Oscar Boniek García slots home his penalty to give the Houston Dynamo a 2-0 lead over the Montreal Impact on Thursday. (Photo:  Bob Levey/AP)

Houston Dynamo 3-0 Montreal Impact: Quick start lifts Houston to next round (video)

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The Houston Dynamo rode its early dominance to an easy 2-0 victory over the Montreal Impact on Thursday. Houston advanced to the Major League Soccer Eastern Conference semifinals and will play two legs against the New York Red Bulls.

Dynamo midfielder Ricardo Clark pressed high often, including on the first goal of the game. Forward Will Bruin dropped deep to find the ball and played a one-two combination with Clark, whose skillful back-heel pass set Bruin up with an easy finish in the 16th minute.

Houston’s impressive streak when scoring first continued, as the Dynamo has not lost in 15 matches when going up a goal in 2013.

Ten minutes later, the result was sealed. Impact midfielder Hernán Bernardello took down Oscar Boniek García just inside the penalty area despite support from two other defenders, and García finished what he started to give his team a two-goal advantage.

source: AP
Oscar Boniek García slots home his penalty to give the Houston Dynamo a 2-0 lead over the Montreal Impact on Thursday. (Photo: Bob Levey/AP)

The Impact could not get much offensive momentum, even though Houston dropped off slightly in the second half. Forward Marco Di Vaio was caught offside four times, and he received little attacking support when he found the ball in a legal position.

His best chance came in the 61st minute, when Tally Hall dove to his right to parry wide Di Vaio’s shot from outside the penalty area.

Houston head coach Dominic Kinnear’s playoff train kept rolling with the result. In 2012, the Dynamo finished in fifth place in the Eastern Conference and advanced all the way to the MLS Cup final before falling to the Los Angeles Galaxy. Houston proved last year, and look to do so again, that playing the extra game is not an insurmountable task for playoff success.

Kinnear’s opposite number, Marco Schällibaum, gambled by starting Nelson Rivas at center back after he saw no action during the regular season. Like much of what Montreal did on Thursday, it didn’t pay off, as Rivas was sent off after two similar fouls, getting his hands in Giles Barnes’ face in the 35th minute and jumping with a high elbow on Will Bruin in the 70th.

Bruin added the final goal of the game soon after Rivas left the field. He outran Matteo Ferrari to a loose ball and cut inside on Jeb Brovsky before lifting an easy shot into the open net.

The Impact wasn’t done getting red cards, though. Substitute Andrés Romero received one after he kicked out at Kofi Sarkodie on the ground after the whistle in the 88th minute, and Di Vaio received one in the aftermath for putting his hand on Corey Ashe’s neck-and-face area twice.

Houston hosts the Red Bulls in the first leg of their series on Sunday (3:30 p.m. ET, broadcast on NBC).


Houston Dynamo (4-4-2): Tally Hall — Corey Ashe, Eric Brunner, Bobby Boswell, Kofi Sarkodie — Brad Davis (Andrew Driver, 82), Warren Creavalle, Ricardo Clark, Oscar Boniek García — Will Bruin (Cam Weaver, 79), Giles Barnes (Omar Cummings, 79)

Unused substitutes: Tyler Deric — Mike Chabala, Servando Carrasco, Alexander López

Montreal Impact (4-2-3-1): Troy Perkins — Jeb Brovsky, Nelson Rivas, Matteo Ferrari, Hassoun Camara — Hernán Bernardello, Collen Warner (Felipe Martins, 61) — Andrea Pisanu (Andrés Romero, 54), Andrew Wenger (Daniele Paponi, 61), Justin Mapp — Marco Di Vaio

Unused substitutes: Evan Bush — Davy Arnaud, Patrice Bernier, Wandrille Lefevre

“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.