Marco Di Vaio 2

MLS Playoff Focus: Notes on Montreal ahead of Thursday’s meeting with Houston

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Ahead of Thursday’s single elimination playoff between Houston and Montreal, here are the most-knows about the visiting Impact ahead of the 8:30 p.m. ET kickoff (NBCSN):

  • Marco Di Vaio’s special season

The Impact’s last time on the field turned into the hated double bummer; Les Bleus fell to Toronto while watching striker Marco Di Vaio fail to claim the Golden Boot, never mind his sparkling 20-goal season. The 37-year-old striker wandered into final weekend soccer level with Mike Magee for league leadership. Magee scored, Vancouver’s Camilo scored even more and, well … Di Vaio did not.

Still,, what a season. Remember, 20-goal campaigns remain rare in MLS, still a significant benchmark. There were just 10 previous instances through 17 MLS seasons.

  • Alessandro Nesta is out

You could probably make some case that Marco Schallibaum’s team is better without the veteran Italian – although it would be something of a stretch.

Nesta’s foot speed just isn’t what it was previously during all those years at Lazio, Milan and with the Italian national team. (Truly, the man was one of the defensive giants of a land that appreciates defenders like it appreciates carefully crafted pasta.) So, he tends to get exposed when caught one-on-one against younger, faster types.

But again, it’s a case that looks like small noodles to me. Because Nesta’s positioning and anticipation is so good that he’s an expert at avoiding those situations. Plus, neither Houston striker, Will Bruin nor Giles Barnes, is particularly fast.

Besides, a guy with 78 caps for Italy and a World Cup winner’s medal (2006) … yeah, you want him on the field. Nesta is out with a calf injury. Young backup Wandrille Lefevre or possibly outside back Hassoun Camara will be the likely replacement at center back.

  • Backing into the playoffs

Clearly, everyone around camp Les Bleus would feel better about things if the Impact had won last weekend at Toronto, claiming their spot with a winning authority rather than backing in because Chicago got clobbered at Red Bull Arena.

The Impact concluded their second MLS campaign with a 1-0 loss at Canadian rival Toronto.

“We were disappointed,” Hassoun Camara told MLSSoccer.com. “Everyone knows it was an important game for us and we wanted to show that we are a playoff team. It’s hard to deal with that.”

  • Last time in Houston? Not that bad

Yes, the Impact’s recent skid included a 1-0 loss earlier this month at Houston. But this was far from a run-away, and the Impact improved considerably and even pressed Houston at times once Andrew Wenger came in for the final half hour.

Where Montreal lost the game was in midfield, where orange-clad Boniek Garcia, Warren Creavalle and Ricardo Clark were simply better than the visitors’ men in the middle third. Then again, Montreal was missing its main man in the center, Patrice Bernier.

So while the Impact’s 4-9-4 record away from Stade Saputo isn’t anything to shout about, they don’t have the very worst of memories of walking down that ramp at BBVA.

  • Choices in the Impact midfield

There are lots of edges that point to Houston, so it seems important for Les Bleus manager Marco Schallibaum to get his lineup absolutely right. Health and fitness will probably dictate the back line choices, but the Swiss manager does have options in midfield.

Veterans Justin Mapp (who was having a great season prior to the club’s fall dip) and Davy Arnaud look set on the outside. Arnaud is from Texas (not far from Houston, in Nederland), so this contest is extra special to him.

The real choice will be at attacking midfielder, where the decision is pretty much down to Wenger or Felipe Martins. Martins is the more creative and skillful, but he hasn’t been great lately – one of the reasons Montreal was shut out in four of its last five matches. (Then again, no one in Impact blue has done well lately except perhaps for Di Vaio.)

Wenger is more physical, and while the current Dynamo version doesn’t pack the physical punch of past teams in orange, playoff games against Houston will always have a certain bump and grind about them.

(More on MLS playoffs: Previewing Montreal Impact at Houston Dynamo)

Man City 2-2 Tottenham Hotspur: Controversy, and how!

Manchester City's Raheem Sterling, runs past Tottenham Hotspur's goalkeeper Hugo Lloris who holds the ball after being pushed by Tottenham Hotspur's Danny Rose, right, during the English Premier League soccer match between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur at the Etihad stadium in Manchester, England, Saturday, Jan., 21, 2017. (AP Photo/Dave Thompson)
AP Photo/Dave Thompson
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  • Sane scores second PL goal
  • Lloris has miserable 4 minutes
  • Sides split season series

Referee Andre Marriner is the first name in a match recap, which is rarely a good sign.

The official failed to give a clear penalty to Raheem Sterling moments before Spurs grabbed an equalizer at the other end, as Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City drew 2-1 at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday.

Leroy Sane and Kevin De Bruyne scored for Man City, while Dele Alli and Heung-Min Son netted for Spurs.

The draw helps Chelsea more than either side, with City staying fifth on 43 points while Spurs are second with 46.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Aside from goals, the first half did not disappoint. The home side was buzzing, and forced Spurs into timely interventions. Tottenham was its usual disciplined self.

Man City had a lot of terrific chances, none better than one robbed by Spurs’ backstop Hugo Lloris. Aguero was nearing the doorstep when Lloris flew to his right to capture the ball with both hands.

Scoreless at halftime, and if you felt someone was missing from the proceedings…

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino deciding to put his foot forward in the second half, taking off Kevin Wimmer for Heung-Min Son.

It was a rare mistake from Lloris that broke the deadlock. The Spurs ‘keep opted for a flying headed clearance of a long ball, reaching it before Sane but heading it off the striker and toward a gaping goal. 1-0, 49’.

It was four minutes later that City scored again, with Lloris going to ground to bobble a Raheem Sterling cross. De Bruyne followed up the play and pushed it in. Wow, 2-0.

Alli continues to prove a threat in the air, rising high to pull one back when Kyle Walker sent a cross over the City back line.

Somehow, Andre Marriner did not award a penalty when Walker shoved Sterling just before the Man City man took his 1v1 shot on Lloris. Marriner allowed the play to go to the other end, and Alli helped Son to an equalizer inside the far post.

Gabriel Jesus subbed into the match for City in the 82nd minute, and nearly had an assist and then headed goal in the first 60 seconds of his Premier League career.

He appeared to have scored a minute later, but was offside. A bit premature from the youngster, who electrified the crowd.

VIDEO: After reaching 250, a look at Rooney’s top Man United goals

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Wayne Rooney has scored some stunning goals for Manchester United over the past 12 years.

[ MORE: World reacts to record ]

Rooney, 31, hit the 250 mark on Saturday at Stoke City to become United’s all-time leading goal scorer and his curling free kick set the record in style.

In the video above we look back on some of the best goals Rooney has scored in a United shirt over the years.

[ MORE: Emotional Rooney reacts

From his bicycle kick against Manchester City in the derby to his shot from the halfway line against West Ham and his volley against Newcastle, he has scored goals of every tye on his way to breaking Sir Bobby Charlton’s record.

Which is your favorite Rooney goal?

Mourinho praises Rooney, bemoans Man United’s finishing

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Jose Mourinho kept it simple when summing up Wayne Rooney‘s record-breaking day for Manchester United on Saturday.

[ MORE: World reacts to record ]

Rooney, 31, scored his 250th goal for United to set the all-time goal scoring and move ahead of Sir Bobby Charlton.

Speaking to the media after the draw at Stoke City, Mourinho spoke about Rooney’s incredible achievement.

“The record is the record. It is the record of the biggest club in England and one of the biggest in the world,” Mourinho said. “Before him the record belonged to a legend of English football. Now Wayne becomes a legend of Manchester United.”

Well said, Jose.

[ MORE: Emotional Rooney reacts ]

As for the draw, which Rooney’s goal secured, United’s manager saluted Stoke’s defensive effort but is concerned his team keep dropping points when they should be winning.

“It was a big game with two teams in the beginning trying to win. But after 25 minutes one team tried to win and the other tried to defend, which they did amazingly well. They showed great work-rate and did everything to try and stop us. We did everything well expect in front of our target. We missed unbelievable chances. We hit the post, the keeper saves, we miss chances and we have another draw. We have too many draws for the attacking play we produce. Opposition goalkeeper are always amazing against us.”

United is now 17 games unbeaten in all competitions and they continue to keep scoring late to grab wins or draws.

That said, they could fall 14 points behind leaders Chelsea if they beat Hull City on Sunday. That would mean United’s already very slim title hopes are all but over. An aura of invincibility is returning, though, and United remain within three points of the top four.

Not all doom and gloom but if United fail to finish in the top four this season it will be down to their poor finishing.

Clement buoyed by upset: “We frustrated Liverpool”

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - JANUARY 21:  Paul Clement, Manager of Swansea City looks on during the Premier League match between Liverpool and Swansea City at Anfield on January 21, 2017 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images
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Swansea City boss Paul Clement’s plans for keeping his club safe in the Premier League probably didn’t have “Win at Liverpool” high in likelihood.

But Swans did just that, rising above their still-poor defense to outscore the Reds 3-2 at Anfield on Saturday.

[ MORE: Recap | Klopp furious with Reds ]

New signings Martin Olsson and Tom Carroll hit the pitch, but it was Fernando Llorente’s brace and Gylfi Sigurdsson‘s late winner that did the trick to boost Swans out of the drop zone.

From the BBC:

“We frustrated Liverpool and defended really well. We showed great togetherness and it was a massive team effort. At half-time I told the players we would get at least one chance, but to get three was unbelievable.

“It’s very important for the confidence of the side that we can come to a big team and get a result. We need to work hard on the training pitch and make sure we get another result in 10 days’ time.”

Swans have kept just three clean sheets this season, and Clement seems to be joining Bob Bradley in the realization that, for now, winning will have to include multiple goals. Let’s see if Swans can build off this.