Mike Chabala, Jacob Peterson

What we learned from Sporting Kansas City, Houston Dynamo scoreless draw

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  • Blame Major League Soccer’s playoff schedule for this dead fish of a match

This is what MLS gets for its ill-considered playoff scheduling, for stacking the matches in such a hurry – a humdrum stalemate, a contest with very little happening on either side.

Dulled further by referee Kevin Stott’s choice to be lenient with the whistle (that went both ways), it was hardly a hardy advertisement for the league. Too bad, too, as this one was on NBC rather than NBCSN.

But, we’ve covered this ground before at ProSoccerTalk. So we’ll just move on.

  • Long throw-ins as real weapons

So much of Saturday’s opportunity factor, what there was, came from long throw-ins. Matt Besler’s tosses from the touchlines are always liable to create some danger for his Sporting Kansas City. But when those zippy deliveries happen inside the league’s most narrow field, they become greater weapons, still. In fact, they are ballistic objects, screaming into the opposition six with a vengeance.

Houston created some danger, too, from those same touchlines. Mike Chabala came in for the suspended Corey Ashe at left back. And while the Dynamo probably lost some push up that side, Chabala provided a bonus: he can throw balls into the six, too.

Chabala’s throws arrived on something of a less lethal trajectory than Besler’s, but did produce some limited bother, at least.

(MORE: Match recap as Sporting KC-Houston play to 0-0 draw)

  • Clark’s injury forces Dynamo formation, personnel shuffle

How much of a compliment is this? When Houston’s Ricardo Clark left after 25 minutes (due to a knee injury), Houston manager Dominic Kinnear had to reconfigure his entire personnel and formation arrangement.

Reason: Clark covers so much ground. So Houston’s 4-4-2 wasn’t being overly bothered by the visitors’ man advantage in the middle. Clark and Warren Creavalle were keeping pace in the center with SKC’s 4-2-3-1, with Paulo Nagamura and Oriol Rosell in defensive support behind playmaker Benny Feilhaber. (Feilhaber had limited influence on the game, as his quest to regain greater relevancy continues to stall.)

Kinnear responded by shifting into a 4-3-3. Andrew Driver came in for Clark, stationed on the left wing.  Brad Davis and Boniek Garcia, previously on the Dynamo wings, came inside to play at the top of the midfield “V” ahead of Creavalle. Omar Cummings moved out to the right, with Will Bruin playing as the lone striker.

  • Aurelien Collin’s lucky day

Sporting Kansas City center back Aurelien Collin, so talented and so tough to beat, but always the antagonist and instigator, had himself a pretty lucky day all things considered. The Frenchman was quite good in dealing with Houston’s physical Will Bruin. (And in the second half with Bruin’s replacement, the equally physical Cam Weaver.) But Collin also sidestepped some real danger as Stott went easy on the whistle (for both sides, but especially as it concerned Collin.)

Collin was sitting on a yellow card and would have missed the return leg with a booking Saturday. So he was fortunate that Stott did see him barge into Houston center back Bobby Boswell off the ball in the first half. Another referee might have cautioned both players for the naughty little burst of nonsense.

Later, Collin was called for a foul but evaded the potential second-half booking when he tripped Cummings as the speedy Houston man moved around him dangerously just outside the penalty area.

Later still, Collin stepped on Weaver’s foot at the edge of the penalty area. And before it was over, Collin wrapped his leg around Brad Davis from behind, getting some of the ball but still tackling from a poor position, never prudent while toting a playoff yellow card. (And it wasn’t in an area of the field where Collin needed to knife in so brazenly.)

(MORE: Sporting KC Man of the Match, Aurelien Collin)

  • Tally Hall still not at his best

Houston goalkeeper Tally Hall has certainly had his moments of good and bad through four playoff contests so far.

Saturday, he had a couple more wobbles, although Sporting KC could not punish him for one booboo in positioning and one poor moment of ball handling. Both nervous instances came off one of those Besler throw-ins.

In the first half, Hall stepped out quickly but then got caught in traffic. So he was well out of position when Graham Zusi’s header dropped in behind him, although high of the target.

In the second half, Hall did reach one of Besler’s bullet throw-ins … but then dropped it, even though he wasn’t challenged with any force by a Sporting KC man. That was in the 83rd minute, and conceding a goal there would surely have been a soul crusher for the Dynamo.

  • Mike Chabala passed the test

A real worry for Houston on Saturday was how to replace steady left back Corey Ashe, who was suspended for the series opener for collecting a second post-season yellow card in Wednesday’s win over New York. Dynamo manager Dominic Kinnear said he changed his mind several times before settling on reserve defender Mike Chabala.

It looked like a tough matchup, a man who had played in just one MLS match this year (Chabala) against a U.S. international and MLS All-Star (Graham Zusi). But Chabala held up well, rarely allowing Zusi to find his way into the game from his advanced right-sided spot in SKC’s 4-3-3.

As Chabala was getting significant help from Brad Davis (and then Andrew Driver after the Clark-related reshuffle), Zusi began drifting inside to locate space. SKC right back Chance Myers never added much pressure on Chabala’s side; in a tight match featuring two tired teams, none of the four outside backs made significant attacking contributions to this one.

Highlights, from NBC:

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Watch Live: Guatemala vs. T&T; Canada vs. Guyana in Olympic qualifying

Canadian players wave to fans after a 2-1 loss to England in a quarterfinal of the Women's World Cup soccer tournament, Saturday, June 27, 2015, in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP)
Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP
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Group B is set to kick off Thursday night at the 2016 CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Championship, as Canada, third-place finishers at the 2012 Olympics, begin their quest to qualify for this summer’s games in Rio de Janeiro.

Guyana versus Trinidad and Tobago is up first (6 p.m. ET) from BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston, Tex, followed by the Canadians, who will take on Guyana (8:30 p.m. ET) in the nightcap.

[ WATCH LIVE: Guatemala vs. T&T live online on NBC Sports Live Extra ]

[ WATCH LIVE: Canada vs. Guyana live on line on NBC Sports Live Extra ]

The U.S. women’s national began its Olympic qualifying campaign in impressive fashion on Wednesday with a 5-0 victory over Costa Rica, while Mexico jumped to the top of Group A with a 6-0 victory over Puerto Rico.

Sunderland terminate Adam Johnson’s contract after guilty pleas in sex case

Sunderland winger Adam Johnson arrives at Bradford Crown Court, England, Wednesday Feb. 10, 2016. Johnson has pleaded guilty in court to one count of sexual activity with a child and another of grooming. The 28-year-old Johnson, who has made 12 appearances for England, denies two charges of sexual activity with a girl under the age of 16. (Peter Byrne/PA via AP) UNITED KINGDOM OUT NO SALES NO ARCHIVE
Peter Byrne/PA via AP
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SUNDERLAND, England (AP) Sunderland has fired winger Adam Johnson after he pleaded guilty to grooming and sexual activity with a 15-year-old girl at the start of his trial.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Johnson, who has played 12 times for England, continues to deny two further counts of sexual activity with a child.

Sunderland dismissed Johnson ahead of his trial resuming on Friday at Bradford Crown Court.

[ MORE: Top 5 Premier League storylines — Sunday’s top-four battle royal ]

In a statement, Sunderland announced Thursday that “in light of Adam Johnson’s guilty pleas, the club has today terminated his contract with immediate effect.”

The former Manchester City player joined Sunderland in 2012 for 10 million pounds (now about $14.5 million).

Week 26: Top 5 Premier League storylines — Top-four battle royal

Tottenham Hotspur’s Harry Kane, right, lifts the ball over Leicester City’s goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel but fails to score during their English Premier League soccer match between Tottenham Hotspur and Leicester City at the White Hart Lane stadium in London Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
AP Photo/Alastair Grant
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Whoever says, “No one could have ever predicted Leicester City would be top of the league on Valentine’s Day,” is wrong.

One group of Premier League savants knew: the PL schedule makers, which is why this Sunday shall henceforth be known as “Super Duper Mega Uber Sunday,” as it’s 3rd versus 1st, and 4th versus 2nd.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Top-four battle royal, part 1

Arsenal vs. Leicester City — Sunday, 7 a.m. ET (NBCSN)

Will Arsenal “Arsenal it up?” Will Leicester finally fall apart and blow the PL title, as they were supposed to have done weeks months ago? The battle of narratives in so strong in this one. Are Leicester really title favorites? Upon further review, they are. No PL team has won more points away from home this season than Leicester (28). Is another giant-slaying on the cards for the Foxes? At this point, who would be crazy enough to doubt them?

[ MORE: PL schedule, stream links ]

Top-four battle royal, part 2

Manchester City vs. Tottenham Hotspur — Sunday, 11:15 a.m. ET (NBCSN)

The last time Tottenham were ahead of Man City this late in the season will have to have been the final day of the 2009-10 season, when Spurs qualified for the UEFA Champions League just ahead of City. Heading into Sunday, a single point is all that separates the sides. When they met earlier this season, Spurs hammered City, to the tune of 4-1. The importance of three points speaks for itself, as either side could surge into a commanding place in the title race with a victory on Sunday.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings | Schedule | Stats ]

Man United’s top-four hopes hanging by a thread

Sunderland vs. Manchester United — Saturday, 6:45 a.m. ET (NBCSN)

As the PL’s top-four teams have kept winning in recent weeks, so too have Man United, to an extent. With that, the Red Devils are no closer to Champions League qualification today than they were three weeks ago before their mini-run of 11 points from six games. Only Aston Villa (10), who are rock bottom of the league, have won fewer points at home this season than Sunderland (12). United are currently six points back of 4th, so with at least two of the four sides ahead of them guaranteed to drop points on Sunday, it’s a big, big weekend for United to take of their own business and apply a little pressure.

[ WATCH LIVE: Stream every PL game via Live Extra ]

The Fallen On Hard Times But Someone Has To Win (Maybe) Derby

Crystal Palace vs. Watford — Saturday, 10 a.m. ET (Premier League Extra Time)

When 2016 began, Crystal Palace were 5th in the PL. Unfortunately for them, the clock also struck midnight on what had been a hugely successful season to that point — five losses and one draw since, and they’re now 12th in the league table. The story is eerily similar for Watford, who were 7th after a Boxing Day draw with Chelsea — five losses, a draw and a win later, they’re 10th. A single point is all that separates Saturday’s combatants desperately hoping to regain their early-season form.

Is Roberto Martinez’s employment under review? It might be

Everton vs. West Bromwich Albion — Saturday, 10 a.m. ET (NBCSN)

Everton will be a fascinating club to watch as the 2015-16 season winds down. There’s essentially no chance of them finishing in the top-four or -five (12 and 6 points back, respectively), and they look essentially the same side that massively disappointed en route to an 11th-place finish last season — they’re atrocious and hugely naive defensively, which has been a characteristic of Roberto Martinez-managed teams since, well, the beginning of his managerial career. $100 million is a lot of money to spend over four transfer windows without any discernible progress.

Men In Blazers podcast: Leicester, Spurs continue to defy the odds

Men In Blazers - Sept. 22
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Rog and Davo break down Leicester City’s 3-1 win at Manchester City, marvel at Spurs going second in the table, and talk about the headlines surrounding the mid-table clash between Chelsea and United.

Listen to the latest pod by clicking play below.

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