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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PL Sunday preview: Wayward Watford welcome woeful West Ham

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In a reversal of roles, based on preseason projections at least, Watford welcome West Ham United to Vicarage Road on Sunday (Watch live, 11 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com) for a clash of mid-table climbers and relegation fighters, respectively.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL roundup — Man Utd, Chelsea win big… so do Man City ]

Watford began the 2017-18 Premier League season in fine form, winning four of their first eight games and losing just one (to runaway leaders Manchester City, no less). In their last three games, however, the Hornets have conceded eight goals, while scoring just four themselves, and winning zero points. Coincidentally — nor not, perhaps — that three-game slide began at the same time Watford manager Marco Silva‘s name was linked with the vacant manager’s job at Everton. With Ronald Koeman fired almost four weeks ago now, Watford have rejected approach after approach from Everton owner Farhad Moshiri. Silva, for his first three months of efforts, has been roundly praised by the club’s supporters and players alike.

“Everybody could see he changed a lot of things in the team. We had quite a lot of the same players but we improved a lot,” defender Christian Kabasele said this week. “When you have somebody like this and other teams are looking for him it’s important that Watford try to do everything possible to keep him.”

West Ham, meanwhile, started the season poorly and have remained equally so in recent weeks. Slaven Bilic was subsequently fired two weeks and succeeded by David Moyes, who had been out of a job since guiding Sunderland to relegation at the end of last season. Sunday’s bout with Watford will see Moyes make his debut for West Ham, the fourth club to employ him since leaving Everton four and a half years ago. To make matters more difficult, the Hammers’ leading scorer, Javier Hernandez (4 goals), won’t be available after picking up an injury on international duty.

“It’s a clean slate for the entire squad,” Moyes said last week. “They’ve all worked very hard this week and responded in a positive manner to everything we’ve asked of them. It will obviously take time for the players to fully understand our style and methods but the initial signs are very encouraging — they’ve bought in what we are trying to do and that’s a good base for us to build on.”

INJURIES: Watford — OUT: Troy Deeney (suspension), Nathaniel Chalobah (knee), Isaac Success (knee); QUESTIONABLE: Younes Kaboul (hamstring), Sebastian Prodl (hamstring), Roberto Pereyra (hamstring) | West Ham — OUT: Javier Hernandez (hamstring), James Collins (ankle), Sam Byram (thigh), Jose Fonte (foot); QUESTIONABLE: Michail Antonio (ribs)

The 2 Robbies: North London Painted Red

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In today’s pod, the Robbies heap praise on Arsenal’s impressive performance in the North London Derby (00:30), analyze Manchester United’s 4-1 win against Newcastle on the back of Paul Pogba’s return (10:00), ask if this Man City side is the best Premier League side ever (18:25), debate where Kevin De Bruyne’s current form ranks in the league’s greatest ever players (23:45) and pick the best summer signing so far this season (27:15; hint, hint – he might be leading the league in scoring).

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

All of the The 2 Robbies content can be accessed by clicking on this link:

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Follow them on Twitter @The2Robbies

La Liga: Draw in Madrid derby puts Barca 10 clear of capital rivals

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MADRID (AP) Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid played to a scoreless draw in their first derby at the new Wanda Metropolitano Stadium on Saturday, leaving both teams further away from Spanish league leader Barcelona.

Barcelona won at Leganes 3-0 earlier and ended the day 10 points in front of both Madrid clubs after 12 matches. The thriving Catalan club is seven points in front of second-place Valencia, which will try to extend its seven-game winning streak at Espanyol on Sunday.

The draw extended Atletico’s winless run at its new home to five matches. It drew three straight entering this weekend. Diego Simeone’s team has won only two of its last 10 games in all competitions.

Both teams will have to remain nearly perfect for the rest of the season to try to catch up to Barcelona, which has won 11 of its 12 league matches.

It was a tense between Real and Atletico from the start, with hard fouls from both sides.

Real had control for most of the game but was not able to create many significant chances.

Atletico had one of its best opportunities early when forward Angel Correa entered the area free from markers with only goalkeeper Kiko Casilla to beat but sent his shot wide.

Substitute Kevin Gameiro also came close in the second half, but his shot over Casilla was cleared by Real defender Raphael Varane in front of the goal-line.

Real threatened with a few runs by Isco and a couple of free kicks taken by Cristiano Ronaldo.

It was another tough night for Ronaldo and Antoine Griezmann. Ronaldo has scored six times in the Champions league but only once in La Liga, while Griezmann has only three goals in 14 matches with Atletico in all competitions. The France forward was jeered when he was replaced by Fernando Torres near the end of the second half.

Luis Suarez scored twice to end a five-match scoring drought in Barcelona’s win.

The Uruguay striker found the net in each half and substitute midfielder Paulinho scored late to give the Catalan club its 11th win.

Leganes, ninth in the standings, had its chances early in southern Madrid but couldn’t beat Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen.

Suarez opened the scoring in the 28th after Leganes goalkeeper Ivan Cuellar dropped the ball in front of the goal after a cross by Paco Alcacer. Suarez’s second in the 60th was a rebound shot after Cuellar parried a shot by Lionel Messi. Suarez hadn’t scored in more than a month.

“What mattered to me was that I was feeling good and was helping the team, and today the goals helped us get the three points against a difficult rival,” Suarez said. “We always try to play better, but it’s not always possible.”

Paulinho sealed the victory in the 90th after a pass by Messi, who was on the ground fighting for the ball when he tipped it back to the midfielder.

Leganes, playing only in its second season in the first division, wore a specially designed purple shirt to promote the fight against gender violence.

“We had our opportunities, but in the end we knew that we were playing against the best team in the world, and with very little they can score on you,” Leganes midfielder Ruben Perez said.

Sevilla recovered from its loss to Barcelona in the previous round by beating Celta Vigo 2-1 to move back to fifth place.

Celta got on the board first through Maxi Gomez, but the hosts rallied with goals by Luis Muriel in the first half and Nolito in the second.

It was the fourth win in five matches for Sevilla in all competitions.

Markel Bergara and Jorge Molina scored in the first 10 minutes to lead Getafe to a comfortable 4-1 win over Alaves at home.

It was the 10th league loss for Alaves, which remains in 18th place. Getafe is 10th.

“Our performance was embarrassing,” Alaves coach Gianni De Biasi said.

Bundesliga: Bayern running away (again) after slow start

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BERLIN (AP) Robert Lewandowski scored twice to help Bayern Munich stretch its lead in the Bundesliga to six points with a 3-0 defeat of Bavarian rival Augsburg on Saturday.

It was the 500th league win for Jupp Heynckes as a player or coach and extends the 72-year-old’s winning start to eight games across all competitions since he returned for his fourth stint.

“That’s a surprise for me. I don’t bother with statistics and numbers,” Heynckes said on being told about his winning landmark. “But it’s an impressive number (500). I had a long career as a player, and now as a coach. It wasn’t planned.”

Heynckes was coaxed out of retirement to take over from the fired Carlo Ancelotti on Oct. 5. Bayern was trailing then-leader Borussia Dortmund by five points at the time. Now the side is nine points ahead of Dortmund, which hasn’t won in the league since Sept. 30, and six ahead of Leipzig, held to a draw at Bayer Leverkusen.

Bayern midfielder Arturo Vidal broke the deadlock after half an hour, swiveling to fire home the rebound from a difficult angle after Mats Hummels’s effort was blocked and the ball ricocheted off Niklas Suele.

Vidal turned provider seven minutes later, playing Lewandowski through on a counterattack to shoot past Marwin Hitz.

The Poland striker claimed his league-leading 13th goal of the season early in the second half with a perfectly struck volley to Joshua Kimmich’s precise long cross from the right.

Vidal headed against the crossbar just afterward before Bayern conserved energy for Wednesday’s Champions League game at Anderlecht.

The win stretched the side’s unbeaten record to 28 games at home.

Winless Cologne’s terrible start to the league continued with its 10th defeat in 12 games, while the discussion over video assistance in the league will continue after two mistakes by referee Felix Brych.

Daniel Brosinski’s penalty before the break was enough for a 1-0 win for Mainz against Cologne, but how it came about will ensure the controversy over video assistance goes on.

Brych pointed to the spot when Pablo De Blasis fell under Frederik Sorensen’s challenge. He then consulted the video assistant, who had the benefit of studying replays in Cologne, and stood by the decision – despite television showing that Sorensen made hardly any contact with the Mainz player.

Brych later sent off Mainz’s Giulio Donati for what he perceived as striking Leon Bittencourt after a tussle between the two. However, Bittencourt’s foot struck Donati in the face beforehand. Donati, who was lying on the pitch clutching his face, brushed the Cologne player away when he went to lift him up.

Following controversial decisions in previous games, the German soccer federation said video assistants were only to step in when there was “a clear wrong decision.”

Ten-man Leverkusen came from behind to salvage a 2-2 draw at home against second-place Leipzig.

Timo Werner’s early penalty put the visitors in front before Leon Bailey equalized before the break.

The home side’s hopes took a blow when Benjamin Henrichs was sent off for handball on the line and Emil Forsberg scored the resulting penalty, but Kevin Volland equalized again with a quarter-hour remaining.

Wolfsburg defeated Freiburg 3-1 at home to give coach Martin Schmidt his first win after he started with seven draws.

On loan from Bayern, Serge Gnabry did brilliantly to set up Mark Uth for Hoffenheim’s injury-time equalizer in a 1-1 draw with visiting Eintracht Frankfurt.