MLS Preview: Houston Dynamo at Columbus Crew

Leave a comment
  • Federico Higuain is still missing for the Crew
  • After a July in decline, the Dynamo was 4-1-1 in two competitions in August
  • Houston will play its seventh match in its sixth city in the last 26 days

These are busy, busy times for the Houston Dynamo, and these are desperate, desperate times for the Columbus Crew.

The sides clash at Crew Stadium as MLS Round 28 kicks off Wednesday; this is the first of 11 league contests during a week that’s busier than it should be during an international fixture date.

Houston is smack in the middle of that massive traffic jam in the Eastern Conference, as 8 of 10 clubs jostle for the playoff exit ramp. Columbus is at the tail end of the jam-up, still relevant, although just barely.

There is opportunity for both clubs, although this opportunity factor looks different from either side. Suffice to say, Columbus needs Wednesday’s match (7:30 p.m. ET) in the worst possible way. The club’s ability to reach the playoffs hangs in the balance, and with matches in coming days at Montreal and Sporting Kansas City (toughies, both), Wednesday’s contest in Ohio against the two-time MLS runner-up represents the best chances for points until later this month.

The problem is that vital playmaker Federico Higuain must sit out one more match for his ill-considered actions two weekends back at Real Salt Lake. That takes a lot of Crew offense off the table, and there wasn’t enough to begin with.

It’s impossible to tell how the men in yellow will deal with Monday’s big news; manager Robert Warzycha was fired after five years in charge at Crew Stadium. There could be some feel of “fresh start,” which is always a potential motivator. On the other hand, interim manager Brian Bliss seems less than likely to land the position full time, so perhaps the “fresh start” element is marginalized in this case.

From Houston’s side, the opportunity factor lies mostly in Higuain’s absence. About this time last year the Argentine playmaker made his MLS debut in the second half against Houston and very nearly took down the Dynamo with an inspired second-half performance. (It was a harbinger of things to come for Higuain, who very nearly drove his team from behind into the playoffs.)

Houston’s chances to collect valuable road points rises dramatically without Higuain to deal with. Meanwhile, the Dynamo is getting a bit healthier, with Omar Cummings and (even more importantly) Ricardo Clark (pictured above) getting closer to a return.

The returning players are critical to a club taxed extensively by travel; this will be Houston’s seventh match in six different cities (and three different countries) in the last 26 days. It is also Houston’s second road match in four nights.

Wasteful Poland snatches late 2-1 win at Montenegro

Associated Press
Leave a comment

Poland was in control for much of the game, but failed to finish in front of net until Borussia Dortmund full-back Lukasz Piszczek found the winner with eight minutes to go as the visitors increased their lead at the top of World Cup qualification Group E.

Robert Lewandowski put Poland in front five minutes before halftime with a brilliant free-kick that left Montenegran goalkeeper Mladen Blozovic completely baffled, but Montenegro looked sturdy at the back for much of the game and dangerous on the counter. They’d hit just past the hour mark as Stefan Mugosa headed in to level the score.

Lewandowski had a pair of massive chances in the second half, but couldn’t get either to go down as Blozovic was there to turn him away, and Montenegran defenders cleared off the line as well. Luckily for Poland, they had Piszczek who burst down the right to beat Aleksandar Sofranac, and he produced a stunning finish looped over the closing Blozovic from a tight angle, dinked off the far post, and into the back of the net.

That would do it for Montenegro who had little attacking ability outside of their countering abilities, and with Poland happy to ease out the clock, the hosts didn’t have enough.

The win pushes Poland six points clear at the top of Group E, a sizeable lead with five matches remaining. The battle for the second-place spot is tight, with Montenegro still in command on seven points, level with Denmark but ahead on goal differential. Armenia and Romania are even with six points each.

Netherlands manager Danny Blind fired after Bulgaria loss

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Netherlands are in real trouble, and the manager has paid the price.

The Dutch national team has parted ways with Danny Blind the day after a 2-0 loss to Bulgaria left the Dutch fourth in their World Cup qualification group halfway through.

The move garnering all the headlines from Saturday’s loss was Blind’s decision to start 17-year-old defender Matthijs de Ligt. The Ajax youth product, who has just two Eredivisie starts to his credit, made two crucial errors and yanked at halftime, but the damage had been done. Spas Delev scored twice in the opening 20 minutes for Bulgaria, and that was all the home side needed as the Dutch offered little in front of goal.

Blind was also criticized for not getting Memphis Depay on the field as they chased the game. The Netherlands held 74% possession, but could only manage 3 shots on target. Depay has been in good form since his January move to Lyon, with five goals in his 10 Ligue 1 appearances.

This decision was something Blind saw coming. He told national broadcaster NOS immediately after the Bulgaria loss, “I blame myself. It can’t go on like this. Things have to change.”

“I need to think about [my future]. I do not throw the towel in here. I’m incredibly disappointed, especially since I had a good feeling about this match. It makes sense that I put myself in front of the mirror.”

However, the problems for the Dutch go far deeper than Danny Blind. They missed out on Euro 2016 largely thanks to the failed 2nd tenure for Guus Hiddink. His assistant Blind took over, but the results have been equally as poor. The Netherlands sit fourth in UEFA World Cup qualification Group A, with losses to Bulgaria and France plus a draw with Sweden. It’s not over for them though, as they sit three points back of a second place spot with five matches to go, and three of those five at home.

With the Netherlands still yet to play their friendly against Italy this coming week, former goalkeeper Fred Grim takes over on an interim basis. Grim collected 101 caps for the Netherlands, and has served as the Netherlands U-21 manager for the last two years. Before that, he took charge of his first full managerial job as head man of Dutch 2nd-tier club Almere City.

Defoe walks out Bradley Lowery, scores in England win

Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Jermain Defoe’s friendship with terminally-ill Bradley Lowery has been special to watch unfold, and the Sunderland striker brought his little buddy to Wembley today.

Then he notched a match-winner.

Lowery walked Defoe out onto the field in a replica England kit before Sunday’s World Cup qualifier against Lithuania, and then Defoe scored his 20th goal for country.

[ MORE: Under-the-radar Premier League XI ]

It was his first since 2013, the last year Defoe was called up for the Three Lions.

Here’s the goal, which was followed by a second-half Jamie Vardy tally as England stayed atop Group F with a 2-0 win over Lithuania.

Two Russian soccer fans stabbed in Serbia

Photo by Srdjan Stevanovic/Getty Images
Leave a comment

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) Two Russian fans have been hospitalized with serious injuries after being stabbed following a friendly soccer match between Red Star Belgrade and Lokomotiv Moscow.

Serbian Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic said Sunday police were looking for the knife-wielding perpetrators who attacked a group of Lokomotiv fans in downtown Belgrade late Saturday.

Serbian media reports said the Russian fans were attacked by supporters of Red Star’s rival Partizan Belgrade.

[ MORE: Under-the-radar Premier League XI ]

The match, which Red Star won 2-1, was meant to promote Serbia’s traditional friendship with Russia.

Stefanovic says “nobody should think they could hurt the Serbian-Russian friendship” with such attacks.

Serbia has seen a surge of fan violence inside and outside stadiums. In 2009, a French football fan was fatally beaten in Belgrade.