Garcia, Barnes goals see Houston to 2-1 win in D.C., into MLS playoffs (Video)

1 Comment

Closing the season at D.C. United proved a boon for Houston, though as they’ve done throughout their campaign, the Dynamo found a way make things hard on themselves. But after a goal-laden first half gave way to a second half stalemate, Houston is back in the post season, their 2-1 win at RFK Stadium clinching their playoff spot.

After an 11th minute opener from Boniek Garcia, Houston conceded an equalizer to Kyle Porter. Gilles Barnes’s goal before intermission, however, gave the Dynamo a lead they’d never relinquish. After their 14th win of the year, Houston’s still alive for a third straight MLS Cup final appearance.

The victory temporarily vaults Houston third in the East, though where they’ll end up in the East’s pecking order depends on the day’s next two games. New England’s visit to Columbus and Chicago’s trip to New York give the Revolution and Fire a chance to pass the Dynamo, meaning Houston can still finish as low as fifth – the spot from which they started last year’s Cup final run.

On Saturday, Houston was the better side for much of the first half, their early forays at Bill Hamid’s goal eventually producing a penalty kick when Barnes was dragged down by James Riley. Garcia’s 11th minute conversion gave the favorites an early lead.

That advantage would prove short-lived, though. Just before the half-hour mark, D.C. broke out of their own half and played Luis Silva wide against a narrow defense trying to manage the transition. The midfielder’s ball toward the line was run onto by Chris Pontius, whose cross toward the right post allowed Porter to head home the equalizer.

Eleven minutes later, Brad Davis’s corner picked out Barnes on a near-post run, the attacker’s far post flick going into the far side netting for the eventual game-winner. With United electing to put a man at the near post while leaving the far post unprotected, Barnes found a seam through the goal mouth’s chaos, heading home his ninth career MLS goal.

Much of the second half was played to a stalemate, though with Houston becoming more defensive as the match wore on, D.C. was given chances to steal a draw. Focusing attacks on the left side of Houston’s defense, United were able to make inroads toward the Dynamo line, though their forays back across the box proved fruitless. The hosts would end the match with only two shots on goal, a late (weak) hand ball appeal their best chance to claim an equalizer.

When full-time blew, the day’s favorites were in the playoffs, but as was the case throughout the season, Houston didn’t get there without a series of doubts. Though their attack produced the goals they needed, it never found the score that would ice the match. Much of that was due to Houston’s posture, electing to protect instead of pursue, but as D.C. United broke down the left side of Houston’s defense, it wasn’t hard to imagine a more efficient attack making the Dynamo pay for their caution. Perhaps Graham Zusi and Thierry Henry won’t be as forgiving a struggling Dwayne De Rosario.

They’re in the playoffs, but Houston still has work to do. The last two years they’ve shown an ability to rise to the postseason’s occasion, but this year, something feels different. The defense seems weaker; the attack, less efficient; their talented midfield unable to lock opponents down like Ricardo Clark and Adam Moffat did last season.

Still dangerous, Houston’s not on the same level as Kansas City and New York, and although they’re now in the postseason, the Dynamo have less than a week to figure out how to bridge the gap.

Report: Man City bid for Mendy rejected

Getty Images
Leave a comment

According to a report by Sky Sports, Manchester City has seen a bid for Monaco full-back Benjamin Mendy rejected, and will have to significantly increase their offer for the transfer to be completed.

The report states that Manchester City bid $58 million for the 23-year-old French international, but Monaco values Mendy at the $65 million level Man City paid for Kyle Walker, a world record for a defender.

[ MORE: Barcelona president warns PSG over Neymar move ]

Monaco is in an advantageous position in this situation, with Manchester City desperate for full-backs and Monaco not obligated to sell. Mendy’s current contract with the defending Ligue 1 champions runs through the summer of 2021.

City has already purchased Walker, but with the departure of aging full-backs Pablo Zabaleta, Gael Clichy, and Bacary Sagna, the club is almost completely devoid at the position, with just Walker and Aleksandr Kolarov on the roster.

Mendy has shown blistering pace and great crossing ability, racking up 11 assists last season across all competitions, including four in seven Champions League appearances. His tackling numbers are also surprisingly competent for such a young defender, completing just about 50% of his attempted tackles during league play last season, and sporting a 64% completion rate in Champions League play.

MLS to add VAR replay in early August

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Less than a month from now, Major League Soccer will introduce Video Assistant Replay to its matches, the league confirmed Thursday.

VAR took its biggest jump forward yet when it was introduced at the 2017 Confederations Cup. Referees on the field were alerted by video assistants in a booth about questionable calls, and the on-field ref would then have the opportunity to review a decision themselves on a video screen.

The MLS press release read, “A fifth member of a game’s officiating crew, the Video Assistant Referee (VAR), located in a booth at the stadium, will have access to all available broadcast angles and check all plays for potential clear and obvious errors or serious missed incidents in four game-changing situations — goals, penalty decisions, direct red cards, and cases of mistaken identity.” The league confirmed August 5th would be the introduction of VAR.Major L

For VAR to be successfully implemented and affect the flow of game as little as possible, the system will have to be tightly monitored as to not be used to challenge 50/50 decisions or those too close to call. In addition, quick decisions will be paramount to the system to keep confusion at a minimum and continue play as quick as possible.

There were examples of both good and bad use of VAR during the Confederations Cup. Early in the tournament, Portugal saw a goal correctly wiped off against Mexico thanks to a blatant offside call, with the decision coming 53 seconds after the ball hit the back of the net. However, later in the tournament, Chile saw a goal by Claudio Vargas controversially erased when the system was used to overturn an incredibly close call.

MLS says its decision to use VAR comes after three years of research and testing. It’s somewhat surprising the system is being implemented in the middle of a campaign, with any possible kinks to work out despite the stretch run of the regular season.

Back in early July, FIFA president Gianni Infantino said there is “nothing standing in the way of VAR” use at the 2018 World Cup.

Africa Cup of Nations moving to summer

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The 2019 Africa Cup of Nations has been moved to the summer, neutralizing the effect of the tournament on domestic leagues, the CAF has announced.

In the past, players were forced to choose between club and country with the tournament taking place in January and February. Now, players will not have to choose, and will be able to play for their country without missing any critical club time. Last season, clubs like Liverpool struggled in the absence of key players like Sadio Mane while they left to play for their country.

With the change to playing in June and July, teams will need to manage the heat of a summer tournament in Africa, although it wouldn’t be as bad as one might expect. The 2019 tournament is set to be played in Cameroon, where average temperatures in June start at around 87 degrees and fall throughout the month, reaching closer to 80 degrees by the start of July. Cameroon hosted Morocco in their most recent AFCON qualifier 10 days ago in Yaoundé, and the high temperature for that day (June 10) was 78 degrees.

The CAF also confirmed that the tournament will expand from 16 teams to 24 teams, despite qualification for the tournament having already begun. To fill out the additional slots, the CAF has not announced how it will change qualifying, but it’s likely that 2nd place finishers in all 12 groups would make the field, rather than the top three 2nd place finishers that currently progress. In the current format, the host country automatically qualifies, but still participates in qualification. Cameroon is currently leading Group B after one match.

Eight additional teams could pose problems for Cameroon, who admitted on Wednesday that preparations were behind schedule for the 2019 tournament. “Despite security concerns, social and economic crises, the government and President Paul Biya are totally engaged to do everything for the Nations Cup to go ahead,” said Cameroon Sports Minister Ismael Bidoung.

Finally, the CAF release confirmed that the tournament will, in the future, stay on African soil with only African teams. That means there will be no tournaments held in foreign nations such as China, and non-African teams will not be invited. Both were possibilities the organization was considering.

Barcelona president warns PSG over FFP

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu is warning Paris Saint-Germain that even if they try to sign Neymar, they would condemn themselves to UEFA sanctions.

With PSG heavily linked to the Brazilian superstar, rumors suggest the French club is hoping to activate Neymar’s monstrous release clause set at $258 million.

However, that could have serious consequences, warns Bartomeu. “These clauses are impossible to activate if you want to comply with Financial Fair Play,” the Barcelona president told the Associated Press. “If someone doesn’t want to comply, then of course it can be activated.”

The Spaniard assured fans that Neymar is a critical part of Barcelona’s success.

“He has a contract for the coming four years and, of course, we count on him,” Bartomeu said. “He’s part of our team. He’s part of this trident [with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez].”

The 25-year-old signed a five-year contract extension last October that runs through the summer of 2021. Club vice-president Jordi Mestre also said he was “200 per cent” sure Neymar would stay with Barcelona.