FC Dallas v Real Salt Lake

LA-RSL Man of the Match: Nat Borchers? Or Chris Schuler?


With Real Salt Lake making the surprise move to put two defensive midfielders in the starting lineup, central defenders Nat Borchers and Chris Schuler looked like they were going to be protected. On Sunday, they were anything but.

On a night that started with duo clearing passes across the six and ended with the pair trying to stand up to LA’s counter attack, RSL’s central tandem were constantly tested. They bent and even broke a couple of times, but come full-time, the only score of a 1-0 game wasn’t on them. They couldn’t be expected to stop Sean Franklin’s blast from well outside the penalty area.

[MORE: Franklin blast all that separates LA Galaxy, Real Salt Lake after leg one]

It’s no exaggeration to say another central pair would have conceded a couple of goals, leaving RSL with little hope ahead of Thursday’s second leg. But with players like Borchers and Schuler, Jason Kreis could afford to take some chances. That those risks didn’t come back to hurt RSL almost demands one of the team’s central defenders claim Man of the Match honors. Their performances had the greatest impacts on tonight’s result.

Schuler had some memorable moments — most notably, clearing a first half cross in the six-yard box before Landon Donovan could convert — but the pure quantity of Nat Borchers’ contributions wins him our honor. Borchers made 11 successful clearances (six more than his partner), added four interceptions, and recorded game-high three blocked shots – number that quantify the ever-present feel of his performance.

His key contribution, however, is difficult to separate from Schuler’s. As Real Salt Lake opened up late in the second half, seemingly willing to press for an equalizing goal, Borchers and Schuler found themselves isolated against a counterattack that’s been the key factor in claiming the two straight titles. Yet as Landon Donovan bore down on them and Robbie Keane tried to drag the defenders into confusion, RSL’s duo looked more comfortable than any central tandem we’ve seen try their hand against LA’s transition. No, they didn’t win every battle, but they won enough to keep LA from pulling away. They knew exactly what they wanted to do against the Galaxy’s biggest threat.

Man of the Match could go to either guy. If you thought Schuler’s great first half clearance should get some extra credit, he’ll be your guy for this honor. But on this occasion, we’re going with quantity, and as the most-prolific man cleaning up in RSL’s area, Nat Borchers wins PST’s acclaim.

MLS Snapshot: Colorado Rapids 1-2 Real Salt Lake

SANDY UT - MARCH 14: Olmes Garcia #13 of Real Salt Lake celebrates his goal during their game against the Philadelphia Union at Rio Tinto Stadium on March 14, 2015 in Sandy, Utah. (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images)
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The game in 100 words (or less): Real Salt Lake stays alive in the hunt for a playoff berth in the Western Conference with a crucial 2-1 win over the Colorado Rapids. After falling behind early, RSL scored twice before halftime and held onto the lead for the rest of the match, moving within three points of the final playoff spot in the West. Real Salt Lake has three matches remaining, including a massive clash against the Portland Timbers, which will pretty much decide their season. For Colorado, it’s another year without playoff soccer.

[ MORE: FC Dallas clinches playoff berth ]

Three moments that mattered

16′ — Doyle heads Colorado into the lead — The former Premier League man gave the home side an early lead, thanks to a powerful header from quite a bit out. Sean St. Ledger played in a cross, where Doyle snapped a header into the top corner past Nick Rimando.

33′ — Joao Plata bends in the free kick — Trailing 1-0, Joao Plata drew RSL level with a brilliant free kick. Plata’s shot dipped over the wall and under the crossbar, as Clint Irwin stood helpless in goal for Colorado.

43′ — Mulholland fires home a volley to put RSL ahead — Luke Mulholland scored his first goal of the season, and it was a beauty. A corner kick popped out to the midfielder at the top of the box, as he rifled a shot off the bounce and into the side netting.

Man of the match: Luke Mulholland

Goalscorers: Doyle (16′), Plata (33′), Mulholland (43′)

Wenger lauds team spirit following Arsenal’s big win

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Arsenal put on a superb performance against Manchester United today, flying out to a three-goal lead in the opening 20 minutes of the match.

[ RECAP: Arsenal 3-0 Manchester United ]

United was stunned by the fast-paced, free-flowing Arsenal attack, unable to recover from the Gunners’ early dominance.

All of this came on the heels of a disappointing loss to Olympiacos in the Champions League, after which many questioned manager Arsene Wenger and his side.

[ MORE: Three things we learned from Arsenal’s win vs. Manchester United ]

Following the big 3-0 win at the Emirates, Wenger praised his team’s spirit, saying there were outstanding performances throughout the side.

You go from Petr Cech up to Theo Walcott, and we had only outstanding performances. Sometimes we have that magic side in our game.

[Against Olympiacos] maybe we lacked a little bit of urgency and discipline, and that’s why we lost the game. But let’s not forget, last Saturday we won 5-2 at Leicester. Today we beat Man United 3-0.

[The players] have shown that we have an outstanding spirit in the squad. To respond the way we did after what happened to us, you need to have an exceptional spirit.

The Gunners’ performance today immediately silenced all the critics, as Wenger’s side put out on a display that many have been waiting for all season. The combination play of Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and Theo Walcott was brilliant, as Santi Cazorla continued to impress in the center of the midfield.

Wenger’s teams have not always been known to show strong heart and resiliency, but that’s exactly what they showed today against a Manchester United side that was in great form. Now sitting second on the table, Arsenal continues to climb up the Premier League.