Bad breaks? Bad luck? Neither defined Real Salt Lake’s MLS Cup

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — The general mood around Real Salt Lake’s locker room after Saturday’s MLS Cup final was one that rued their missed chances. In addition to losing the title game in a 10-round penalty kick shootout, the team hit the woodwork three times in the match’s first 73 minutes. On a number of occasions, the Western Conference champions were within inches of avoiding extra time, even if their hosts seemed to generate more good chances over the match’s 120 minutes.

[MORE: Sporting Kansas City crowned 2013 MLS champions after 10 rounds of penalty kicks]

No doubt, had Robbie Findley or Javier Morales finished into their open nets in the 29th and 73rd minutes, Real Salt Lake could have been celebrating come minute 91, but to label those bad breaks is a little misleading. Perhaps this a bit pedantic, but there is a difference between bad luck and not finishing your chances, and when you miss an empty net, it’s the latter. Hitting the post isn’t bad luck. It’s a missed shot.

Likewise, attributing a shootout loss to bad luck is also slightly skewed. Just because the probability of winning a shootout might fall close to 50 percent doesn’t mean the “coin flip” analogy is a good one. When you toss a true coin in the air, you have no real control if it lands on heads or tails. Players do have some control over whether they make their penalty kicks, and while the nature of a shootout means we probably won’t get enough kicks to determine if one team is truly better than the other, the process almost always tells us which team took their five (or, in this case, 10) kicks better.

On Saturday, Sporting performed better in the shootout, and it wasn’t just luck. Álvaro Saborío and Lovel Palmer’s misses represented a lack of execution, while Jimmy Nielsen’s saves on Ned Grabavoy and Sebastian Velasquez  were the combination of research, intuition, luck, and execution.

There were a couple of areas where factors beyond RSL’s control may have cost them. The weather (and its resulting influence on the surface) was a potential advantage for Sporting Kansas City, whose familiarity with the environment and turf appeared to help early. But in the second half, the conditions worked in Real Salt Lake’s favor, with Jimmy Nielsen unable to move effectively in a frozen south penalty box. The conditions could have differentiated the teams, but that’s not how it worked out.

Then there was the controversial second half non-call on Aurélien Collin, who was already carrying a yellow card. His takedown of Robbie Findley just before his game-tying goal would likely have drawn a caution under other circumstances; namely, if Collin wasn’t already in danger of being sent off. If you feel a yellow is a yellow regardless of the situation, Hilario Grajeda should have sent the Sporting defender off. Unfortunately (like it or not), you’ll have trouble finding an official who has such an unsympathetic implementation of the rules. Right or wrong, Collin stays on in that situation in almost any other postseason game.

So it’s unclear where Real Salt Lake suffered any bad luck. And although there were a couple of instances that could be described as bad breaks, the better terminology is missed opportunity. Real Salt Lake’s undoing on Saturday was their failure to make the most of their chances, not the coins flipping in Sporting’s favor.

Sporting didn’t win by much, but they did win in a way that transcended fortune or luck. They deserve the respect of having their performance acknowledged.

Pochettino: “Challenge is to keep going” ahead of North London Derby

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Mauricio Pochettino was thrilled to see Tottenham Hotspur’s title push continue with a win over in-form Crystal Palace on Wednesday.

Spurs won 1-0 on a beautiful Christian Eriksen goal from distance, moving back to within four points of Premier League leading Chelsea.

[ RECAP: Palace 0-1 Spurs ]

Pochettino’s men didn’t stop fighting for the winner despite relentless fight from the home side, with improving mettle on display this season.

“Unbelievable. Very good performance. I think second half we played much better than in the first half. It was difficult in the first half for us to move the ball and find the space but we changed the shape at half time and it was more fluid, we started to find the space and started to push Palace deeper and deeper.”

After two tough London Derbies — Spurs fell 4-2 to Chelsea in Saturday’s FA Cup semifinal — Tottenham now has the big one: a visit from Arsenal in the North London Derby.

“It was good to get the three points and be alive in the race for the title. The challenge is to keep going. It is always better to win but it is true [the Arsenal game] is a big derby, perhaps the last at White Hart Lane and I think it will be an exciting game.”

We’re ready for it. Spurs will be favored to pick up all three points, but all bets are off when it comes to the NLD. That’s especially true considering the ticking Top Four clock for Arsenal and the title fight for Spurs.

Palace 0-1 Spurs: Eriksen saves the day

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  • Sakho stretchered off
  • Eriksen rescues title hope
  • Spurs four back of Chelsea

Palace made them work for it.

Tottenham Hotspur didn’t exactly sends chills down the spine of Chelsea with its performance, but Spurs found a way past tricky and in-form Crystal Palace on Wednesday at Selhurst Park.

Christian Eriksen‘s pretty goal sealed the three points for Spurs, who have five matches to chase down four points from the Blues.

Palace sits 12th, seven points clear of 18th place Swansea City.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Two in-forms started with confidence, Harry Kane lashing wide of the frame for Spurs and Wilfried Zaha driving Palace on the right wing.

Another in-form Eagles attacker, Christian Benteke, did well to create space and hit a low shot that forced Hugo Lloris to ground.

Victor Wanyama was on yellow when he slid to intercept Andros Townsend, taking the Englishman to the turf. Jon Moss gave Wanyama a harsh warning, but did not produce the red card.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Moussa Sissoko and Son Heung-min were called upon soon after the break to liven up Spurs attack.

The substitution that stood to shake up the match was Palace center back Mamadou Sakho, who was hurt with about 40 minutes to play.

Eriksen stung a shot across goal for the eventual winner, a rare moment of class from a three-match day that didn’t quite fit the standard of the Premier League.

Arsenal 1-0 Leicester City: Only an own goal

AP Photo/Alastair Grant
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  • Chances at a premium
  • Monreal forces Huth own goal
  • Arsenal moves sixth
  • Foxes six clear of drop

Nacho Monreal‘s desperate shot ricocheted off Robert Huth‘s chest and gave Arsenal a 1-0 win over Leicester City at the Emirates Stadium on Wednesday.

Entertainment value wasn’t high over the course of the match, as Arsenal had trouble piercing Leicester’s congested back four.

Arsenal is now three points back of Manchester United and four behind Man City before Thursday’s Manchester Derby.

Leicester is six points clear of 18th and has played one less game than most of the teams chasing them.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Arsenal had most of the ball to start the match, but needed to make the first big stop. Petr Cech kept the match goalless when he flew to stop a left-footed whip from Riyad Mahrez.

At the other end, Mesut Ozil set up Theo Walcott for a chance that prodded a solid save from Kasper Schmeichel.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Wilfried Ndidi was again a monster in the middle third for Leicester, arguably the main reason the Foxes have rebounded from their relegation plight.

Arsenal had a chance pushed away from danger by Robert Huth after Alexis Sanchez misjudged his time on the ball in front of goal in the 56th minute.

Schmeichel then dove to slap away a deflected Francis Coquelin shot.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Laurent Koscielny went down in pain after landing awkwardly in the 79th minute, leaving a gap in space that Shinji Okazaki would’ve exploited were it not for a block from Gabriel Paulista.

Leicester’s Yohan Benalouane should’ve seen red with 10 minutes to play following a leaping boot to the back of Olivier Giroud, but only a foul was given.

Ndidi made a sliding intervention on Mesut Ozil in the 85th minute, another terrific bit of work from the Nigerian.

That’s when Huth’s unlucky moment lifted Arsenal to the lead.

Middlesbrough 1-0 Sunderland: Derby honors and a bit of life

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  • Boro’s first PL win since Dec. 17
  • Smoggies move within six of 17th
  • Sunderland on verge of relegation

Marten De Roon snared Middlesbrough new hope at safety and a derby win as Boro scored early to complete a season sweep of Tees-Wear Derby rivals Sunderland on Wednesday.

The 1-0 win means Sunderland is 12 points back of 17th place Hull City with five matches to play. Hull has four matches left.

For Boro, it’s six points back of Hull but a devastating run-in that includes Man City, Chelsea, Southampton, and Liverpool.

The win was USMNT backstop Brad Guzan‘s second of the Premier League season, the first coming in the reverse fixture.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

De Roon tilted the Tees-Wear Derby to Boro’s side with an opening goal that could signal the end of Sunderland’s slim safety hopes.

Stewart Downing tempted 2-0 with a hard low shot that Jordan Pickford did very well to save with a leg.

Sunderland did find a bit of danger when Didier N’Dong forced Brad Guzan into a save, but Billy Jones nodded over the frame.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]