Aston Villa 0-2 Tottenham Hotspur: Townsend stays hot as Spurs get back on track (Video)

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Even when he doesn’t mean to, he scores.  It’s almost too easy.

Andros Townsend scored on a ball clearly meant as a cross, and Tottenham Hotspur won a tight tussle at Villa Park 2-0 over a foe they’ve controlled in recent years.

Following a good opening spell from Aston Villa in the first three minutes, a very physical midfield battle ensued, resulting in a number of back and forth attacks but no real build-ups.

The first major chance came in the 21st minute when Villa broke and won a free kick on the edge.  Ashley Westwood swung the ball in from a long way out into a very dangerous position, just out of the reach of a sliding Ron Vlaar and touched away by Hugo Lloris.

Villa continued to force Spurs into a host of mistakes thanks to hard pressure on every visiting player who happens to be on the ball.

The pressure also isolated Roberto Soldado completely, leaving him on an island with no source of creativity to feed the target man.

But the dream continued for Andros Townsend, and somehow Spurs got a huge break.

In the 31st minute, Townsend got a feed from Soldado in space well away from the goal on the right wing, and he sent in a cross that missed everyone, including Brad Guzan and ended up in the back of the net.  Guzan expected Soldado to get a touch to the ball, but because he missed the American was left out of position to keep out the cross.

There is no way Townsend meant it as a shot, and all he could manage after the goal was a chuckle and a smile as he was swarmed by teammates.

The goal, while unintended, sprang Tottenham to life, and finally their number 9 began to find help.  Five minutes later a Vertonghen cross found the head of Soldado who put it just over.

source: Getty Images
Roberto Soldado (right), assisted by Paulinho (left), picked up his first goal for Spurs from open play to seal the win and end Villa pressure.

The game slowly opened up as Villa concentrated on running a controlled break.  Andreas Weimann got a cutback at the top of the penalty area in the 42nd minute but drove his shot just wide, having beaten a diving Lloris.  Townsend then nearly found a second as Spurs let fly before the halftime break but Guzan saved very well to his right.

The opening minutes of the second half were slow but the game quickly opened up once again after about five minutes.  Both teams peppered the opposing box, with Spurs creating chances well and Villa content to absorb pressure and play on the break.

Christian Benteke, who began the match on the bench still recovering form his hip injury, returned to Aston Villa action in the 61st minute.  He immediately proved difficult to deal with, as he touched a header over two minutes later on a pinpoint cross from Leandro Bacuna.

The boost gave Aston Villa new life, as they all of a sudden pounded the Tottenham box and lit up the home crowd at Villa Park.

Villa, however, got nothing to show for the pressure they put on the Spurs defense, and the visitors made them pay.  Roberto Soldado picked up his first goal from open play on the season after a brilliant first touch from Paulinho at the top of the box threaded Soldado through for a powerful close-range finish.

The goal left Villa stunned, after they were reaching out for an equalizer.  Instead, Spurs went two up and immediately looked up for a third.  Townsend again came close in the 75th minute but he curled it just over the top-left corner.  Paulinho somehow missed an empty net in the 80th minute as he whiffed on a dangerous Townsend cross.

The win is Spurs’ third in a row at Villa Park, and they remain unbeaten in their last 10 against the Claret and Blue.  It pushes Villas-Boas’s crew up to fifth in the Premier League table.  Villa remain in 12th, as their three-match win streak is snapped.

GOALS:

Tottenham Hotspur – Townsend 31′, Soldado 69′

LINEUPS:

Aston Villa: Guzan; Bacuna, Clark, Vlaar, Luna; Westwood, El Ahmadi (Sylla, 72′), Delph, Weimann; Agbonlahor (Tonev, 79′), Kozak (Benteke, 61′).

Tottenham Hotspur: Lloris; Walker, Chirches, Dawson, Vertonghen; Paulinho, Sandro, Townsend, Holtby (Dembele, 73′), Sigurddson (Lennon, 66′); Soldado (Defoe, 87′).

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.