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)

La Liga & Serie A: Video replay used in Juve win, Atleti draws

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A roundup of Saturday’s action from around Spain and Italy’s top flights…

[ MORE: PL roundup — United rolls past Swansea, Arsenal falls to Stoke ]

Girona 2-2 Atletico Madrid

Everything that could go wrong did on Saturday for Atletico Madrid, but it was Girona’s gain as the promotion side began its La Liga journey with a draw. A first-half brace from Cristhian Stuani gave the hosts a 2-0 lead inside the opening 25 minutes, and from there, matters were made worse for Atleti when Antoine Griezmann was sent off in the 67th minute after picking up a second yellow card. Angel Correa pulled a goal back with 12 minutes remaining for Diego Simeone’s side, while Jose Gimenez tied the match in the 85th minute.

Celta Vigo 2-3 Real Sociedad

Future LA FC forward Carlos Vela played a key role for Real Sociedad in their comeback win over Celta Vigo. The Mexican international drew a penalty kick with two minutes to play in regulation, before Willian Jose buried the ensuing spot kick to give Sociedad the victory. Celta Vigo led at home twice on Saturday, but the visitors showed their resiliency, scoring twice in the final 10 minutes of play.

Sevilla 1-1 Espanyol

Clement Lenglet and Léo Baptistão scored on the afternoon in the draw, and despite Sevilla’s overwhelming possession the hosts couldn’t muster up enough to secure three points in the opener. The home side was reduced to 10 men with under 10 minutes remaining as well when second-half substitute Ever Banega was sent off.

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Athletic Bilbao vs. Getafe — 12:15 p.m. ET
Barcelona vs. Real Betis — 2:15 p.m. ET
Deportivo La Coruna vs. Real Madrid — 4:15 p.m. ET


Juventus 3-0 Cagliari

Everything was status quo for Juventus as they kicked off another season in Serie A as the reigning Italian champions. The Bianconeri controlled the flow of play throughout the match, limiting Cagliari to just two chances on target. Mario Mandzukic and Paulo Dybala struck in the first half to put Juve up 2-0 at the break, while Gonzalo Higuain tacked on a third finish in the second stanza.

Cagliari’s best chance came when Duje Cop was taken down in the box, prompting referee Fabio Maresca to utilize VAR for the first time in a Serie A match. After mulling the decision for a moment, Maresca pointed to the penalty spot, but Diego Farias’ attempt was saved by Gianluigi Buffon.

Hellas Verona 1-3 Napoli

Napoli boasted one of the top attacks in Europe last season, and the club didn’t waste any time in picking up where they left off. An own goal kicked things off for Napoli in the first half, before Arkadiusz Milik and Faouzi Ghoulam put the finishing touches on the match. Meanwhile, a late red card from Elseid Hysaj allowed Hellas to score their lone goal of the afternoon through Giampaolo Pazzini’s penalty finish.

Sunday’s Serie A schedule

Atalanta vs. Roma — 12 p.m. ET
Bologna vs. Torino — 2:45 p.m. ET
Crotone vs. AC Milan — 2:45 p.m. ET
Inter Milan vs. Fiorentina — 2:45 p.m. ET
Lazio vs. SPAL — 2:45 p.m. ET
Sampdoria vs. Benevento — 2:45 p.m. ET
Sassuolo vs. Genoa — 2:45 p.m. ET
Udinese vs. Chievo Verona — 2:45 p.m. ET

Transfer rumor roundup: Mbappe to PSG? Torino rejects Belotti bid from Chelsea

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Although all the major European leagues have all kicked off, the transfer rumors continue to swirl as the window closes in on deadline day.

[ MORE: PL Sunday preview — Chelsea meets Spurs in early London derby ]

In another twist that could make Paris Saint-Germain clear favorites to win the UEFA Champions League, the French giants appear close to signing Monaco teenage sensation Kylian Mbappe.

While PSG remains under UEFA’s microscope for the club’s unwillingness to obey Financial Fair Play laws, the Parisians have launched a $211 million bid for Mbappe, according to Mundo Deportivo.


Chelsea continues to look for more options up front, but their latest attempt at poaching one of Italy’s brightest strikers has failed.

Torino has reportedly declined Chelsea’s $74 million bid for Andrea Belotti, with the Serie A side unwilling to part ways with the 23-year-old unless a team meets his $103 million release clause.

The Blues have already added Alvaro Morata this transfer window in the wake of the Diego Costa saga, while Michy Batshuayi is also in the Chelsea squad.


West Brom is playing hard to get with defender Jonny Evans, and Manchester City will have to fork up more money if they want the Northern Ireland veteran.

The Baggies are reportedly seeking over $41 million for Evans, as the Citizens continue to spend at a lightning pace during this transfer window.

[ MORE: Saturday PL roundup — Man United rolls, Arsenal falls at Stoke ]

Manager Pep Guardiola and Co. have already added the likes of Kyle Walker and Benjamin Mendy at the back, while Bernardo Silva has been thrust into the team’s attack.

Steven Gerrard bashes Arsenal following Saturday’s defeat

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Steven Gerrard may no longer play against Arsenal on the pitch, but the former Liverpool midfielder wasn’t shy with his words on Saturday about the Gunners following the club’s 1-0 defeat at Stoke City.

[ MORE: PL roundup — Man United rolls, Arsenal stumbles at Stoke ]

The ex-Reds skipper — turned BT Sport pundit — went off on Arsene Wenger‘s side after the loss, and stated that the London side cannot be considered Premier League title contenders.

“They don’t compete well enough, they’re not solid enough, they’re wide open to counter attacks,” Gerrard said. “They got away with one here, it was a fantastic save from Petr Cech.

“You see it here on the edge of the box, one missed tackle, then he drives into the midfield, (Hector) Bellerin’s late on the press, (Alex) Oxlade-Chamberlain’s tackle is weak, (Granit) Xhaka doesn’t want to know and he skips past Bellerin again.”

Gerrard was describing the build up to Stoke’s lone goal on the day, which came through loanee Jese Rodriguez less than two minutes into the second half.

The Gunners, who conceded last three a week ago in their wild 4-3 victory over Leicester City, have looked shaky defensively through their first two outings, and Gerrard believes that the club can ill-afford to continue this way when they face the PL’s elite.

“It’s just weak defending and against better opposition they would get punished for this like Leicester did last week,” Gerrard continued.

“To be a top team and to compete for this Premier League, you have to be really good in possession and Arsenal are, they’re a fantastic team.

“But to be a top, top side you have to compete out of possession, you have to be horrible to play against. Arsenal are too easy to play against.”

[ MORE: Atletico closing on $52 million deal for  Chelsea’s Diego Costa ]

Arsenal’s next time out will be against Gerrard’s former club, Liverpool, next Sunday.

PL Sunday preview: Chelsea, Spurs clash in early London derby

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Manchester United continued its strong early-season impression on the Premier League on Saturday, but Sunday’s slate of matches features two of last year’s elite meeting at Wembley Stadium.

[ MORE: Man United runs rampant on Swansea in victory ]

Tottenham and Chelsea will clash in their first London derby of 2017/18 at the historic ground, while a meeting between two promotion sides precedes the encounter.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]


Huddersfield Town vs. Newcastle United — 8:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN

In the first clash this season between newcomers, Huddersfield will go for its second consecutive win as David Wagner‘s side plays host to Newcastle.

The Terriers kicked off their ’17/’18 campaign in style last Saturday with a 3-0 win over Crystal Palace, and the side looked quite dominant for most of the match.

Newcastle saw their fortunes change drastically against Tottenham after Jonjo Shelvey was sent off after halftime. The Magpies struggled to handle the talent of Spurs after the sending off, conceding twice after Shelvey’s dismissal.

Joselu could also make his debut for Newcastle on Sunday after joining the club from Stoke this summer.

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Chelsea — 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN

Antonio Conte‘s second season in the Premier League began with an anything but ideal result last weekend as Chelsea fell to Burnley, 3-2, at Stamford Bridge.

To make matters worse, red cards for Gary Cahill and Cesc Fabregas rule the two players out for Sunday’s clash against Spurs. With Eden Hazard and Pedro still likely to miss the match due to injury, Chelsea does have some good news as Victor Moses returns from suspension and Tiemoue Bakayoko could make his PL debut — although it will likely come off the bench.

New striker Alvaro Morata looks to build off of his goal and an assist performance from last weekend up front, and the Spaniard could very well start for Chelsea after coming off the bench against Burnley.

Meanwhile, Spurs looks to build off of its victory against Newcastle last weekend, which featured goals from Dele Alli and Ben Davies.

Mauricio Pochettino‘s side went out and made their first major signing of the summer this week with the acquisition of Ajax defender Davinson Sanchez, and the Argentine manager says his club isn’t done adding players.