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: Chelsea vs. West Brom (Lineups, Stream)

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 22:  Diego Costa of Chelsea and Joleon Lescott of West Brom battle for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and West Bromwich Albion at Stamford Bridge on November 22, 2014 in London, England.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
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Chelsea hosts West Bromwich Albion from Stamford Bridge (Watch live, 7:00 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) as the Blues look to extend their eight-match win streak.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE HERE

The Blues make one change from last weekend’s 3-1 come-from-behind victory over Manchester City as Cesc Fabregas makes way in the starting XI for Nemanja Matic.

Antonio Conte‘s side will be opposed by a West Brom side that is unbeaten in their last four Premier League matches. The Baggies remain unchanged from last week’s 3-1 win over Watford as the side looks to move above eighth in the table.

LINEUPS

Chelsea: Courtois; Azpilicueta, David Luiz, Cahill (c); Moses, Kante, Matic, Alonso; Pedro, Diego Costa, Hazard. Subs: Begovic, Aina, Ivanovic, Chalobah, Fabregas, Willian, Batshuayi.

West Brom: Foster; Dawson, McAuley, Evans, Nyom; Yacob, Fletcher (c); Brunt, Morrison, Phillips; Rondon. Subs: Palmer; Olsson, Robson-Kanu, Gardner, McClean, Galloway, Chadli.

“Pretty unreal, a fairy tale” — Alonso, Marshall celebrate Sounders title

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TORONTO — Talk about penalty kicks all you want, and definitely talk about that save, but Seattle’s formative heart kept Toronto FC’s vaunted attack off the scoreboard to win its first MLS Cup final.

Veterans Chad Marshall, Osvaldo Alonso, Stefan Frei, and Roman Torres simply got the job done against Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore and the high-flying Reds.

“We knew what a great offensive team they are,” Marshall said. “Giovinco and Jozy are incredible. The amount of goals they put up this postseason is pretty ridiculous, so to keep them off the board for 120 minutes is incredible.”

[ MLS CUP: Seattle wins in PKs | 3 things ]

The man in front of him, Alonso, was a prime reason for that. Countless connecting passes and perfect spacing limited TFC’s chances with the ball. After an MVP caliber season, you could argue that Alonso deserved just as much of a shout for MLS Cup MVP as winner Frei.

“In the final you have to give everything you have to win,” Alonso said. “I step on the field to play for my team, play for myself, and play for my family. And I think I did that.”

Both Alonso and Marshall spoke of the moments following Torres’ match-winning PK, as the Sounders crew flew down to pitch to celebrate in front of a rave green and blue visitors section high above BMO Field.

[ MORE: Bradley apologizes to fans ]

[ MORE: Altidore, Frei on that save ]

“I think I threw my back out on the run to Roman, and he flew right by me,” Marshall said. “It was just nuts. I lost my voice in a matter of 20 seconds. It’s just so exciting.”

Alonso was filled with pride for the fans at the game, and the ones back in Seattle who stood by the Sounders after a midseason coaching change.

“They deserved this, the trophy, because they are always there for us,” Alonso said. “Even when we were down at the bottom of the table. This trophy means a lot for me.”

Marshall admitted the words weren’t coming to him, even an hour after the game.

“I don’t know if I can. It’s an incredible feeling, from where we in July, the Kansas City game, to this moment right now, it’s pretty unreal, a fairy tale.”

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Bradley lauds “fearless” teammates after heart-wrenching MLS Cup loss

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TORONTO — Michael Bradley paused to collect himself, several times actually, before apologizing to Toronto FC’s supporters.

The game of football, with its soaring highs and gutting lows, was the latter now. TFC had dominated Seattle over a lackluster 120 minutes, Bradley engineered several big interventions and some delightful balls that didn’t have an end product.

[ MLS CUP: Seattle wins in PKs | 3 things ]

Much of that won’t be remembered, though, because Bradley passed his penalty kick right into the path of a waiting Stefan Frei. Surrounded by reporters in the TFC locker room, Bradley chose his words carefully.

“When you put everything you have into something, when you come in every day ready to pour your heart and soul into something, the highs are amazing and emotional and incredible in a positive ways,” Bradley said. “And the setbacks… hit you hard. Every guy here is going to have to take the time to get over this one, to let it hurt, let it frustrate you, let it anger you.

“It’s not for the weak, and you see that on nights like tonight.”

[ MORE: Altidore, Frei on that save ]

Bradley was one of the final men to emerge from the showers at BMO Field, and he answered every question with brutal honesty.

“On behalf of the team, we can only thank every person in this city for their support and for the passion and the emotion and the energy that they put into this, together with us,” he said. “I’m sick to my stomach that we couldn’t reward them with the biggest trophy tonight.”

In defeat, it was easy to see why TFC’s locker room is drawn to its captain. Bradley shirked nothing, answering the tough questions and humoring those who would lob softballs about his family.

Among the former was this response, one of those quotes that moves a team into formation.

“The margins are so small, and on nights like this you have no choice but to go for it,” he said. “We talked about having a group of guy who were gonna, on the biggest of nights, be fearless and go after things in an aggressive way. And we did that. We were strong, brave, and went after the game in a really, really hard away from the first minute right up until the 120th minute.”

That Bradley missed a PK will howl to the moon in Toronto to the wee hours of this Sunday morning, and his critics will be happy to join in. But as the 29-year-old prepares for a winter that could see him head across an ocean before returning for World Cup qualifying and another MLS season, Toronto can be happy to put its faith — and its backbone — in No. 4.

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Altidore, Frei react to “that save” after Sounders claim MLS Cup

TORONTO, ONTARIO - DECEMBER 10:  Stefan Frei #24 of the Seattle Sounders stops Michael Bradley #4 of the Toronto FC during the penalty kick phase during the 2016 MLS Cup at BMO Field on December 10, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Seattle defeated Toronto in the 6th round of extra time penalty kicks. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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TORONTO — When it came down to it, Jozy Altidore and Toronto FC were inches away from becoming MLS Cup champions.

The man who walked away with MLS Cup MVP was the reason they didn’t land the title.

[ WATCH: Frei’s big save ]

Deep in extra time, Altidore leapt high to loft a header toward the far post. Frei adjusted his body for one dramatic lunge, just slapping the ball toward Roman Torres for a clearance.

“(Altidore) does the right thing because he goes against the way that I’m coming from, and that point you just move your feet as quick as you can see what’s possible,” Frei said.

Altidore thought it was in.

“I thought so,” he said. “It was a tough ball to begin with. … It was a hell of a save. At the end of the day you’ve got to pull off something special.”

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