Real Salt Lake v Seattle Sounders - Western Conference Semifinals

MLS playoff focus: Notes on Real Salt Lake ahead of Thursday’s second leg against the LA Galaxy

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Ahead of Thursday’s second-leg of this Western Conference semifinal series, here are the must-knows about Jason Kreis’ Real Salt Lake (Thursday’s match kicks off at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN2):

  • Ned Grabavoy out; a big blow for RSL

A hamstring strain will keep veteran midfielder Ned Grabavoy out Thursday; RSL manager Jason Kreis confirmed so to media on Wednesday.

He collected the injury during the second half of Sunday’s 1-0 first-leg loss at the StubHub Center outside Los Angeles.

It’s a big loss in that Grabavoy was reborn in 2013. After a few years of “just OK” around Rio Tinto Stadium, Grabavoy was a central element thanks to sharp form from the first 2013 kick. He eventually posted career highs in starts (29), goals (5) and assists (5).

Second-year man Sebastian Velasquez seems the most likely candidate to replace Grabavoy. He is probably more mobile and energetic than Grabavoy (not to mention 8 years younger). But if you don’t think MLS playoff know-how is important, see “Houston Dynamo upset New York.”

Then again, RSL is likely to return to its 4-4-2, which could mean re-introducing Robbie Findley into the starting 11 alongside striker Alvaro Saborio. (Or even Joao Plata if he is healthy enough following a recent injury.)

  • Formation shift for RSL

Remember when Jason Kreis was a 4-4-2 guy through-and-through? That diamond midfield was RSL’s signature.

Kreis, still young at age 40 but with quite a few years at this managerial thing now, having assumed his current post at age 34, has matured. He now has the confidence to put something different on the field tactically.

And he has the confidence the say hold up his hand and say “My bad … that didn’t work.”

The set-up against Los Angeles for last weekend’s first leg was a 4-2-3-1, with   Yordany Alvarez sitting alongside longtime Rio Tinto holding midfield fixture Kyle Beckerman. Alvaro Saborio was the lone striker, supported by Javier Morales centrally, Grabavoy on the right and Luis Gil on the left.

Safe to say, we won’t see that again. Not tonight at least.

It was mostly a way to deal with the Galaxy’s dangerous counter-attack. Only, it didn’t work out at all, confusing Beckerman when in possession and certainly in the defensive assignments, too.

The result was more or less to RSL’s liking. A draw would have been better (or a win, of course). But going back home trailing by one goal isn’t the worst thing ever. Still, the Galaxy created plenty of chances, often moving through RSL’s defensive shape with too much ease.

(MORE: Real Salt Lake-LA Galaxy second leg preview)

  • RSL center backs had better be on it

One of the lesser told narratives this year around MLS has been the rise lately of Chris Schuler as Nat Borchers’ partner in the middle of the defense. He’s certainly big enough (6-4) – they sure needed those long, stretchy legs of his a couple of times on Sunday – and physical enough, but also technical enough.

And he had better be good enough tonight.

The movement of Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane troubled RSL’s entire back line Sunday, but the central areas (along with Real Salt Lake’s two holding midfielders) will be particularly vulnerable to their pair’s movement, which is so quick and instinctive at the instant the Galaxy win the ball.

If Schuler and Borchers cannot communicate with each other with midfielders in tracking those feints, curling runs and big sprints from the Galaxy’s pair of star attackers, the one-goal deficit could expand in a hurry.

(MORE: What we learned from LA Galaxy-RSL first leg)

  • In praise of the old faithfuls … like Nick Rimando

We all like to look for the next new thing … the new restaurant or the new show on TV or whatever. But it’s always important to take a step back and appreciate the old stand-byes, too, right?

That’s Nick Rimando. His numbers remain strong, he’s a strong and commanding leader in the back and the 34-year-old can still deliver the big, game-changing save.

Rimando been so good for so long that we probably take the man for granted. Don’t forget, Rimando’s first starting assignment in MLS was 14 years ago with some good Miami Fusion teams. A lot of RSL holdovers have an MLS Cup medal from that 2009 title claimed over the LA Galaxy in Seattle. Rimando also has one from 2004, when he started for DC United.

(FYI, three current MLS managers started on that 2004 D.C. United side: Ryan Nelsen, Mike Petke and Ben Olsen.)

  • Yellow card warning

Kyle Beckerman is the only RSL man on yellow card warning. “Only” man is a bit mis-leading. Beyond Rimando and Borchers, Beckerman is probably the most important RSL figure, not just for all the midfield tackling and calm possession, but for the leadership and composure.

The U.S. international will miss the next playoff match if he receives another booking.

(MORE: MLS playoff scheduling, timing and pace make no sense)

Man City 2-2 Tottenham Hotspur: Controversy, and how!

Manchester City's Raheem Sterling, runs past Tottenham Hotspur's goalkeeper Hugo Lloris who holds the ball after being pushed by Tottenham Hotspur's Danny Rose, right, during the English Premier League soccer match between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur at the Etihad stadium in Manchester, England, Saturday, Jan., 21, 2017. (AP Photo/Dave Thompson)
AP Photo/Dave Thompson
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  • Sane scores second PL goal
  • Lloris has miserable 4 minutes
  • Sides split season series

Referee Andre Marriner is the first name in a match recap, which is rarely a good sign.

The official failed to give a clear penalty to Raheem Sterling moments before Spurs grabbed an equalizer at the other end, as Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City drew 2-1 at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday.

Leroy Sane and Kevin De Bruyne scored for Man City, while Dele Alli and Heung-Min Son netted for Spurs.

The draw helps Chelsea more than either side, with City staying fifth on 43 points while Spurs are second with 46.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Aside from goals, the first half did not disappoint. The home side was buzzing, and forced Spurs into timely interventions. Tottenham was its usual disciplined self.

Man City had a lot of terrific chances, none better than one robbed by Spurs’ backstop Hugo Lloris. Aguero was nearing the doorstep when Lloris flew to his right to capture the ball with both hands.

Scoreless at halftime, and if you felt someone was missing from the proceedings…

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino deciding to put his foot forward in the second half, taking off Kevin Wimmer for Heung-Min Son.

It was a rare mistake from Lloris that broke the deadlock. The Spurs ‘keep opted for a flying headed clearance of a long ball, reaching it before Sane but heading it off the striker and toward a gaping goal. 1-0, 49’.

It was four minutes later that City scored again, with Lloris going to ground to bobble a Raheem Sterling cross. De Bruyne followed up the play and pushed it in. Wow, 2-0.

Alli continues to prove a threat in the air, rising high to pull one back when Kyle Walker sent a cross over the City back line.

Somehow, Andre Marriner did not award a penalty when Walker shoved Sterling just before the Man City man took his 1v1 shot on Lloris. Marriner allowed the play to go to the other end, and Alli helped Son to an equalizer inside the far post.

Gabriel Jesus subbed into the match for City in the 82nd minute, and nearly had an assist and then headed goal in the first 60 seconds of his Premier League career.

He appeared to have scored a minute later, but was offside. A bit premature from the youngster, who electrified the crowd.

VIDEO: After reaching 250, a look at Rooney’s top Man United goals

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Wayne Rooney has scored some stunning goals for Manchester United over the past 12 years.

[ MORE: World reacts to record ]

Rooney, 31, hit the 250 mark on Saturday at Stoke City to become United’s all-time leading goal scorer and his curling free kick set the record in style.

In the video above we look back on some of the best goals Rooney has scored in a United shirt over the years.

[ MORE: Emotional Rooney reacts

From his bicycle kick against Manchester City in the derby to his shot from the halfway line against West Ham and his volley against Newcastle, he has scored goals of every tye on his way to breaking Sir Bobby Charlton’s record.

Which is your favorite Rooney goal?

Mourinho praises Rooney, bemoans Man United’s finishing

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Jose Mourinho kept it simple when summing up Wayne Rooney‘s record-breaking day for Manchester United on Saturday.

[ MORE: World reacts to record ]

Rooney, 31, scored his 250th goal for United to set the all-time goal scoring and move ahead of Sir Bobby Charlton.

Speaking to the media after the draw at Stoke City, Mourinho spoke about Rooney’s incredible achievement.

“The record is the record. It is the record of the biggest club in England and one of the biggest in the world,” Mourinho said. “Before him the record belonged to a legend of English football. Now Wayne becomes a legend of Manchester United.”

Well said, Jose.

[ MORE: Emotional Rooney reacts ]

As for the draw, which Rooney’s goal secured, United’s manager saluted Stoke’s defensive effort but is concerned his team keep dropping points when they should be winning.

“It was a big game with two teams in the beginning trying to win. But after 25 minutes one team tried to win and the other tried to defend, which they did amazingly well. They showed great work-rate and did everything to try and stop us. We did everything well expect in front of our target. We missed unbelievable chances. We hit the post, the keeper saves, we miss chances and we have another draw. We have too many draws for the attacking play we produce. Opposition goalkeeper are always amazing against us.”

United is now 17 games unbeaten in all competitions and they continue to keep scoring late to grab wins or draws.

That said, they could fall 14 points behind leaders Chelsea if they beat Hull City on Sunday. That would mean United’s already very slim title hopes are all but over. An aura of invincibility is returning, though, and United remain within three points of the top four.

Not all doom and gloom but if United fail to finish in the top four this season it will be down to their poor finishing.

Clement buoyed by upset: “We frustrated Liverpool”

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - JANUARY 21:  Paul Clement, Manager of Swansea City looks on during the Premier League match between Liverpool and Swansea City at Anfield on January 21, 2017 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images
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Swansea City boss Paul Clement’s plans for keeping his club safe in the Premier League probably didn’t have “Win at Liverpool” high in likelihood.

But Swans did just that, rising above their still-poor defense to outscore the Reds 3-2 at Anfield on Saturday.

[ MORE: Recap | Klopp furious with Reds ]

New signings Martin Olsson and Tom Carroll hit the pitch, but it was Fernando Llorente’s brace and Gylfi Sigurdsson‘s late winner that did the trick to boost Swans out of the drop zone.

From the BBC:

“We frustrated Liverpool and defended really well. We showed great togetherness and it was a massive team effort. At half-time I told the players we would get at least one chance, but to get three was unbelievable.

“It’s very important for the confidence of the side that we can come to a big team and get a result. We need to work hard on the training pitch and make sure we get another result in 10 days’ time.”

Swans have kept just three clean sheets this season, and Clement seems to be joining Bob Bradley in the realization that, for now, winning will have to include multiple goals. Let’s see if Swans can build off this.