MLS Roundup: Columbus stays perfect; RSL takes down Toronto

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Major League Soccer started its fourth weekend of the season with three perfect teams, all in the Eastern Conference. After Saturday’s games, however, only Columbus was left standing among the league’s untouchables, with trips west sending Toronto and Houston to their first losses of the season. Having concurred its own western excursion, the Crew are two points clear at the top of the East.

In the league’s other half, FC Dallas remained on top after a bizarre game in Frisco, Tex., one that saw themselves and Portland reduced to 10 men before halftime. Real Salt Lake, however, made the biggest impression with its performance against TFC, one which sent the Reds home with a three-goal loss.

Jeff Cassar’s team remains one of four sides that’s yet to suffer a loss this season. The others: Columbus, Dallas, and Vancouver. At the other end of the spectrum, seven teams have yet to claim their season’s first win, though New York has the potential to reduce that number on Sunday against Chivas USA.

Here’s how fourth Saturday of the Major League Soccer season played out.

Philadelphia 1-1 Montréal

The Union’s strong start to the 2014 season continued over Saturday’s first 80 minutes before one moment of transition gave the Impact its first points of the season. Marking his return from a three-match suspension incurred in last year’s playoffs, Marco Di Vaio finished from the left of the area into Zac MacMath’s upper right hand corner, converting Montréal’s first shot on goal of the match. Pulling back Vincent Nogueira’s first half opener, Di Vaio delivered a point for the struggling Impact, simultaneously costing Philadelphia two points at home.

D.C. United 2-2 Chicago

Quincy Amarikwa’s second goal of the season pulled Chicago even late, extending D.C. United’s winless run to 15 games. Along the way, however, Ben Olsen’s team showed some signs of progress, scoring their first goals of the season while taking  2-1 lead. After Jhon Kennedy Hurtado’s first half opener, the Black and Red got goals from Fabian Espindola and Perry Kitchen, giving them a lead that survived until the 82nd minute.

Colorado 2-3 Sporting Kansas City

A scoreless first half gave way to five goals, two penalties, two lead changes, and a red card in the second, with a stoppage time goal from Dom Dwyer giving the defending champions their second win of the season. Graham Zusi, who’d finish the night with a goal and two assists, opened the scoring early in the second half before penalties in the 60th and 78th minutes allowed Vicente Sanchez to put Colorado on top. Sporting quickly equalized through Benny Feilhaber and took full points after Marvell Wynne saw straight red five minutes from time.

Vancouver 2-1 Houston

Another impressive home outing from Vancouver had the Whitecaps up two in the second half, with Kenny Miller’s second penalty conversion of the season building on Jordan Harvey’s early opener. By that time, however, Houston had began to even out play, eventually seeing Ricardo Clark convert on a set piece that brought the Dynamo within one. The Whitecaps, however, were able to drain out the game’s last 15 minutes to stay unbeaten through four matches.

FC Dallas 2-1 Portland

Red cards to Michael Harrington and Je-Vaughn Watson shown five minutes before half sent both teams into halftime down a man, with a Blas Pérez goal four minutes into extra time giving the home side a lead at intermission. Though a Mark Hedges own goal early in the second brought Portland back even, a breakdown defending an 84th minute set piece gave the game back to Dallas, with Mauro Díaz’s finish from the middle of the area lifting Óscar Pareja’s team to a 3-0-1 start.

Real Salt Lake 3-0 Toronto FC

A one-sided game from the opening kick-off broke Real Salt Lake’s way in the 10th minute when Doniel Henry tossed Álvaro Saborío down in the penalty area. The Costa Rica’s conversion gave RSL an early lead, one that was doubled later in the half when a Luis Gil shot deflected off Henry and past Julio Cesar. When Saborío completed his brace 10 minutes into the second, the game was decided, with Ryan Nelsen’s team handed the first loss of its new, more ambitious era.

Seattle 1-2 Columbus

The better team for the game’s first hour, Seattle’s fortunes turned after Djimi Traoré was judged to have denied Dominic Oduro an obvious goal-scoring opportunity in the 58th minute, an offense that saw the Seattle captain sent off. When Federico Higuaín converted the ensuing penalty, Kenny Cooper’s 22nd minute opener had been pulled back, leaving Seattle with nothing to show for it’s best soccer of the season. In second half stoppage time, a curling effort from Justin Meram off a quickly taken corner beat a frozen Stefan Frei, giving the Crew its first 3-0-0 start in franchise history.

San Jose 1-2 New England

A strong first half from the Revolution was rewarded when Víctor Bernárdez slipped while trying to clear a ball in front of Jon Busch’s net, giving New England a 35th minute own goal. San Jose reboundedin the second and found an 69th minute equalizer, though Chris Wondolowski’s goal couldn’t spark another trademark comeback. Instead, it was the Revolution who performed Saturday’s theatrics, getting a 93rd minute goal from Lee Nguyen to earn its first victory of the season.

Sydney FC clinches first place in A-League

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SYDNEY (AP) After clinching first place in Australia’s A-League without taking the field, Sydney FC enhanced its record achievement with a 3-0 win over the Perth Glory on Sunday.

Sydney FC won the Premiers Plate as regular-season champions after the second-place Melbourne Victory lost 1-0 to Brisbane on Saturday, when Sydney had a night off.

The Brisbane win left Sydney with an unassailable 11-point lead in first place with three rounds to play.

[ MORE: An under-the-radar Premier League XI ]

The Sydney side also created some history: it became the only team to have remained in outright first position in the standings for an entire season.

In the other match Sunday, the Wellington Phoenix beat Newcastle 5-0 to remain within five points of sixth-place Western Sydney for the final playoff spot.

Walking Dead? Star fittingly sees Exeter’s implausible comeback (video)

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As Rick Grimes, actor Andrew Lincoln regularly battles the undead on his show “The Walking Dead”.

As a friend of Exeter City manager Paul Tisdale, Lincoln was probably pretty happy to watch a team that would not die.

Exeter went down 3-0 when Yeovil Town broke a scoreless drought with a trio of tallies between the 62nd and 78th minutes.

[ MORE: An under-the-radar Premier League XI ]

But Exeter’s David Wheeler scored in the 88th minute, and Troy Brown and Reuben Reid scored a minute apart at the beginning of stoppage time to earn a point for the League Two playoff hopeful.

Couple things on this video, too:

— Check out the shove on the goalkeeper when trying to collect the ball after the first goal of the fight back.

— Watch the man with his baby behind the net after the third goal. Did Mom know how safe her little one was?

An under-the-radar Premier League XI

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The Premier League’s international break invites reflection on both what we’ve seen so far and what’s to come.

For example, what if we left out the superstars?

For whatever reason, this one is recalling the state of mind of 2015-16, when we were digesting that Leicester City very much looked the part of Premier League champions.

[ MORE: Herrera on “intense” Zlatan ]

For a lot of us, that meant delving into statistics and seeing what matched the eye test. Many started Googling the name “N'Golo Kante“, the dynamic disruptor who’d move to Chelsea in August.

He’s a household name now, with some personalities even arguing that he should buck the trend of Ballon d’Or nominees including only major statistic producers (There was a time when names like Fabio Cannavaro and Matthias Sammer claimed the honor, you know).

For our purposes, we’ll use a pair of advanced stats sites and the good ol’ eye test. (Of the sites we’re using, Squawka seems to skew toward high attack scores, while WhoScored tilts a bit toward the back, so life is good if a player hits both sites’ Top 50).

Before getting into our team — we promise no 10-picture, click-to-reveal-next stuff — some stats that stood out.

— Three players have had outstanding “short” seasons for different reasons.

  • Leicester City’s Wilfried Ndidi took a short spell to adjust to the Premier League after arriving in January, but has been the Foxes’ most influential player in their recent turnaround).
  • Bournemouth’s Nathan Ake essentially was the Cherries’ first-half success before heading back to Chelsea where Antonio Conte won’t move him ahead of Marcos Alonso or Victor Moses (and that’s actually understandable as you’ll see below).
  • Chelsea’s Cesc Fabregas just doesn’t feature a ton for Conte, but in limited time his per-90 stats on Squawka trail only Eden Hazard and Alexis Sanchez.

— The following players have risen well above most of their teammates but fall short of the league Top 50 on either site: Ben Gibson (Boro), Michael Keane and Ben Mee (Burnley), Christian Fuchs (Leicester City), Joe Allen (Stoke City), Jose Holebas and Troy Deeney (Watford), Gareth McAuley (West Brom).

— Watford, as a side, is seemingly the choose to a sort of MVP. On WhoScored, not a single player rises above 7, but there are a host in the very high sixes.

— In very different systems, John Stones (91.8) and Adam Forshaw (89.2) are thriving in pass percentage.

Oriol Romeu of Southampton and Victor Wanyama of Tottenham Hotspur (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)

— Southampton’s Oriel Romeu and Stoke’s Erik Pieters rank fourth and fifth respectively in tackles per game.

— In a team that has to intervene a ton, Hull City’s Curtis Davies the league with 3.8 interceptions per game.


Honorable mention

Goalkeeper: Lukasz Fabianski (Swansea City)

Defenders: Aleksandar Kolarov (Manchester City), Marcos Alonso (Chelsea), Calum Chambers (Boro), Papy Djilobodji (Sunderland), Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal), Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea)

Midfielders: Ake, Victor Wanyama (Spurs), Willian (Chelsea), Juan Mata (Manchester United), Harry Winks (Spurs), Manuel Lanzini (West Ham United), Victor Moses (Chelsea), Jack Wilshere (Bournemouth).

Forwards: Joshua King (Bournemouth), Fernando Llorente (Swansea City), Christian Benteke (Crystal Palace)


Goalkeeper

Ben Foster (West Brom) — With the highest performance score in the position on WhoScored, Foster has claimed all 95 balls he’s went up for and has a league-best 76 saves.

Defenders

Nicolas Otamendi (Man City, 7.49, 29.18) — One of few defenders to rate high in interceptions despite being on a team that doesn’t concede loads of chances or possession.

George Friend (Middlesbrough) — Just out of the upper echelon on the advanced stats site, he is in rarefield air in traditional stats interceptions and tackles.

Steve Cook (Bournemouth, 7.16, 22.76) — Jumps out of the advanced stats on a Cherries team which has faced plenty of attacking pressure.

Antonio Valencia (Manchester United, 7.28, 27.45) — There’s a reason Jose Mourinho rewarded him with an extension not long into the manager’s tenure at Old Trafford.

Midfielders

Ander Herrera (Manchester United, 7.44, 36.64) – Long-heralded at Athletic Bilbao, Herrera is finally showing what made him so sought. One odd stat that may be explained by his willingness to run to any situation: he’s very high in average times dribbled past.

Idrissa Gana Gueye (Everton, 7.34, 20.57) – The best player in Aston Villa’s awful 2015-16, he’s been arguably as effective as N’Golo Kante. Seriously.

Matt Phillips (West Bromwich Albion) – Once the top player on a relegated QPR, Phillips is fifth in the Premier League in assists despite missing the last four matches with injury.

Christian Eriksen (Tottenham Hotspur, 7.41, 31.89) – Second in the PL in key passes, he doesn’t get the plaudits of English teammates Dele Alli and Harry Kane. The relationships are very symbiotic.

 

Forwards

Wilfried Zaha (Crystal Palace, 7.44) – On an under-achieving team, Zaha’s statistics are wild. He’s the most-fouled player in the league, and attempts/completes the most dribbles in the PL. He gives the ball away a lot, too, but that happens when you’re the focal point of everything your team does in the attacking third.

Alex Iwobi (Arsenal, 30.54) – The Nigerian turns 21 in May, and has four goals and seven assists across all competitions.

Herrera: Ibrahimovic competitive drive insatiable in everything

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Ander Herrera is dishing the goods on his Manchester United teammates while on Spain duty this week, and was asked about Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

The Swede is a fierce competitor on and off the pitch, which Herrera jokes is an ever-present challenge to personal patience.

[ MORE: Deulofeu laments early Messi talk ]

It almost seems like there’s a bit of envy that Ibrahimovic can charge into public comments the way Herrera goes into tackles.

From Marca:

“[Ibrahimovic] is a genius, he’s very intense because he wants to win everything, even football-tennis,” Herrera said to Radio MARCA.

“He assumes this role of doing or saying what he likes in front of the media because he does not care, he can say that he’ll score 30 goals or is the best because he can afford to.”

There’s certainly something to stature when it comes to saying what you feel (though on the other hand, being egotistical is rarely controversial. It’s not like Ibrahimovic is often railing on controversial soccer or social issues).

We’re sure there are plenty of players across all sports, casual and professional, who don’t understand hyper-competitive teammates, but we love a guy who doesn’t turn it down when it comes to on-the-field activities. Hopefully Ibrahimovic is the Jaromir Jagr of soccer.