Marco Di Vaio got in several physical altercations, including when he got in Corey Ashe's face early in the game. It was Ashe's throat that Di Vaio put his hand around to see a red card in the last minute on Thursday. (Photo: Bob Levey/AP)

What We Learned from Houston Dynamo’s 3-0 shellacking of Montreal Impact

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Five thoughts on the Houston Dynamo’s easy 3-0 win over the Montreal Impact in the MLS Eastern Conference play-in game on Thursday night:

1) The Montreal Impact’s epic meltdown doesn’t make it look good. — Frustration with losing 3-0 is understandable, but a full-blown temper tantrum from one of the team’s supposed leaders was tough to watch. Marco Di Vaio lost his mind a little bit at the end of the game, undoubtedly not helped by his lack of attacking support all game long.

Before Di Vaio put his hand around Corey Ashe’s throat, and Andrés Romero kicked out at Kofi Sarkodie while he was on the ground after the whistle had already blown, Hernán Bernardello’s strange lapse of judgment in giving away a penalty to Oscar Boniek García set the tone.

With two defenders in support, Bernardello had no need to lunge into a tackle on García, which ended up giving away the goal that effectively killed the game in the first half. It wasn’t just the incidents themselves; it was the people making the mistakes — two Designated Players and a top young prospect — that was hard to swallow.

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

source: AP
Marco Di Vaio got in several physical altercations, including when he got in Corey Ashe’s face early in the game. It was Ashe’s throat that Di Vaio put his hand around to see a red card in the last minute on Thursday. (Photo: Bob Levey/AP)

2) This was the Houston Dynamo everybody expects to see in the playoffs. — Despite a shaky regular season, head coach Dominic Kinnear knows how to win in the MLS playoffs, as does Los Angeles Galaxy coach Bruce Arena. Even if they finish in fourth or fifth place, those teams have proven they can be dangerous and claw their way to MLS Cup finals from anywhere.

It was an inspired performance all around, from Tally Hall staying focused and making two big saves on Di Vaio to keep the Italian frustrated, to Ricardo Clark playing like a 2009 version of himself, to Will Bruin rediscovering his Mr. Playoffs personality.

After just half an hour, the teams on the field were mirror images: Houston looked like a team that’s been in playoffs before, while Montreal looked increasingly flustered and couldn’t muster much more of an attack than kicking it toward an offside Di Vaio.

(MORE: Bruce Arena: ‘I don’t know if anyone has the formula’ for MLS playoff success)

3) Center back experiments aren’t working out in the two playoff games we’ve seen so far. — Nelson Rivas didn’t play a minute in the regular season, largely due to his recurring injuries, and it showed on Thursday night. Like the Colorado Rapids playing German Mera at center back against Seattle Sounders FC on Wednesday, this gamble didn’t pay off.

Rivas was lucky not to see a straight red card in the 35th minute after getting his arm in Giles Barnes’ face, but he finished the deed when he received a second yellow for a similar infraction in the 70th minute. That began the wave of red cards for Montreal and ended the game, as Bruin scored again two minutes after Rivas left the field.

4) Will Bruin broke out of his slump in a big way on Thursday. — Forget the last five regular-season matches. Bruin scores goals in big games.

The young forward scored four goals in the 2012 playoffs, and his brace on Thursday gave him half that total already in 2013. He will need to be in top form for Houston to have any chance against the New York Red Bulls in the conference semifinals, where he will match up against behemoth center backs Jámison Olave and Markus Holgersson.

(MORE: PST Man of the Match: Will Bruin)

5) The Dynamo gives itself a chance to reverse poor regular-season results against the New York Red Bulls with that performance. — Kinnear’s side can use the play-in game to create momentum and sustain a long playoff run, as it did in 2012. But this time, the next opponent will be tougher than last year.

New York owned Houston in the regular season in all three matches, at home and away. The Red Bulls won all three matches and put up an aggregate score of 9-1 across those games — two of which were at BBVA Compass Stadium. If they can get another good result in Texas this weekend, it will be a long road back.

To sustain a serious upset threat, Houston must win the first leg of the series, preferably by more than one goal. As is true throughout the playoffs, the Dynamo’s biggest game of the season is just around the corner.

VIDEO: Man United’s Marcus Rashford scores 3 minutes into his England debut

NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND - MAY 26:  Marcus Rashford of England arrives at the team hotel on the eve of their international friendly against Australia at the Hilton Gateshead on May 26, 2016 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
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12 months ago Nine months ago Six months ago Three months ago, if anyone asked you, “who is Marcus Rashford?” you, just like me, probably would have responded as such: “I haven’t a clue. Should I know who he is?”

[ MORE: Man United confirm Mourinho as new manager ]

Stars are, of course, born overnight in the sports world, and the 18-year-old Manchester United striker, who spent 12 years with the club’s youth academy, is just the latest example. On Feb. 25, he made his first-team debut and scored twice in the Europa League. Three days later, he made his Premier League debut, again scoring twice.

[ MORE: Mourinho — “I prefer to forget the last three years at United” ]

Fast forward to Friday, and Rashford is a fully-fledged England international. In keeping up with the theme of his other debuts this season, he marked his international debut with a goal against Australia after just three minutes of play at the Stadium of Light.

It remains to be seen whether Rashford completes his hat trick of debut braces this year. We’ll update this post if he does so.

Croatia gets 2-match World Cup stadium ban for fascist chant

POZNAN, POLAND - JUNE 10:  Croatian fans light up flares during the UEFA EURO 2012 group C between Ireland and Croatia at The Municipal Stadium on June 10, 2012 in Poznan, Poland.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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ZURICH (AP) Croatia has been ordered to play two World Cup qualifying matches in empty stadiums for repeated cases of fans chanting fascist slogans.

FIFA fined the Croatian soccer federation 150,000 Swiss francs ($151,000), and ordered the stadium bans to take effect when Croatia hosts Turkey on Sept. 5 and Finland on Oct. 9.

Chile was also ordered to play one World Cup qualifier away from its national stadium over fans chanting anti-gay insults, FIFA said in disciplinary rulings announced Friday. FIFA also fined five Latin American soccer federations for “discriminatory and unsporting conduct by fans,” including anti-gay insults, at World Cup qualifiers.

[ MORE: USMNT-Bolivia preview | Castillo replaces Chandler ]

Croatia fans were guilty of discriminatory chants at friendlies against Israel and Hungary in March, FIFA said.

Croatia “had already been sanctioned for similar incidents by FIFA and UEFA” in previous seasons, the world soccer body said.

Before the 2014 World Cup, FIFA banned Croatia defender Josip Simunic for 10 matches for leading fans in a World War II-era chant used by the country’s then-puppet regime.

After incidents of anti-gay chants at the last World Cup in Brazil, FIFA has cracked down on insults aimed by Latin American fans at players on rival teams.

[ MORE: Three battles that could determine UCL final ]

Chile cannot use its national stadium when it hosts Bolivia on Sept. 6 and must pay a fine of 30,000 Swiss francs ($30,250). A second stadium-ban sanction was deferred for a two-year probationary period.

In other sanctions for soccer federations, FIFA fined Honduras 40,000 Swiss francs ($40,300), Mexico and El Salvador 35,000 Swiss francs ($35,275) each, Paraguay 20,000 Swiss francs ($20,150), and Peru 15,000 Swiss francs ($15,115).

UEFA Champions League final preview — Madrid’s finest Real or Atleti?

MILAN, ITALY - MAY 27:  Diego Simeone head coach of Atletico Madrid looks on during an Atletico de Madrid training session on the eve of the UEFA Champions League Final against Real Madrid at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on May 27, 2016 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Saturday’s UEFA Champions League final isn’t quite the unstoppable force against the immovable object — Real’s defense is good and Atleti has plenty of attacking intent — but it’s fair if you’re expecting the Madrid Derby final to be Diego Simeone’s diligent defenders attempting to counter Cristiano Ronaldo and Real Madrid’s potent attack.

[ MORE: Mourinho confirmed ]

Simeone’s built his name on tight teamwork, and La Liga teams broke Atleti down a mere 18 times in 38 matches this season. Before you crow about the weakness of Spain’s top flight from top to bottom, Real only managed a single goal against Atleti in a 1-1 draw that came at the Vicente Calderon. Atleti triumphed 1-0 at the Bernabeu to take four of six points from their derby mates.

But this is the big one, and a rematch of the late thriller we saw in the 2014 final. That’s when Diego Godin’s 36th minute goal came within seconds of being the difference, only for Sergio Ramos to net in stoppage time and Real to score three goals in extra time for a 4-1 win.

[ MORE: Torres ready for “game of my life” ]

Ronaldo will be fine to go, which is obviously bad news for Atleti. While his goal at the end of the 2014 final was just chiseled-ab window dressing, he has scored in both of his UCL finals (He scored for Manchester United in the 26th minute of their 2008 defeat of Chelsea).

(Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)

The beauty of Atleti’s defense is how well it springs into the attack, with Godin and Filipe Luis both capable of providing offense.

But really, with respect to Gabi and Antoine Griezmann… that defense! Atleti allowed three goals in the group stage, and just seven across its 12 UCL matches.

How will Simeone aim to stop Real this time around? Will it be banks of four or five, with Torres and Griezmann waiting to strike on a fleet-footed counter? That could serve their disciplined unit well, but something tells me Simeone has something special cooked up for this much-anticipated rematch, and manager is a distinct edge for Atleti against a still-learning Zinedine Zidane.

As an aside, Griezmann has been fantastic, scoring 32 times this year with seven coming in the UCL. Torres is second in scoring, with 12.

Championship playoff preview: Sheffield Wednesday vs. Hull City

DERBY, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 14:  Eldin Jakupovic of Hull City celebrates as Andrew Robertson of Hull City scores their third goal during the Sky Bet Championship Play Off semi final first leg match between Derby County and Hull City at the iPro Stadium on May 14, 2016 in Derby, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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One is hoping to rejoin the Premier League at the first time of asking, while the other to see its first top flight action since 2000 with a win in Saturday’s promotion playoff final at Wembley Stadium.

Hull City did not make the top flight from its inception in 1904 until winning the playoffs in 2008. Since, the Tigers have spent a pair of 2-season stints in the Premier League.

Sheffield Wednesday, for its part, spent nine seasons in the top tier from 1991-2000, but fell as low as League One in the 21st century before a run to the playoffs this season.

[ MORE: Three battles that could determine UCL final ]

Hull’s stingy defense allowed 35 goals this season, tied for the second-best mark in the league, while scoring the fourth-most goals (69). The Tigers finished in fourth place to Wednesday’s sixth, and the sides drew 0-0 at Hull and 1-1 in the reverse fixture.

Uruguayan striker Abel Hernandez was far and away Hull’s most deadly scorer, notching 21 goals in the Championship this season, while Sam Clucas paced the club with 8 assists.

Wednesday’s scoring was paced by former Watford attacker Fernando Forestieri’s 15 goals. Veteran Gary Hooper added 13 for the Owls, who got a team-best eight assists from Ross Wallace.

It’s the “richest game in sports”, and kicks off at Noon ET Saturday.