. So it’s not awful; we can probably go with “just OK.”

Now consider that Real Salt Lake is 69-13-21 all-time at Rio Tinto Stadium, a .771 winning percentage. It’s better, even if not wildly so. (RSL plays tonight at Rio Tinto.)

But when we talk about perception, that’s where we find some “there” there. Because we tend not to think of Rio Tinto as one of the more intimidating MLS places to play. It’s a pretty stadium, and difficult to pull points from because RSL has been an MLS steady performer for years now – but perhaps not cray-cray raucous the way the home grounds tend to be in Portland, Seattle, Kansas City and perhaps Philadelphia.

(MORE: Real Salt Lake-Philadelphia preview)

It all makes sense, really. After all, visiting players get all geeked and stoked to play in front of big crowds, too. Especially in MLS, where it’s still not the norm. Hardly so, unfortunately.

By the way, Portland in two-plus seasons before that loud and loyal Timbers Army at Jeld-Wen: just 21-10-11 at home.

Seattle is better, but the 38-15-17 mark (.664 winning percentage) at CenturyLink since joining MLS is even worse than Sporting Kansas City’s home mark.

Liga MX wrap: Pachuca earns first win, Leon stays unbeaten

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All of Saturday’s action from around Mexico’s top flight…

Pachuca 3-1 Lobos BUAP

A strong first-half push from the hosts was all Pachuca needed on Saturday night to earn their first victory of the 2018 Clausura season. Angel Sagal brought the home side in front after just 10 minutes off of a near-post header, before Pachuca’s lead soon doubled 14 minutes later from the penalty spot when strike Franco Jara converted on the dead-ball attempt.

Just prior to halftime, Pachuca was out to a 3-0 advantage when 20-year-old outside back Erick Aguirre tallied his first goal for the club.

Last-place side Lobos got on the board three minutes into the second stanza via a finish from Heriberto Olvera, however, it wasn’t enough to provide anything more than a consolation for the visiting side.

Necaxa 1-3 Chivas Guadalajara

Mexican international Alan Pulido made it a dream start for the visitors from Guadalajara at the Estadio Victoria, however, that lead was cancelled out in first-half stoppage time after Carlos Gonzalez leveled the match up at 1-1.

The difference proved to be with 25 minutes left to play, when a goalkeeping error by Marcelo Barovero allowed Chivas to regain possession inside the Necaxa penalty area, before Ronaldo Cisneros tapped home the winner.

Then, a third goal came just prior to the end of regulation when Edwin Hernandez killed the game off for Matias Almeyda’s men, who also earned their first victory of the Clausura season.

Rest of Saturday’s Liga MX action

Cruz Azul 0-0 Club Leon
Queretaro 0-0 Tigres UANL
Monterrey 0-0 Club Tijuana

Sunday’s matches

UNAM vs. Club America — 1 p.m. ET
Santos Laguna vs. Morelia — 7 p.m. ET

The 2 Robbies: Alexis/Mkhitaryan transfer saga and more

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Robbie Mustoe and Robbie Earle recap all the key stories from the latest Premier League Saturday fixtures including Manchester City’s 3-1 win over Newcastle (0:20), Chelsea’s 4-0 victory at Brighton (10:15) and the latest on the Alexis Sanchez/Henrikh Mkhitaryan saga after wins for Arsenal and Manchester United (19:00). Plus, a closer look at the bottom of the table and thoughts go out to James McCarthy after his serious injury against West Brom (29:00).

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

All of the The 2 Robbies content can be accessed by clicking on this link:

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Follow them on Twitter @The2Robbies

Video: Stoke’s Imbula scores stunner on loan at Toulouse

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Stoke City supporters know the name Giannelli Imbula, and perhaps they’ll be clamoring for the Frenchman to return to the bet365 Stadium if he can score more goals like this.

[ MORE: PL Roundup — Top three all victorious; Gunners thrash Palace ]

The holding midfielder is currently on loan with Ligue 1 outfit Toulouse, and for the first time this season, Imbula opened his goalscoring account in some fashion.

Right on half-hour mark, Imbula unleashed a left-footed strike from nearly 40 yards out to give Toulouse the lead over Montpellier (below).

Imbula joined Stoke during the 2015/16 PL season, and has made 26 appearances for the Potters in his time with the club, prior to his loan to France.

Willian proves he’s Chelsea’s x-factor against Brighton

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There’s a considerable difference when watching a Chelsea team that plays with and without one of its Brazilian influences in the attacking part of the field.

Willian — who first debuted for the Blues back in 2013 — hasn’t always managed to be a regular starter for Chelsea, whether it was Jose Mourinho, Guus Hiddink or current manager Antonio Conte at the helm, though.

[ SOURCES: Jack Harrison expected to join Stoke City this winter ]

The 29-year-old plays with considerable flair, something that certainly isn’t uncommon amongst many players that have grown up in Brazil.

At times Willian’s overconfidence is a significant blessing, and at others it can be considered a curse, however, the former Corinthians player’s presence is something that Chelsea needs now more than ever.

That was on display on Saturday during the side’s 4-0 win at Brighton, a match in which Chelsea dominated from start to finish with Willian on the pitch. While the performance cannot solely be attributed to the attacking midfielder’s showing, it’s easy to argue that the Blues midfielder is becoming the club’s biggest x factor — one that can determine the outcome of a match.

Just look six minutes into the match, when the Blues put together one of the best team goals you’ll see in a match this year (or any year for that matter), which of course, was started and finished by none other than Willian.

What stands out about the play isn’t the brilliant slicing shot into the near post corner by the veteran playmaker, but instead the confidence that Willian exudes and brings to a Chelsea lineup that has plenty of talent to be considered one of the best teams in England and all of Europe.

After all, Conte’s group is just a season removed from winning the Premier League and still sits inside the top three in the world’s top league.

Then, there’s the Blues’ third goal against Brighton, which was set up by a smart, and instinctive, through ball played into the path of Eden Hazard by Willian (below).

Even though Hazard ends up with a ton of time on the ball to make his next decision, which was ultimately to cut inside on his preferred right foot, the run by Willian towards the end line dragged a defender away from the Belgian international — allowing the sequence to progress.

Arguing Willian’s importance isn’t a knock on Hazard — a world-class player in his own right — or Alvaro Morata, who has had the intolerable task of replacing a key player like Diego Costa.

Instead, it simply shows that Chelsea has a plethora of talent, and that some of the club’s attacking struggles throughout the 2017/18 season can be chalked up to Willian being left out of the starting XI on a regular basis.

[ MORE: Sergio Aguero continues to display brilliance for Man City ]

The Brazilian international has scored eight goals and added seven assists this season in all competitions for the Blues, despite only starting 19 matches.

The mind of manager Conte is an ever-changing one, so maybe Willian still doesn’t get the starting nod on an every week basis, but just by watching the team’s performance at the Amex Stadium it’s quite hard to argue against the player being on the field as much as possible.