Boniek Garcia

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

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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.

“Overweight” Costa comes to Mourinho’s defense

Diego Costa, Chelsea FC
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Diego Costa says he and his Chelsea teammates are to blame for Chelsea’s horrid start to the 2015-16 Premier League season.

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Speaking Thursday, during a bit of downtime over the current international break (Costa was left out of Vicente del Bosque’s squad for Spain’s final two EURO 2016 qualifiers this week), Costa placed the majority of blame at the feet of the entire team, but went on to most harshly critique himself for coming into the season unfocused and “overweight.”

Costa, on his lack of fitness and form to begin the season — quotes from the Guardian:

“We know we’re not in the form we were supposed to be at the beginning of the season. We need to blame the players because we came back from holiday very confident, thinking we could go back into how it was last season, and then realized the team was already in a bad situation.

“I’m going to be very honest: maybe a few weeks ago, five or six weeks ago, I was not on top of my game. At least physically. We talk within the players and we know that, maybe at the beginning, we were not 100 percent as we were supposed to be when we got here. I got injured at the end of last season and then I went on holiday. Maybe I got out of my diet and, when I came back, I was not the way I was supposed to be. I was a little bit overweight. That affected my game. You can be selfish and blame it on the manager but I’m not going to do that. I’m responsible 100%, and so are the other guys.

Given that Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho said on Thursday he doesn’t quite know what’s wrong with the defending Premier League champions, hearing someone — anyone — speak up and explain the club’s worst start to a season in 37 years will surely be a welcome sound to any Blues supporter’s ears.

[ MORE: Liverpool appoint Klopp as manager | Allardyce to Sunderland? ]

Costa, who is eligible to return from suspension next weekend when Aston Villa visit Stamford Bridge, has scored just one goal in league play this season (six appearances) after scoring 20 in 26 games last season.

Sam Allardyce to open talks with Sunderland

Sam Allardyce, West Ham United FC
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Now that Liverpool have selected and named their new manager, it appears Sunderland are finally ready to move forward with their own managerial search. (That’s clearly a joke, because it implies Liverpool and Sunderland ever duke it out for the same managerial candidate.)

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Anyway, the Black Cats will have to hire someone to replace the recently-departed Dick Advocaat at some point. We all knew that, despite the fact he’s probably earned a shot at that level, Bob Bradley was never really going to be considered for the job. With that in mind, if you’re not going to endear yourself to the entire United States of America with this hire, you might as well go for the best unemployed manager who’ll actually consider your approach.

That’s what Sunderland chairman Ellis Short appears to have done, as it was reported Thursday that despite an initial reluctance from Sam Allardyce — let’s be honest, he actually was holding out hope for the Liverpool job — the 60-year-old most recently in charge of West Ham United was willing and ready to enter into negotiations with the northeastern club.

One of the major sticking points during Sunderland’s courting of Allardyce is expected to be his demand for autonomy in the transfer market as well as a sizable transfer budget to sign his own players during the January window.

[ MORE: Advocaat: Sunderland squad too thin, chairman to blame ]

Allardyce seems like the no. 1 guy you’d like to bring in to steady a capsized ship — cough Sunderland cough — in any situation. Not only does he have a successful track record in the Premier League, but he’s the kind of no-nonsense leader a club like Sunderland so desperately needs as they find themselves in yet another relegation battle just eight games into the new season.

Short hopes to have Allardyce signed, sealed and delivered when the Premier League returns to action next weekend. In that event, Allardyce’s first game in charge of Sunderland would be a trip to West Bromwich Albion. His first home fixture? Home to Tyne-Wear derby rivals Newcastle United, a club whose boisterous fanbase still holds a great deal of disdain for Big Sam. Sometimes the football gods really are looking out for us.