Everton 3-3 Liverpool: Plenty of drama in the Merseyside Derby (video)

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It’s hard to argue that Saturday’s match between Everton and Liverpool wasn’t a fine example of a derby match. This edition of the Merseyside Derby featured a hectic start, fine finishing and, of course, a bit of controversy. And that was all in just the first half! By the final whistle, even the fans were exhausted from the dramatic 3-3 draw.

Liverpool took the lead after barely five minutes had passed. Luis Suarez got on the end of a ball from Steven Gerrard, but his header was put out for a corner. No matter — that just gave the duo time to perfect their routine. Gerrard swung in the corner, and again, Suarez got his head on it. This time, though, it was a flick on to Philippe Coutinho, who came rushing around the Everton defense to end up by the near post. A slick little side-footed kick evaded Tim Howard to give Liverpool an early lead.

But Everton weren’t ready to throw in the towel. Just three minutes later, the Toffees had their equalizer. Coutinho brought down Phil Jagielka, conceding a free kick — a silly thing to do when Leighton Baines is on the opposite side. It was the left back who sent in the free kick, and Everton used Liverpool’s own moves against them: Martin Skrtel let down his guard, allowing Kevin Mirallas to slip around to linger by the near post. The attacker connected with Baines’ ball, sliding it past Simon Mignolet.

Liverpool, however, managed once again to take the lead, before twenty minutes were up. And the goal came off another set piece. Suarez took the free kick, bending it beautifully. But some of the blame must go to Howard, whose wall was rather skewed, allowing the ball to slide through an opening and evade the diving goalkeeper.

And it wouldn’t be a Merseyside Derby without some whiff of controversy. Phil Dowd was kind enough to create some when he awarded a yellow card for Miralles’ challenge on Suarez. The Belgian’s boot connected with Suarez’s thigh, hard enough to leave stud marks. The Uruguayan went tumbling and, although Dowd took his time in deciding, the high boot was ultimately ruled only worthy of a yellow.

Somehow, somehow, the second half managed to be even more exciting than the first. It started off with a pair of fantastic misses. For Everton, it was a whiffed chance by Gerard Deulofeu, on for Baines in the 50th minutes. Glen Johnson gave the ball away, allowing Everton to break quickly, putting Deulofeu one on one with Mignolet. But the youngster could only manage to put the ball straight at the Liverpool keeper.

Then it was Joe Allen, failing to put the game away for Liverpool. The Reds broke free, Allen and Suarez charging toward Howard’s goal. Allen only needed to beat the Everton keeper, or slide the ball to Suarez, but instead put his shot wide of the net.

That miss would come back to haunt Liverpool. In the 72nd minute, Everton grabbed an equalizer — through who else but Romelu Lukaku? The Belgian’s free kick was on target, Mignolet managed to push it away, but Everton continued to push for a goal. When Liverpool thought they’d grabbed the ball back, James McCarthy got a toe on it, pushing it over to Lukaku, who was lurking in the center. There was no stopping the striker’s powerful kick from landing in the back of the net.

But that wasn’t all for the hosts. Ten minutes later, Lukaku had a second, putting Everton ahead for the first time all game. This one was from yet another set piece, a corner sent in by Mirallas. Lukaku had no trouble getting his head on it and directing the ball past Mignolet. 3-2 Everton, and it was time for the Toffees to simply hang on.

Yet Liverpool were bound and determined to get, if not all three, at least a point from the match that had seen them in control throughout the majority of the minutes. And so there was little surprise, really, when the Reds’ pressure paid off with Everton conceding yet another free kick in the 89th minute. It was another lovely ball put in by captain Gerrard, and this time it was Daniel Sturridge, on for Lucas Leiva ten minutes earlier, who had the goal. His powerful header left Howard with no chance of keeping the scoreline level.

With four minutes of stoppage time, there was opportunity for even more drama to ensue. First, Liverpool very nearly thought they’d stole the match in the dying seconds, only for Sturridge’s goal to be ruled offside. Then McCarthy had his shot put out wide for a corner, but Dowd, obviously exhausted from his exertions, decided to blow the whistle before Everton had a chance to put away a winner.

Everton: Howard, Baines (Deulofeu 50), Distin, Jagielka, Coleman, Barry, McCarthy, Pienaar (Stones 83), Barkley, Mirallas (Osman 88), Lukaku

Subs not used: Robles, Heitinga, Jelavic, Naismith

Goals: Mirallas 8′; Lukaku 72′, 82′

Liverpool: Mignolet, Johnson, Flanagan, Agger, Skrtel, Lucas (Sturridge 79), Gerrard, Allen (Moses 68), Henderson, Coutinho, Suarez

Subs not used: Jones, Toure, Alberto, Sakho, Sterling

Goals: Coutinho 5′, Suarez 19′, Sturridge 89′

MLS Snapshot: Sounders in firm control after Leg 1

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The game in 100 words (or less): The Seattle Sounders took full control of the Western Conference finals with a resounding 2-0 win over ten-man Houston. The Sounders already had hit first in the 11th minute through Gustav Svensson but the red card to Jalil Anibaba changed the game. Houston had some chances later but fatigue meant the focus and control was off. Former Dynamo striker Will Bruin’s goal may have put the tie to bed.

Three moments that mattered

11′ — Gustav Svensson Goal — The Sounders wanted to set the tone early and they picked up an early goal off a corner kick, as Svensson redirected a header past Dynamo goalkeeper Joe Willis. The goal changed the complexion of the game to that point, until our next big moment.

28′ — Jalil Anibaba red card — Joevin Jones was a menace to deal with tonight and after getting past Anibaba, the latter pulled Jones down and as it appeared to be denial of a goal-scoring opportunity, Anibaba was given his marching orders. Suddenly, Houston, down a goal and down a man, had a lot more to do to stay in the tie. Nicolas Lodeiro missed the subsequent penalty kick but Will Bruin picked Lodeiro up later.

42′ — Will Bruin goal — The former Dynamo man scored a massive goal against his former club on a great cross from Jones on the left wing. While the tie isn’t over, the Sounders are in firm control and look set to repeat as Western Conference playoffs champions.

Man of the Match: Joevin Jones

Three things: Sounders cruise after (and before) early red

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The Seattle Sounders all but booked a return appearance in the 2017 MLS Cup final on Tuesday, doing so by beating the Houston Dynamo 2-0 in the first (away) leg of the Western Conference finals on Tuesday. The game wasn’t as close at the final score might appear to indicate.

[ RECAP: Sounders take 2-0 lead over Dynamo ]

We learned the following three things over the course of the 90 minutes…


The red card hurt Houston

No way, you’re kidding, right? Clearly a 28th-minute red card (shown to Jalil Anibaba for the denial of an obvious goal-scoring opportunity) is going to have a massive impact on the outcome of a game. But, it really crippled Houston, given the way they play — having a numerical advantage in the center of midfield is so important to Wilmer Cabrera’s side, in the name of frantically winning the ball back after conceding half or even two-thirds of the field.

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When you have to haul off one of three central midfielders, in hopes of still being about to force-create chances on the rare occasion you recover the ball and move it forward, three things are bound to happen: 1) legs are going to get very heavy, very quickly; 2) the clock appears to be counting up in double-speed; 3) you begin to concede two-thirds and three-quarters of the field instead — every move Seattle worked during the second half came after a waltz in the final third before finally meeting resistance.

At right, you can see every Sounders pass originating in Houston’s half of the field — remember, Seattle are the away team here. Playoff games rarely, if ever, come much easier than that.


Addition by subtraction… again?

This one isn’t so much a lesson from Tuesday’s game, as much as it’s a trend played out over the course of an entire season: much like they wound up being in 2016 following Clint Dempsey‘s heart condition robbing him of the final four months of the season, the Sounders are once again, dare I say it, better without another indomitable figure: Osvaldo Alonso.

Here’s the numbers to back it up: without Alsono in the starting lineup this year, Seattle went 6W-2D-2L. In those 10 regular-season games, they scored 20 goals (2.0 per game, versus 1.3 with him in the lineup) and conceded 12 (1.1 per game, same when he played).

The central midfield pairing of Cristian Roldan (7) and Gustav Svensson (4) has proven a formidable foe for anyone and everyone during the second half of the season. On Tuesday — granted, against 10 men for more than an hour — they could do no wrong. (Passes attempted on the right; defensive actions on the left — green triangles are tackles won, orange are recoveries, blue are interceptions, purple are clearances, red are tackles lost.)

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Alonso has been an unbelievable servant for nine MLS seasons, he’s an MLS Cup champions, a four-time U.S. Open Cup winner, a Supporters’ Shield winner and one of the best defensive midfielders in MLS history. He’s also 32 years old with a growing history of lower-body injuries that seem to never fully heal, and he’s now clearly third in the pecking order behind Roldan and Svensson. It’s clearly an oversimplification to say that soccer is a young, mobile man’s game these days, but it’s certainly true of MLS, and the results are in near total agreement.


May I have some hope, please?

Here’s a not-so-fun fact if you’re a Dynamo fan: your team won one — singular — game on the road in 17 tries this season. Not a dark enough outlook? OK, have this: that lone away win came against D.C. United, who finished 21st out of 22 teams if you put MLS into a single table.

Maybe Seattle weren’t so good at home this year… I’m really just searching for anything at this point, you’re thinking. OK, it’s possible, I suppose. They lost once at home all season, to Toronto FC, the best regular-season team in MLS history, by the final score of 1-0, in the month of May.

We’ll see you in Toronto or Columbus for MLS Cup, Seattle Sounders.

MLS Snapshot: Toronto FC hold Crew on the road

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The game in 100 words (or less): Without two of its stars, Toronto FC set out to play compact and hold on for a draw on the road, and that’s exactly what they did. Michael Bradley recorded 17 recoveries and a trio of interceptions as TFC broke up play and covered the passing lanes, frustrating the Columbus Crew all night. The best chance fell to Harrison Afful late, but TFC goalkeeper Alex Bono made a crucial save to keep it at 0-0.

Three moments that mattered

0′ — The starting lineup — In a game with chances few and far between, the tactical set-up by Greg Vanney – in which his side without Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore came out in a 4-1-4-1 formation – proved to be the difference in the game, frustrating the Crew all night.

52′ — Pedro Santos penalty kick no-call — Justin Meram plays a neat pass through the TFC backline that Santos runs on to, and he appears to be taken down in the box by Bono. Referee Robert Sbiga doesn’t blow the whistle and lets play continue, where Ola Kamara takes a shot that’s deflected away. Santos appeals for video review, and receives a yellow card for his efforts.

85′ — Big Save Bono — Gregg Berhalter’s 77th minute substitution to bring on Kekutah Manneh helped to push Afful higher up the field, which led to this late-game chance. Bono, who hadn’t had a whole lot to do, came up with a massive stop to keep the tie level.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the Match: Alex Bono, Toronto FC

Three things: Being happy with 0-0, and sabotage by Precourt

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On what felt sure to be a seminal night in franchise history, Columbus Crew SC were held by Toronto FC to a 0-0 draw in the first leg of the 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs Eastern Conference finals on Tuesday. Leg 2 will be played next Wednesday, Nov. 29.

[ RECAP: TFC hold Crew SC to scoreless draw in leg 1 of East finals ]

We learned (roughly) three things over the course of the 90 minutes…


Who’s happiest with 0-0?

There’s a case to be made that both sides will be quite happy with Tuesday’s result — Crew SC for the fact they conceded no away goals, and TFC facing no deficit whatsoever before their home leg — but it’s quite clear that TFC should be the happier of the two, given 1) they were the best regular-season team in MLS history, this season; and, more importantly, 2) Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore were suspended for leg 1 (they’ll both be back for leg 2) and Crew SC failed to capitalize anywhere meaningful.

TFC lost once at BMO Field all season, while Columbus managed just four victories away from home. Granted, any draw where both sides score would see Crew SC through to MLS Cup, which they would host no matter the opponent (54 points in the regular season; Seattle Sounders and Houston Dynamo finished on 54 and 50, respectively).


TFC’s tactical adjustment pays off

For all of the regular season, TFC head coach Greg Vanney deployed a back-three, with great success — 69 points, an all-time regular-season record. Nov. 21, three games from lifting (or losing) MLS Cup, is hardly the ideal time to deviate from the only path you’ve known.

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Alas, the absences of Giovinco and Altidore, TFC’s permanent strike partnership in the 3-5-2, changed everything. Without Altidore’s hold-up play bringing the best player to ever grace the league into attacking moves, the 3-5-2 would have quickly devolved into a 5-3-2, followed in short order by a 5-4-1. Columbus need no invitation to hold north of 60 percent of possession in a given game, which is exactly what would have happened. Not just meaningless possession, either, but camping-inside-TFC’s-defensive-third possession; 50-crosses-into-the-box possession; get-the-center-backs-forward-too possession.

Vanney was proactive with his starting lineup, putting another body in midfield by sacrificing a striker for another man in the middle, and it paid off. At right, you’ll see Crew SC’s attempted passes into/from TFC’s defensive third. Woof.


Anthony Precourt sinks to a new low

How low is Anthony Precourt willing to go in order to sabotage Crew SC, the club he owns and efforts to move to Austin, Tex., without so much as a phony attempt at a non-relocation resolution, and alienate the fans that have supported the franchise since MLS’s debut season in 1996? Tuesday night saw Precourt and Co. up the ante as they intentionally restricted entry (two gates for the entire stadium, causing thousands to miss the game’s opening minutes) into MAPFRE Stadium with the presumed intent of a half-empty venue when the television broadcast kicked off and panned left to right.

You pay good money for a ticket so you can see your team play, which ultimately results in filling the pockets of the villain whose no. 1 goal it is to steal your team, and this is how you’re treated on gameday.

This is shameful stuff from all parties involved — Crew SC, under the leadership and direction of Precourt, and MLS, who have allowed this entire saga to be played out in a public forum and enabling Precourt every step of the way.