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What we learned from Sunday’s Houston Dynamo-New York Red Bulls draw

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Mike Petke gets the tactics right

The Red Bulls may have squandered a chance to truly take command in this series, but they still stand well positioned. Houston’s big second half effort, mostly about pride and want-to, was sufficient for the draw.

But none of that changes this fact: the Red Bulls had the right plan once again for BBVA Compass Stadium.

The field is small, so possession within the cramped workings is never easy here. So manager Mike Petke and his team really didn’t bother. Rather, they just sat and waited for their chances to counter. If Houston did have time to get into defensive shape, the balls from New York’s end were aimed into Tim Cahill’s head. Again, no reason to dilly dally with possession on the small field. (And one without much grass, as the growing season is over in Houston, something that made retaining the ball a little trickier still.)

The Red Bulls were confident that Houston’s central midfield duo, Ricardo Clark or Warren Creavalle, for all their positive attributes, would lose possession enough in the middle to give the visitors their share of counter-attacking chances. And the Dynamo men did.

Boniek Garcia drifted in from the right to help with possession, but that only pulled the Dynamo further out of shape when they did lose the ball.

And when they do lose the ball, New York is very, very good at this. Cahill and Henry know just where to move, and do so with a brutal efficiency. Peguy Luyindula knows just how to find them in space.

(MORE: Man of the Match, New York’s Tim Cahill)

Jermaine Taylor’s absence matters

Also title this one, “Eric Brunner: Just not that man’s day.”

We will spend plenty of time over the next two or three days talking about what Jamison Olave’s loss will mean to the Red Bulls. But the Dynamo was already missing a starting center back – and it sure helped shape this series.

Jermaine Taylor, Bobby Boswell’s central partner in the Houston defense for two years now, is injured. Eric Brunner was more than enough against Montreal four days ago, but he struggled mightily Sunday against a much better opponent.

Brunner was immediately up against it, down on the ground within 60 seconds after finding himself on the business end of one of those Tim Cahill aerial challenges.

Not much later, Brunner and left back Corey Ashe failed to communicate adequately on the Red Bulls’ first goal, as Cahill drifted right in between them to pound a header past goalkeeper Tally Hall. And it was Brunner who was spun around by Eric Alexander’s dribbling for the Red Bulls’ second goal. (No offense to Alexander, a strong role player along the right this year for New York, but no one has ever confused him with Arjen Robben for his dribbling prowess along the right side.)

In the second half, as Houston pressed for the equalizer, Brunner got a free header on one of Brad Davis’ corner kicks … only to see it zip just wide. Truly, this just wasn’t his day.

Which brings us back to Taylor, an underrated element of the Dynamo back line. If he’s in there, the Dynamo day may have started much differently. Either way, if the Dynamo cannot defend better than it did in the first half Sunday, there won’t be any need for a Brunner vs. Taylor debate.

(MORE: Match recap, as New York scores early but collapses late)

Thursday’s win over Montreal was a mirage

Credit Houston for a big second half rally, but this Dynamo version still has some issues.

And that big, 3-0 mid-week win over Montreal? I think we all suspected that it might have been a lot of “down Montreal” more than “Houston rising.”  Now it looks more like that was precisely the case.

Will Bruin still misses too many chances to be encroaching into a place where we might call him an elite striker. His first half miss Sunday, from in close, a shot that sailed high over the bar after he was put through by Boniek Garcia, was the perfect example. Bruin can score goals, of course, but can he score important ones, and consistently so? Missing the good chances in big matches is a killer.

Still, he was better than Giles Barnes, who didn’t really announce himself at all on Sunday.

The accuracy on Davis’ set piece service right now just isn’t what it needs to be. (The lack of thick grass at BBVA on Sunday may have affected his service; it’s hard to hit a good dead ball off that stuff.)

Hall found himself in a bad spot on the first Red Bulls goal, and then got beat too easily to the near post by Alexander.

All of this is why Houston needed a win in its final regular season just to make the playoffs.

Thibaut Courtois committed to Chelsea despite links to PSG

WATFORD, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 03:  Thibaut Courtois of Chelsea in action during the Barclays Premier League match between Watford and Chelsea at Vicarage Road on February 3, 2016 in Watford, England.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Thibaut Courtois has denied reports he could leave London for Paris Saint-Germain this summer after a disappointing season at Chelsea.

The 23-year-old goalkeeper missed a large portion of the season through injury and failed to regain his top form when healthy as the Blues struggled throughout the year.

With a new manager in Antonio Conte taking over in June, some believed Courtois would be sold to allow the Italian to bring in a goalkeeper of his choice.

[ MORE: Atletico Madrid reach UCL final ]

Despite recent reports linking Courtois with a transfer to PSG that would make him the most expensive goalkeeper in the world, the Belgian international does not fancy a move to France.

Speaking to French newspaper Le Parisien, Courtois said he is happy at Chelsea and will “100-percent” be back at Stamford Bridge next season.

I have never had any contact with PSG. I have played a lot against PSG recently – twice last season, again this season in a friendly and twice more in the Champions League this year.

They are a good club who win their league easily. Me, I like playing in England. Paris is a very good club but I am happy at Chelsea.

I have a contract for three years, so I will say 100 per cent [be staying at Chelsea]. Rumours affect any club where things are going badly. People think the top players want to leave because they are not in the Champions League.

Those words show quite a change from Courtois’ opinion a few months ago, when he cast doubt over his Chelsea future.

At just 23, Courtois has already made more than 200 appearances in his career for Atletico Madrid and Chelsea. Although he did not have a standout season this year, Courtois has shown his talent as a potential top-five goalkeeper in the world and Conte would be wise to keep him.

Former CONMEBOL president has petition to stop extradition rejected

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ASUNCION, Paraguay (AP) Paraguay’s top court has rejected a petition by Nicolas Leoz, the former head of the South American football confederation, to halt his extradition to the United States.

Leoz is being held under house arrest in Paraguay. He is accused of receiving millions in bribes and kickbacks and was among dozens of top officials indicted in the FIFA corruption scandal.

[ FOLLOW: Leicester City’s miracle ]

Leoz’s lawyer Ricardo Preda told The Associated Press that his petition was turned down, but that he would continue to appeal against the extradition.

Leoz was the head of CONMEBOL from 1986 until 2013 when he resigned, and was replaced by Eugenio Figueredo of Uruguay.

Figueredo is under house arrest in Uruguay on similar charges. Figueredo was replaced by Juan Angel Napoul of Paraguay, who is under house arrest in Miami.

Cristiano Ronaldo back healthy for Real Madrid; will play vs. Man City

MADRID, SPAIN - MAY 03:  Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid warms up during a training session ahead of the UEFA Champions League Semi Final Second Leg between Real Madrid and Manchester City at Valdebebas training ground on May 3, 2016 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
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Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane has confirmed that Cristiano Ronaldo is “100-percent” for Wednesday’s Champions League semifinal match against Manchester City.

Ronaldo missed the first leg at the Etihad while recovering from a thigh injury, which ended a scoreless draw.

[ MORE: UCL semifinal preview ]

The Champions League’s all-time leading scorer with 93 goals, Ronaldo has not featured for Real since suffering the injury in a La Liga match against Villarreal on April 20.

Real Madrid had the better of chances in the first leg in Manchester, but Joe Hart’s heroics stopped Zidane’s side from grabbing an all-important away goal. However, Ronaldo’s absence was clearly visible and his return is a massive boost for Real.

[ RELATED: Atletico Madrid eliminate Bayern Munich, advance to UCL final ]

Even if Ronaldo is not 100-percent fit as Zidane claims, his inclusion in the lineup is still vital for Real’s success. A threat in so many different aspects of the game, his presence alone can throw off opposing defenses, leaving more time and space for his teammates to expose a City back-line that has its flaws.

Premier League chairman: Leicester City made mugs of all of us

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 03:  Leicester reacts to Leicester City's Premier League Title Success on May 03, 2016 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
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Premier League executive chairman Richard Scudamore has been around football for a long time, but even he can’t explain Leicester City’s miraculous title run.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s Leicester coverage ]

With the Foxes now officially champions of England, Scudamore hailed the achievement as “the biggest sporting story ever.”

Speaking to BBC Sport, the Premier League’s top exec said Leicester’s run has silenced all the bookmakers and critics who said it could never happen, but that he wouldn’t want it any other way.

It’s probably the biggest sporting story ever and the biggest sporting achievement ever.

Nobody saw it coming and even when it was halfway through the season nobody said it could be sustained.

We don’t know what the future holds because we’ve all become completely hopeless at predicting anything, including the bookmakers and everybody else – because this one nobody saw coming.

It’s made mugs of all of us and that is just the most fantastic feeling.

If the bookmakers had it as a 5,000-1 event, you would imagine you should achieve these type of things once every 5,000 years. It gives us 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years of being able to say: ‘Leicester 2016. Just remember Leicester 2016.’

Pegged as pre-season favorites for relegation, Leicester defied the odds (5,000-1 odds) and claimed the most unlikely of championships. A top executive with the Premier League since 1999, even Scudamore had to admit he had a bit of egg on his face.

[ VOTE: What is the top moment from Leicester’s fairytale run? ]

Scudamore may not have believed in the Foxes, but few outside the city really did. One thing the chairman did have right though, is that we will all remember ‘Leicester 2016.’