The final nine rounds of play will tell all in this one, especially as one of my top three choices has just turned up injured and will miss one match, possibly a second.
1. Sporting Kansas City’s Matt Besler
Whereas some center backs will have nights of dominance mixed with nights of wobble, Besler (pictured) is as steady as the most loyal high school sweetheart. He never looks rattled back there, never seems to have a bad match. Plus, Besler’s confidence keeps growing, in MLS and in international waters.
Fellow KC center back Aurelien Collin adds a lesser stable element along the club’s back line, but so long as Besler is around, things always seem under control in the whole.
2. New England’s Jose Goncalves
Who knew that the Portuguese veteran would become one of the most important off-season additions around MLS? Goncalves is providing the stabilizer arm that Jay Heaps’ team lacked in the back last year. And don’t underestimate his influence on rookie Andrew Farrell, who is starting along the right.
New England’s defense is third in goals allowed, with 23 conceded in 24 matches.
3. New York Red Bulls Jamison Olave
Yes, Olave has suffered the odd rickety performance here and there. But on his game, no MLS center back is more dominant. The guy is so big that it’s easy to forget how fast he is. And all that speed helps cover for mistakes made by the Red Bulls outside backs – and there are several of those each match.
We’ll know more about how valuable the veteran Colombian is to New York this week, as Olave sits out injured. He may miss a second game with a quad tear picked up last weekend.
Manchester City fell 2-1 to Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday in a massive battle in the Premier League title race.
[ RECAP: Man City 2-1 Spurs ]
While Christian Eriksen‘s late winner was the game’s deciding goal, it was Harry Kane‘s opener from the penalty spot that has caused some controversy.
Tottenham’s Danny Rose whipped in a cross that was blocked away by a jumping Raheem Sterling in the 54th minute. Sterling had his back to the ball, but the cross took a deflection off his elbow and referee Mark Clattenburg signaled for a penalty.
Speaking after the match, City boss Manuel Pellegrini was extremely angered by the decision, saying City were the better side until the penalty changed the flow of the match. Pellegrini also thought back to Tottenham’s win over Man City in September when the same official was in charge when Spurs scored two goals that looked to be offside.
It was a penalty that referee Mark Clattenburg wanted to sign for and he gave the sign. It was absolutely the wrong decision, it hit the back of Raheem Sterling then his elbow. Sterling was not even seeing the ball. It was the same referee in the first game where there were two clear goals in offside and we lost 4-1.
It was the key moment that decided the game; before that they did not shoot towards our goal and did not have any chances. We took the risks, the spirit of the team was good but it was not enough.
The rules regarding a hand-ball have been the topic of much conversation this season, as there seems to be a gray area where officials are forced to make judgement calls, with this decision very harsh.
[ MORE: Three things we learned from Tottenham’s win over Man City ]
Now six points behind leaders Leicester, Manchester City will take a break from Premier League action and play a string of important cup ties. First up is a fifth-round FA Cup match against Chelsea before a long trip to Dynamo Kiev in the Champions League, followed by the League Cup final against Liverpool.
Canada and Trinidad & Tobago face off for the top spot in Group B in CONCACAF Women’s Olympic qualifying today in Houston.
[ WATCH LIVE: T&T vs. Canada ]
With wins in their opening matches, both sides are tied on three points and will look to take sole possession of first place on the Road to Rio.
Canada started off qualification with an easy 5-0 win over Guyana, while Trinidad & Tobago needed two late goals to beat Guatemala 2-1.
[ WATCH LIVE: T&T vs. Canada live online via NBC Sports Live Extra ]
After taking home the bronze medal at the 2012 Olympics, the Canadians will be favorites along with the United States to qualify for the Rio Games from CONCACAF.
Sunday’s Premier League triple header on NBCSN delivered drama, goals and controversy by the time the dust settled on the day’s action.
[ MORE: Saturday’s action ]
All told, we saw 12 goals, a red card, two penalties and a tightened title race.
Let’s take a spin through those three matches.
Arsenal 2-1 Leicester City — RECAP
The Emirates Stadium crowd saw a little bit of everything. The Gunners went down 1-0 on a controversially drawn and lethally taken penalty from Jamie Vardy, then saw a glimmer of hope when Foxes defender Danny Simpson took two quick and silly yellow cards. Theo Walcott found the leveler and Danny Welbeck, out for 10 months, returned to score the winner in the fourth of four minutes of stoppage time. The Gunners are now two points back of Leicester and nine goals of differential behind No. 2 Tottenham.
Aston Villa 0-6 Liverpool — RECAP
Having two of your brightest attackers in the lineup can do a lot for an offense’s potency, and Philippe Coutinho found Daniel Sturridge to open the scoring very early at Villa Park. A deluge of goals followed, and Villa will be wondering if there’s any way out of the drop zone after James Milner, Divock Origi, Nathaniel Clyne, Emre Can and Kolo Toure also scored for the Reds to bury the home side’s goal differential with its table status.
Manchester City 1-2 Tottenham Hotspur — RECAP
If Vardy’s penalty was controversial, Mark Clattenberg’s decision to award one to Tottenham was cataclysmic. Raheem Sterling‘s leaping block of a cross was deemed to be a handball, and Harry Kane beat countrymate Joe Hart with a PK. Super sub Kelechi Iheanacho equalized for the Etihad set, but fellow late game entry Erik Lamela sprung Christian Eriksen for a tidy match winner in the 83rd minute.
FA Cup, Europa League, Premier League? Yes, please. Harry Kane wants them all.
Kane converted a penalty kick as Spurs bested Manchester City 2-1 on Sunday at the Etihad Stadium, moving to within two points of the Premier League’s top spot.
[ MORE: Match recap | Watch Eriksen’s winner ]
The big striker was euphoric after Christian Eriksen also scored to help Spurs pick up the win, and said the media can decide what it wants about their chances; He knows they can do it.
From the BBC:
“That is up to you lot if we are challengers, we know what we are capable of. We are still in three competitions and we are taking them all very seriously. We are confident we can beat anyone in the league, you saw that today and we came away victorious. We are buzzing.”
Spurs have captured 15-straight points in making their run to second. There’s plenty of time before March 5’s big North London Derby with Arsenal, but we’re looking forward to it.
Before then, Spurs have a pair with Fiorentina in the Europa League, an FA Cup date with Crystal Palace, and PL fixtures versus Swansea and West Ham.
Title race on!