Real Salt Lake Man of the Match: Javier Morales

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There were lots of great, potential Man of the Match choices around the park for Real Salt Lake, which took a nice, long stride in the direction of the 2013 MLS Cup final with its commanding performance over a potentially staggered Portland Timbers.

But when Javier Morales put his head on a late corner kick, supplying Real Salt Lake with a crucial fourth goal in the opener of this highly attractive first-leg Western Conference final, the veteran Argentine playmaker sealed the deal.

It looked like Morales had bequeathed his team a seriously intimidating three-goal advantage in the series, although Freddie Piquionne’s late, bullet header for Portland changes things a bit as this one reaches “halftime.”

Still, Morales had so very much to say about an enormous night at Rio Tinto Stadium, one that started with a surprising nervousness, but unfolded about as well as it possibly could from there for Jason Kreis’ team. Morales had a goal and two assists, but his equally important imprint was in helping the home team rule the midfield.

RSL had just 36 percent of the possession over the game’s first few minutes, a really shocking number considering how strong RSL generally is in possession, especially at Rio Tinto.

But there was Morales to calm the choppy waters. When the team’s younger midfielders in the RSL diamond, Luis Gil and Sebastian Velasquez, settled down – and they were both very good in two-way work over 90 minutes – Portland had very little going.

Morales didn’t just assist his team in retaining possession; his passes almost always kept the team moving forward. And that kept Portland pinned in for long stretches. When Portland tried to press, Morales was there to help RSL reliably break the pressure. And when Portland sat back, Morales guided his team in picking apart the visitors’ scrambling back line, spraying timely balls out wide to be pinged back in front of Timbers’ goal.

Morales’ early corner kick found Chris Schuler for the critical equalizer. Later, Morales helped spring Robbie Findley as RSL rookie Devon Sandoval got into the scoring act. And finally, that deflected header that gave Portland is fourth.

And this part was less noticed on Morales’ big night of attacking and steely ball handling:

On RSL’s other goal, who was it chasing all the way back, assisting Gil in defense along RSL’s right side as RSL won the ball and quickly moved the other way? That was Morales, helping to claim possession before Findley was off and running, pressuring Portland’s back line and creating the home team’s second goal.

Men in Blazers: Jurgen Klopp talks loss of Coutinho and more

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Roger Bennett talks with manager Jurgen Klopp about revolutionizing Liverpool, his Greatest Show on Turf-esque offense, the loss of Philippe Coutinho and how he keeps football in perspective.

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MLS: Higuain extends with Crew, Royer gets new deal with Red Bulls

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Two key midfielders earned new deals on Thursday, as two of the Eastern Conference’s recent successes helped solidify for their attacks for the next few years.

The Columbus Crew extended Designated Player attacker Federico Higuain through the 2019 MLS season.

Higuain has been with the Crew since 2012, when the Argentine joined the club from Colon de Santa Fe in his native country.

Meanwhile, the New York Red Bulls extended Daniel Royer’s contract, as the Austrian winger in the midst of his third season with Jesse Marsch’s group.

Thus far, Royer has tallied 17 goals in all competitions for the Red Bulls, including 15 during the 2017 campaign, where the former Midtjylland player finished second on the team in goals behind Bradley Wright-Phillips.

UEL: Griezmann nabs crucial away goal vs. Arsenal, Marseille cruises

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A game of back-and-forth at the Emirates Stadium set up an enticing second leg in the UEFA Europa League semifinals, while a Ligue 1 side positioned itself well to move into the final.

[ MORE: Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks ]

Arsenal and Atletico Madrid settled for a 1-1 draw in London, as Antoine Griezmann’s late strike leveled the match for the Spanish side.

The Gunners looked on their way to a victory when Alexandre Lacazette‘s goal just beyond the hour mark put Arsene Wenger‘s men in front.

The result sets up a strong showdown for the two giants in a week’s time, although Arsenal will feel it left something on the table after racking up 26 shots (seven on target) on the day, particularly after Sime Vrsaljko was sent off after 10 minutes for the visitors when he picked up a second yellow card.

Meanwhile, Florian Thauvin and Clinton Njie gave Marseille a 2-0 win over Red Bull Leipzig, giving the French side the edge it sought out ahead of the competition finale.

The two clubs will meet again at Red Bull Arena Salzburg for the second leg.


Arsenal 1-1 Atletico Madrid
Marseille 2-0 Red Bull Salzburg

Europa League, LIVE: Arsenal, Marseille host first legs

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Diego Costa brings a solid career record against Arsenal back to London in a bid to ruin Arsene Wenger‘s farewell season at the Emirates Stadium.

[ FOLLOW: Arsenal vs. Atleti ]

The now-Atletico Madrid forward returns to England on Thursday as his La Liga outfit aims to stop Arsenal from reaching next month’s Europa League Final in Lyon.

[ FOLLOW: Marseille vs. Red Bull Salzburg ]

That’s a 3:05 p.m. ET kickoff, the same as Marseille’s date with Red Bull Salzburg in France.

ARSENAL-ATLETICO MADRID LINEUPS

Arsenal: Ospina, Bellerin, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal, Xhaka, Wilshere, Ramsey, Welbeck, Ozil, Lacazette. Subs: Cech, Maitland-Niles, Holding, Chambers, Kolasinac, Iwobi, Nketiah.

Atleti: Oblak, Lucas, Godin, Gimenez, Vrsaljko, Saul, Thomas, Koke, Correa, Griezmann, Gameiro. Subs: Werner, Savic, Gabi, Vitolo, Olabe, Torres, Costa.