Real Salt Lake Man of the Match: Nat Borchers

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Choosing between Real Salt Lake center backs Nat Borchers and Chris Schuler as the best of a very good bunch Sunday night at Jeld-Wen Field is like choosing between ice cream or cake for dessert.

That is to say, both were very, very good. Not just in Sunday’s 1-0 achievement, either, but over the entire 180 minutes of this stylish series. In fact, good performances were all over the field for Jason Kries’ team Sunday as RSL finished the Western Conference job with a steely, calm authority.

But Borchers, RSL’s veteran, 32-year-old center back, was maybe just a smidge more commanding than Schuler along an RSL back line that did very, very little wrong. (In fact, in terms of notable mistakes for the visitor’s rear guard, Lovel Palmer’s early yellow card may have been about it.)

Portland, down two goals in the series, came into the Jeld-Wen night desperate for goals. And yet, the home team was mostly reduced to a series of half-chances and a few shots from beyond the 18. RSL’s busy midfield was quite responsible, but so were RSL’s center backs. Borchers, Schuler and Kyle Beckerman, RSL’s ever-present screening midfielder, were always in the right places at the right time anytime Portland players seemed like they were thinking about shooting.

(MORE: Real Salt Lake earns place in MLS Cup final, downs Portland 1-0 to win Western Conference)

Until Max Urruti’s drive right at goalkeeper Nick Rimando in the 84th minute, Portland had managed just one single shot on target. One – in a match where they were determined to attack, attack, attack.

Rimando’s night otherwise was a lot of organizing and grabbing a cross here and there – the few crosses that Borchers didn’t deal with, that is.

Statistically, Borchers was credited with 18 clearances and three blocked shots – both game-highs for either side.

When not dealing with balls into the box, Borchers’ positioning was so wise that neither Urruti nor starting Timbers’ striker Freddie Piquionne was a factor in hold-up play nor in getting a sniff near goal.

La Liga releases schedule: First El Clasico coming in December

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It’s Christmas in July for fans of La Liga Friday as the Spanish league published its schedule for the upcoming season.

Defending champions Real Madrid travel to Deportivo La Caruña on August 20, the opening match of the season while its rival Barcelona hosts Real Betis.

As it’s La Liga, the first date most fans searched for was the first El Clasico of the season, and the biennial battles between Real Madrid and Barcelona will take place on December 20 and May 6, with Real Madrid hosting the first match.

The first match comes just ahead of the Spanish winter break, while the second match comes at a busy period at the end of the season, where both teams will be hoping to still be competing in the UEFA Champions League.

Other interesting matches to keep an eye on in the first few weeks of the season include Real Madrid hosting Valencia in week two, the Barcelona derby between Barca and Espanyol in week three and Atletico Madrid taking on Sevilla in week six.

Here’s a look at this year’s La Liga schedule.

Conte: Costa “situation was very clear” in January

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At this point, there is no doubt Diego Costa‘s future lies away from London and Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte broke his silence on the Brazilian-born Spain international striker, saying he’s been ready to move on from Costa since January, when Costa and Conte had a disagreement following a big-money offer from Chinese club Tianjin Quanjian during the winter transfer window.

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“I don’t like to talk about players who are not here but the only thing I can tell you [is that] in January, the Costa situation was very clear, for the club for him and his agent,” Conte told reporters Friday. “For me the situation is closed.”

It’s an amazing turn of events after Costa scored 20 Premier League goals in Chelsea’s title-winning 2016-2017 season, including 14 goals through the end of December. But after falling out with Jose Mourinho a year earlier, the same issue happened again under Conte, with Costa proving much less effective down the stretch.

But Conte and Costa were able to put their differences aside on the field, photographed multiple times hugging after wins, as well as after winning the title.

Costa is reportedly now agitating for a move back to his former club Atletico Madrid, but the Spanish club’s transfer ban until the next window complicates matters. In a World Cup year, would Costa be willing to sit out half a season just to leave Chelsea?

If Costa’s time in the Premier League is up, he’ll go down as one of the league’s best pound-for-pound goalscorers. He scored 52 goals in 89 Premier League appearances, with seven more cup goals in his three-year spell at Chelsea.

And if he is gone, defenders across the Premier League will sure be happy to wave goodbye.

Sparta Prague signs France midfielder Rio Mavuba

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PRAGUE (AP) Sparta Prague says it has signed France midfielder Rio Mavuba to a three-year contract.

The 33-year-old Mavuba comes from French club Lille, which he joined in 2008. Before that, he played for Bordeaux and Spanish club Villarreal.

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Mavuba was on the France team at the 2014 World Cup.

He is the 10th player signed by Sparta after Italian coach Andrea Stramaccioni took charge in May.

Mexico 1-0 Honduras: Pizarro strikes early to put El Tri in Gold Cup semifinals

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Mexico had little trouble dispatching Honduras as El Tri won 1-0 in Glendale, AZ and eased into the Gold Cup semifinals.

Just four minutes into the game, Mexico took the lead as they got Honduras on its heels, with Rodolfo Pizarro sticking the ball in at the far post at the end of a scramble. Jesus Duenas carved a ball through the defense, and while Elias Hernandez whiffed on the tap-in, Pizarro was right behind him to finish the chance.

Mexico settled in after scoring, while Honduras tried to out-muscle El Tri, with the latter receiving a pair of yellow cards in the first 45 minutes. There were precious few other chances throughout the first half, with Honduras completely incapable of creating anything in the attacking half.

Mexico continued to dominate out of the halftime break, but they lost Monterrey midfielder Jesus Molina in the 65th minute with discomfort, replaced by Chaka Rodriguez. The best moment for Honduras as they chased the game late came in the 78th minute as Jose Corona made a spectacular save when substitute Alexander Lopez nearly scored directly from a corner. They came close again in stoppage time after a set-piece as Alfredo Mejia scuffed a shot agonizingly wide.

Honduras ended their Gold Cup without a single goal scored. They technically defeated French Guyana 3-0 in the group stage, but that came on the typical forfeit scoreline, whereas the actual game played ended in a 0-0 draw.

Meanwhile, Mexico will take on Jamaica in the semifinal in a rematch of last tournament’s final.