Whitecaps are back in the win column, but Houston impresses in Vancouver (video)

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Back at home, back playing a team that only deals with BC Place’s turf once every 24 months, Vancouver again looked like the team that dominated New York on opening day, a performance that delivered the Whitecaps’ second win of the season. In the process of posting their 2-1 result, however, we may have learned more about visiting Houston than the team that ended up on top. After going toe-to-toe with the swift Vancouver attack, the Dynamo proved the quality it showed the season’s first two games was more than the function of an easy schedule.

Before Saturday, we just didn’t know how good Houston was. The Dynamo’s 4-0 win over New England on opening night was impressive, but the Revolution proceeded to be shut out in its next two games. And while Houston beat Montréal 1-0 two weeks ago, only a huge deflection on Will Bruin’s goal separated them from a team that’s now 0-3-1. Particularly after that Impact game, there were reasons to doubt.

Those reasons appeared to come out early in Vancouver. After an initial feeling out period, the Dynamo were having the predictable problems with the speed in the Whitecaps’ attack. In the 13th minute, that quickness led to a corner kick, with a Pedro Morales cross after an initial clearance producing the opener for Jordan Harvey. After Andy O’Brien knocked down Morales’s ball at the far post, Harvey got to a bouncing ball before Tally Hall, poking the home side in front.

(ELESWHERE: Sporting Kansas City breaks out, overcomes penalties in Colorado)

Near the 30 minute mark, though, Houston adjusted. Instead of the Vancouver attack continuously hitting their block with speed, the game started to slow down. The midfield of Brad Davis, Ricardo Clark, and Boniek Garcia began getting a better hold on the game. David Horst’s shoulder blocks started cleaning people out. Over the last hour, the game looked less like a BC Place track meet than a typical Dynamo affair. Dom Kinnear’s team had solved the puzzle.

Unfortunately, one final hint of BC Place’s influence doomed Houston. In the 57th minute, right back Kofi Sarkodie slipped as former Akron teammate Darren Mattocks cut behind him into the left side of the Houston penalty area. Once down, the defender’s left arm, extended above his head, blocked the ball, making Kevin Stott’s call almost obligatory. Kenny Miller’s second conversation of the season made it 2-0.

Houston would come back with a goal in the 75th minute after Clark headed home a perfect restart from Brad Davis, but the consolidation only served as a wakeup call. David Ousted was never truly tested with a potential winner as an awoken Vancouver played out the clock, sending Houston to its first loss of the season.

(ELSEWHERE: D.C. United finally into goals, points columns, but Chicago takes result out of RFK (video))

But consider what Houston was up against. I mentioned it a lot on the blog, but it’s difficult to overstate the effect of the Whitecaps’ turf. It is the strangest surface in the league — the only one of its kind (LigaTurf) — and plays like the top of a pool table. For Western Conference teams that play there every year, coaches and players learn to adjust. For Eastern Conference teams that only visit British Columbia once ever two seasons, the experience has to be surreal. The typical training session a team has before a road game isn’t enough to adjust.

Houston also has one of the slowest central defense pairings in the league: David Horst and Jermaine Taylor. Horst’s familiarity with BC Place from his time in Portland seemed to help him adjust to Vancouver’s runs, but the lack of speed was still a disadvantage, especially since Houston’s formation also left the team outnumbered in midfield.

I can’t wait to watch this one later this week. I want to know how Houston overcame all these obstacles. I suspect it’s the same formula as ever — quality players, willing to work hard, executing the basics — but that doesn’t make the performance any less impressive. Even if is just just Rico Clark adjusting, working harder, and outplaying his opponents, I want to be able to focus on it.

(ELSEWHERE: Late Di Vaio goal makes Philadelphia pay, gives Montréal first point of 2014 (video))

Against some other teams, particularly Eastern Conference teams, Vancouver would have ran away with today’s game. But after they adjusted, Houston were their equals at BC Place. Despite the loss, it was a very impressive performance.

Defoe walks out Bradley Lowery, scores in England win

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Jermain Defoe’s friendship with terminally-ill Bradley Lowery has been special to watch unfold, and the Sunderland striker brought his little buddy to Wembley today.

Then he notched a match-winner.

Lowery walked Defoe out onto the field in a replica England kit before Sunday’s World Cup qualifier against Lithuania, and then Defoe scored his 20th goal for country.

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It was his first since 2013, the last year Defoe was called up for the Three Lions.

Here’s the goal, which was followed by a second-half Jamie Vardy tally as England stayed atop Group F with a 2-0 win over Lithuania.

Two Russian soccer fans stabbed in Serbia

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BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) Two Russian fans have been hospitalized with serious injuries after being stabbed following a friendly soccer match between Red Star Belgrade and Lokomotiv Moscow.

Serbian Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic said Sunday police were looking for the knife-wielding perpetrators who attacked a group of Lokomotiv fans in downtown Belgrade late Saturday.

Serbian media reports said the Russian fans were attacked by supporters of Red Star’s rival Partizan Belgrade.

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The match, which Red Star won 2-1, was meant to promote Serbia’s traditional friendship with Russia.

Stefanovic says “nobody should think they could hurt the Serbian-Russian friendship” with such attacks.

Serbia has seen a surge of fan violence inside and outside stadiums. In 2009, a French football fan was fatally beaten in Belgrade.

VIDEO: Gerrard’s juggle and finish leads Liverpool legends past Real Madrid

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Scoring at Anfield doesn’t get old, especially when your name is Steven Gerrard.

The English midfielder was playing in a friendly match between Liverpool and Real Madrid “legends” on Sunday, when he delivered this tasty goal (and assists to Michael Owen, Robbie Fowler, and John Aldridge).

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Gerrard redirects a cross over a lunging defender and into a place where he can lash a goal home to put the Reds up 4-0. He dedicated his Man of the Match performance to club legend Ronnie Moran, who died earlier this week.

Real’s comeback came up just short in a 4-3 final, with Fernando Morientes, Ruben de la Red, and Edwin Congo scoring for the visitors.

On a Sunday waiting for the international matches to begin, Gerrard supplies a nice highlight for the rest of us (Extended highlights free on Liverpool’s site).

Ozil bristles at talk of Arsenal selling him

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Mesut Ozil is on international break, and bristling at reports that Arsenal is going to sell him.

The midfielder’s absence from the lineup last week had plenty speculating on his future, even more than usual. His contract expires in 2018, and several reports claimed he’d join Alexis Sanchez as players destined for elsewhere.

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Ozil was not called up by Germany, and has missed four of his last nine Premier League matches. Three of those were for illness, and he missed last week’s loss to West Brom with a hamstring injury.

From Metro:

“And you think Wenger tells the journalist before he tells me? Then I know him differently,” Ozil told German outlet Welt.

“I have a contract until 2018 in London and I feel very comfortable there. We’ll talk soon and then make a decision.”

Metro notes that Ozil also said he wants to win the Champions League, something that can only happen with Arsenal remaining in the Top Four. We suppose you could make snarky inferences from his “comfortable in London” phrasing, but we’ll leave it there.