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Home Grown fullback Kevin Ellis delivers Champions League victory for Sporting Kansas City against Cruz Azul

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Sporting Kansas City’s choice to hold back some regulars from Saturday’s team that opened the Major League Soccer season paid off on Wednesday, with fullback Kevin Ellis’s early goal proving enough to hand the team a 1-0 CONCACAF Champions League win over visiting Cruz Azul. The victory gave the defending MLS champions a lead ahead of next week’s second leg in Mexico City, with La Machina suffering their first loss of tournament.

Ellis’s winner came in the 17th minute after play build down the right found the team’s nominal right back in the left of the penalty area. With his second touch, the 22-year-old Home Grown defender beat José de Jésus Corona inside the left post, the shot’s power pushing the ball past a goalkeeper who appeared to have his vision slightly blocked by one of his defenders.

The goal was part of a first half that saw Kansas City’s pressure cause troubles for Mexico’s leaders. Cruz Azul, unlike Toluca last night at San Jose, elected to start a full-strength squad in Kansas, yet a team featuring Marco Fabián, Joao Rojas, Mariano Pavone, Cristian Giménez and Mauro Fórmica couldn’t muster a meaningful threaten Eric Kronberg’s goal. With Claudio Bieler nearly putting the hosts up two in the middle of the period, Sporting took a deserved one-goal lead into half-time.

In the second period, however, Pavone nearly broke through early, with a ball played past a high line allowing the Argentine attacker to one-on-one with Kronberg. After rounding the keeper just inside the penalty area, Pavone saw a shot into a presumably open net blocked by Ike Opara, who had recovered to defend Kronberg’s abandoned goal.

Moments later, Cruz Azul had another potential equalizer saved off the line after the redirection of a corner kick forced Seth Sinovic to come up with the back line’s second save in as many minutes. The play was controversial, however, for a possible handball on Benny Feilhaber, with replays unable to conclusively show whether the U.S. international, standing near the goal line, had intentionally kept the ball out of goal.

Cruz Azul would continue to be the more controlling side throughout the rest of the game, though a late ball over the top of the Mexicans’ defense nearly gave Claudio Bieler a chance to double Sporting’s lead. A good read from Corona to come out of his area to clear the ball prevented the Kansas City striker from getting a shot on goal, keeping the home side’s lead at one.

Come full-time, Sporting had secured their first CONCACAF Champions League victory at Sporting Park, a result that will emboldened them ahead of next week’s trip to Estadio Azul. With one of the best defenses in Major League Soccer, Peter Vermes has reason to believe his side can keep a clean sheet against the Cementeros..

But down only one, Cruz Azul should still be considered most likely to go through. Having thrown their best at MLS’s champions tonight, however, Luis Fernando Tena’s team also learned Liga MX success may not necessarily translate to CONCACAF Champions League results.

Though Kansas City did little more than hold serve, it’s now up to Cruz Azul to do the same next week in Mexico.

Joe Hart, Torino down Roma 3-1 in early Serie A game

BERGAMO, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 11:  Goalkeeper of FC Torino Joe Hart gestures during the Serie a match between Atalanta BC and FC Torino at Stadio Atleti Azzurri d'Italia on September 11, 2016 in Bergamo, Italy.  (Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)
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In today’s early Serie A game, Joe Hart and Torino held down Roma to win 3-1 at Stadio Olimpico to move into the top half of the table.

Roma dominated the stat sheets, holding 69% possession and out-passing Torino 466-174, but were wasteful in front of net, only able to put just five of their 21 their shots on target.

Andrea Belotti scored just eight minutes in to put Torino ahead, and Iago Falque bagged a brace with goals 13 minutes apart in the second half to seal it. For all its possession and movement in the attacking half, Roma could only manage a goal on a penalty, scored by Francesco Totti, his 250th career goal, all coming for one club.

Manchester City loanee Joe Hart commanded a solid performance by Torino’s back line, with the home side managing a whopping 22 tackles and 33 clearances. Roma actually out-performed Torino on the expected goals front, proving Hart’s influence.

The win, the club’s first since late August, pushes Torino up to eight in the Serie A table on eight points. They have conceded just a single goal – the Totti penalty – in their last three matches. It’s a far cry from the 2-1 loss to Atalanta in Hart’s debut, in which a mistake by the England international allowed Atalanta to score the winning goal.

On the other side, Arsenal loanee Wojciech Szczesny made a mistake to gift Torino their early goal. The result for Roma is a big blow to their hopes at challenging for the title, dropping them five points back of leaders Juventus and four behind Napoli.

Championship match features nightmarish halftime shenanigans

DERBY, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 24: Nigel Pearson, manager of Derby County looks on during the Sky Bet Championship match between Derby County and Blackburn Rovers at iPro Stadium on September 24, 2016 in Derby, England. (Photo by Nathan Stirk/Getty Images)
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On Saturday, Derby County fell at home to Blackburn 2-1, with all three goals scored in a furious four-minute span midway through the second half.

It’s been a nightmare start to the season for both clubs, with the clubs in 20th and 22nd on a combined three wins.

That, however, was not the most disturbing thing on display at Pride Park Stadium. The halftime show featured a show with a character from a child’s bad dream. A man in a fish suit swallowed a person whole then spit him back out sans clothing. But don’t take our word for it:

Have fun sleeping tonight.

After a pair of La Liga draws, all is not well at Real Madrid

MADRID, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 21: Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid CF grimaces in pain during the La Liga match between Real Madrid CF and Villarreal CF at Santiago Bernabeu stadium on September 21, 2016 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
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It’s amazing how results go hand-in-hand with off the field mood for the top teams in the world.

There is no club where that seems to be more true than Real Madrid. The team has drawn two in a row, first a 1-1 finish against Villareal at the Bernabeu that saw Los Blancos pump out 23 shots, but put only six on target. Then, they drew 2-2 Saturday with this year’s darlings Las Palmas out on the Canary Islands, crumbling at the back by blowing a pair of leads.

All this still leaves them atop the La Liga table, a point above Barcelona, and yet the wheels appear to be coming loose.

Things always start with Cristiano Ronaldo at Real Madrid, and that was the case on Saturday, when the superstar was withdrawn by head coach Zinedine Zidane in the 74th minute, and appeared to be visibly upset with the decision. Zidane told media after the game he was looking ahead to Tuesday’s Champions League matchup with Borussia Dortmund, saying, “He [Ronaldo] always wants to play and be out there on the pitch, but I’ve also got to think about the player and he needed to rest and think about Tuesday.”

Ronaldo did not speak to the media following the match.

Always in his teammate’s shadow is Gareth Bale, but things aren’t going well for him either. According to a report by The Sun, Bale has increased security after his fiance’s family has reportedly been targeted for arson attacks by a drug gang. In addition, Bale is reportedly unhappy after being substituted himself in the 70th minute of the draw with Villareal, according to reports in Spain. There have been reports for a while that his agent is shopping the Welshman to top clubs like Manchester United.

“We’re relaxed,” Zidane said after the Las Palmas draw. “We are working hard and focused on what we’re doing. We have to realize that you can’t always win, but we’re on the right track.”

MLS Snapshot: San Jose Earthquakes 1-2 Sporting KC (video)

Sporting Kansas City forward Dom Dwyer, center, is congratulated by teammates, including midfielder Roger Espinoza (27), following his goal during the first half of an MLS soccer match against the Houston Dynamo in Kansas City, Kan., Saturday, Aug. 1, 2015. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
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The game in 100 words (or less): Too many teams qualify for the MLS Cup Playoffs. There, I said it. Because MLS rules are written as such, two of Sporting Kansas City, Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders will likely make it this year, and that’s two too many. On Saturday, the former most narrowly outplayed an even worse San Jose Earhthquakes side, to the tune of 2-1, to go fifth in the Western Conference and move eight points clear of the 7th-place Sounders. The worst part about the current playoff structure: one of the above mentioned sides will almost certainly get hot in the postseason, after doing very little over the course of 34 games to establish themselves as one of the league’s elite. You know, just like the Timbers did last year. Anyway, Dom Dwyer, Simon Dawkins and Kevin Ellis scored the goals on the night. Neither side is any good, nor should they be in the playoffs. That’s MLS.

[ MORE: Playoff Picture — 4 teams can clinch playoff berth this weekend ]

Three moments that mattered

7′ — Dwyer heads home for the early opener — The ball from Paulo Nagamura was inch-perfect, and the header by Dwyer was unstoppable.

42′ — Coelho whiffs, Dawkins makes it 1-1 — That’s just unlucky, if you’re Nuno Coelho.

81′ — Ellis bundles the corner kick home for 2-1 — A fitting winner to this game.

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

Man of the match: Tim Melia

Goalscorers: Dwyer (7′), Dawkins (42′), Ellis (81′)