SOC - Dynamo Playoffs vs. New York

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


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.

MLS Playoff Picture: How high, low can every playoff hopeful finish?

HARRISON, NJ - MARCH 22:  Bradley Wright-Phillips #99 of New York Red Bulls celebrates a goal against the D.C. United during their match at Red Bull Arena on March 22, 2015 in Harrison, New Jersey.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
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Didn’t the 2016 MLS season just start? What do you mean it’s October, and the season started in March?

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As difficult as it is to believe, First Kick was indeed nearly eight months ago, which means this is it. Sunday’s slate of 10 simultaneous finales (4 p.m. ET — full coverage right here on PST) will signal the end of the line for eight sides; the end of the regular season, and the start of the real journey, for 12 others.

Following last weekend’s penultimate round of games, we covered the scenarios for teams yet to clinch a playoff berth. Today, we’ll focus on seeding — how high and how low each of the 14 remaining playoff hopefuls can finish.

Eastern Conference

New York Red Bulls (54 points, 15 wins, +15 GD) — Can finish as high as 1st; can finish as low as 2nd.

New York City FC (51 points, 14 wins, +2 GD) — Can finish as high as 1st; can finish as low as 3rd. To finish 1st, NYCFC need to win vs. Columbus Crew SC, and RBNY lose vs. Philadelphia Union, doing so by combined margins that make up 13 goals in the goal differential column.

Toronto FC (50 points, 13 wins, +11 GD) — Can finish as high as 2nd; can finish no lower than 3rd. To finish 2nd, TFC need to win vs. Chicago Fire, and NYCFC lose or draw vs. CLB. To finish 2nd, TFC could also draw vs. CHI, and NYCFC lose vs. CLB.

D.C. United (46 points, 11 wins, +8 GD) — Can finish no higher than 4th; can finish as low as 5th. To finish 4th, DCU need to win vs. Orlando City SC. To finish 4th, DCU could also draw or lose vs. ORL, and Montreal Impact draw or lose vs. New England Revolution.

Montreal Impact (45 points, 11 wins, -1 GD) — Can finish as high as 4th; can finish as low as 6th. To finish 4th, MTL need to win vs. NE, and DCU draw or lose vs. ORL.

Philadelphia Union (42 points, 11 wins, -1 GD) — Can finish as high as 5th; can finish as low as 7th. To finish 4th, PHI need to win vs. RBNY, and MTL lose vs. NE.

New England Revolution (39 points, 10 wins, -13 GD) — Can finish as high as 6th. To finish 6th, NE need to win vs. MTL, and PHI lose vs. RBNY, doing so by combined margins that make up 12 goals in the goal differential column.

Western Conference

FC Dallas (59 points, 17 wins, +10 GD) — Can finish as high as 1st; can finish as low as 2nd. To finish 1st FCD need to win or draw vs. LA Galaxy. To finish 1st, FCD could also lose vs. LA, and Colorado Rapids draw or lose vs. Houston Dynamo.

Colorado Rapids (57 points, 15 wins, +7 GD) — Can finish as high as 1st; can finish no lower than 2nd. To finish 1st, COL need to win vs. HOU, and FCD lose vs. LA.

LA Galaxy (51 points, 12 wins, +15 GD) — Can finish no higher and no lower than 3rd.

Real Salt Lake (46 points, 12 wins, -1 GD) — Can finish no higher than 4th; can finish as low as 7th. To finish 4th, RSL need to win vs. SEA. To finish 4th, RSL could also draw vs. SEA, and Sporting Kansas City draw or lose vs. San Jose Earthquakes, and Portland Timbers draw or lose vs. Vancouver Whitecaps.

Seattle Sounders (45 points, 13 wins, 0 GD) — Can finish as high as 4th; can finish as low as 7th. To finish 4th, SEA need to win vs. RSL.

Sporting Kansas City (44 points, 12 wins, -1 GD) — Can finish as high as 4th; can finish as low as 7th. To finish 4th, SKC need to win vs. SJ, and RSL and SEA draw with one another, and maintain a goal differential advantage over POR if POR win vs. VAN.

Portland Timbers (44 points, 12 wins, -2 GD) — Can finish as high as 4th; can finish as low as 7th. To finish 4th, POR need to win vs. VAN, and RSL and SEA draw with one another, and overcome a goal differential disadvantage over SKC if SKC win vs. SJ.

FOLLOW LIVE: Man United, Southampton face Fenerbahce, Inter in UEL

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 17:  Wayne Rooney of Manchester United celebrates with Anthony Martial as he scores their first goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and AFC Bournemouth at Old Trafford on May 17, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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It’s the most … wonderful day … of the week — Thursday afternoon Europa League.

[ FOLLOW LIVE: Thursday’s Europa League action ]

Following Monday’s mostly dull affair at Anfield, Manchester United return home to Old Trafford, where they’ll host Fenerbahce (3:05 p.m. ET) for the first time since 2004. Man United (3 points) enter matchday no. 3 as the third-place side in Group A, a single point off the pace of Thursday’s opponent for the top spot. United captain Wayne Rooney will be desperately hoping (one can only assume) to start a game for the first time in a month (Sept. 21, versus Northampton Town — just 66 minutes played in four games since).

Two hours before kickoff at the Theater of Dreams, Southampton are set to visit another of the world’s famous venues, the San Siro, as they take on Inter Milan for the first time ever. Claude Puel‘s side (4 points) currently sits atop Group K, ahead of Hapoel Beer Sheva and on goal differential. Inter, on the other hand, are in search of their first point in the group stage.

[ MORE: Top 5 PL storylines — Mourinho returns to Stamford Bridge ]


Hit the link up top to following along with all the afternoon’s action in Europe’s “other” competition. For a firsthand look at the scene in Milan, PST’s lead writer and editor, Joe Prince-Wright, is tweeting up a storm outside and inside the San Siro.

Atletico Madrid accepts January transfer ban amid ongoing appeal

VALENCIA, SPAIN - OCTOBER 02:  Atletico de Madrid manager Diego Pablo Simeone reacts during the La Liga match between Valencia CF and Atletico de Madrid at Mestalla Stadium on October 02, 2016 in Valencia, Spain.  (Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images)
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ZURICH (AP) Atletico Madrid has accepted it will not sign players in January while it fights a FIFA transfer ban at sport’s highest court.

[ MORE: Ozil won’t sign new Arsenal contract until Wenger does the same ]

FIFA and Atletico jointly say in a statement they agreed a timetable for the Court of Arbitration for Sport to give a final ruling on the Spanish club’s appeal by next June.

Atletico could have sought to freeze its one-year ban pending the verdict but has “waived its right” to try, the statement says.

Still, Atletico “completely maintains its position that the transfer ban is unjustified.”

[ MORE: Top 5 PL storylines — Mourinho returns to Stamford Bridge ]

FIFA imposed one-year sanctions on Atletico and city rival Real Madrid for signing underage players in violation of transfer rules.

During an appeal to FIFA in the offseason, Atletico signed several players including France forward Kevin Gameiro and Argentina midfielder Nicolas Gaitan.

Bradley calls on players to honor Swansea fans, shirt when they play

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Bob Bradley is tugging on some serious heartstrings ahead of his Liberty Stadium debut, against Watford, on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET, on CNBC and online via

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Just over 48 hours before making his Swansea City home debut, the Premier League’s first-ever American manager called on his players to represent the club’s fans in a positive way, and remember what the Swansea shirt means and has meant to so many who came before them, will remain after them, and will come after them — quotes from Swansea’s official website:

“With all the things that go on in the lives of footballers, sometimes you have to be reminded of what a club was all about before you arrived on the scene. It is worth remembering that it didn’t all start when you pulled the Swansea City Football Club jersey on for the first time. Sometimes it’s good to have reminders about how much a club means to people and the responsibilities you have.

“That part has never changed for me — it’s the same whether you are coaching a national team or a club team. I want to make sure the players understand the responsibility of wearing that jersey.

“When you come to a club, I think that responsibility is at the heart of the kind of environment you create every day. You have to understand the people who are going to live and die by every kick of the ball in every match. You have to understand that the fans want to see something they are proud of, and of course at the same time you have to get results.

“It’s not something you can talk about in long speeches with the players, but I think it’s important to remind the players of some of these things. I think the players here are good guys — they are not unaware. But sometimes in football it is easy to think you came first.”

It’s a wise move by Bradley, playing the tune the fans would want to hear. Any new manager would do well to get the club’s fans on his side, to get behind the team and breed positivity and belief — especially a new manager who’s just parachuted into a relegation battle.

[ MORE: Top 5 PL storylines — Mourinho returns to Stamford Bridge ]

There’s also a practical point behind what Bradley said in the above quotes: barely a decade ago, Swansea were competing in League 2, the fourth division of English soccer. Their meteoric rise, which shouldn’t be overlooked in great rags-to-riches stories, was built on the back of players with ties to the club, many of which came through the club’s youth academy.

As they’ve established themselves as a perennial PL side, many of those players were left by the wayside as they no longer made the grade, replaced by professionals in the truest sense of the word — someone paid to do a job — the majority of inarguably higher footballing quality, but lacking any semblance of a personal bond with the club’s history and its supporters.