Ryan Nelsen

Wake up call: Real Salt Lake sends Toronto to 3-0 loss (video)

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Real Salt Lake beating Toronto wasn’t the surprise. It was the ease be which they did so. Putting pressure on the visiting Reds from the opening kickoff, the defending Western Conference champions forced a penalty kick within 10 minutes, giving them an early lead. Luis Gil doubled that advantage before halftime, with Álvaro Saborío adding his second 10 minutes after intermission. Before the hour mark, the match was over, making the first loss of Toronto’s new era was a lopsided one. TFC fell, 3-0.

The Reds had a couple of excuses. Against a team that’s so talented through the midfield, Toronto was without two of their midfield starters. Right-sider Jackson was suspended, while central midfielder Jonathan Osorio was held out with an injury. Against the likes of Javier Morales, Kyle Beckerman, Ned Grabavoy and Gil, TFC’s absences came in the wrong part of the park.

It didn’t help that Ryan Nelsen didn’t appear to adjust for this. On the right, Mark Bloom was moved up from his right back position to take Jackson’s place in midfield. Jeremy Hall, a starter last season, stepped into Osorio’s boots in the middle. The end result was a defensive, passive team that would either stop Real Salt Lake in its tracks or get run over. Toronto wasn’t going to try and play with their hosts.

(ELSEWHERE: Late Mauro Díaz goal keeps Dallas undefeated, Portland winless after 10-on-10 battle (video))

Unfortunately for TFC’s undefeated record, RSL was never slowed. Within minutes of kickoff, Jeff Cassar’s team proved able to pass their way through the Toronto midfield, backing the Reds into their own penalty area. By the 10th minute, that advantage had forced a penalty on Doniel Henry.

RSL’s second goal required a bit of fortune, apparently deflecting off Henry before it beat Julio Cesar, but given the pressure Real Salt Lake was exerting, Toronto was always susceptible to conceding that type of goal. It’s hard for the breaks to go your way when you don’t have the ball.

The Reds did see Jermain Defore and Michael Bradley find the woodwork, but after Saborío scored his second early in the second half, the game was decided. With the match in doubt for only 55 minutes, the teams would combine for just eight shots on target. Real Salt Lake kept 61 percent of the ball.

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

For a Toronto team that’s had it relatively easy over is first two games, the result was a rude awakening. While it would have been wishful to predict a win at Real Salt Lake, few could have foreseen such a lopsided game. And as Henry tossed aside Saborío, Justin Morrow leapt through the back of Javier Morales, and Steven Caldwell put a brutal tackle on Grabavoy in the first half, you could see the frustration grow.

It was a sign of immaturity – a team that hasn’t been through “the wars” together. Faced with its first adversity of the season, Toronto elected to “get stuck in,” letting frustration get the better of them. Real Salt Lake, on the other hand, kept to the same approach it’s used for years, confident in its likely results.

Eventually, Toronto should get there, too, but on Saturday in Sandy, we saw why some are skeptical of this super team’s ability to be so super, so soon. They need to take some knocks to learn how to respond. In the face of their first test, the Reds showed they have a long way to go.

Report: Atletico’s Fernando Torres has interest from MLS, NASL

Real Madrid v Atletico de Madrid - Copa del Rey: Round of 16
Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images
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Spanish outlet Marca claims that a number of North American sides are among the clubs chasing Fernando Torres.

The Spanish striker has only scored more than 11 goals once since 2009-10, and is uncapped since 2014. But that doesn’t mean clubs from China to to the U.S. and the UAE to Japan aren’t interested in the 31-year-old.

[ JPW: Recapping the top stories from an intense Premier League weekend ]

The Marca report claims three MLS teams are interested and also name drops the New York Cosmos of the NASL, who’ve recently brought Venezuelan legend Juan Arango on board.

It’s hard to imagine anyone outside the MLS rich sides taking a risk on Torres. Maybe Montreal would look to reunite him with Didier Drogba, and Torres certainly has experience combining with New York City’s David Villa. As for the third… Orlando City? Chicago?

Your guess is as good as ours, though it could be moot if this is solely about money. China continues to spend well.

Difficult fixture run looms as Aston Villa aims for great escape

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - JANUARY 12:  Joleon Lescott of Aston Villa (3L) celebrates with team mates as he scores their first goal with a header during the Barclays Premier League match between Aston Villa and Crystal Palace at Villa Park on January 12, 2016 in Birmingham, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
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Gabriel Agbonlahor is riding high, as the Premier League Player of the Week broke his duck this weekend and is thinking “great escape” for his Aston Villa side.

Villa has eight points in its last five matches, doubling its season total to 16. That’s still table bottom, but Remi Garde’s bunch would love to see their way out of the drop zone after a brutal start to the season under Tim Sherwood.

What would it take for Villa to pull that off, and avoid the first Premier League relegation in club history?

[ MORE: Premier League Team of the Week ]

Turns out, a lot.

There is no easy match in the next five, and Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal are all on the schedule after that.

Villa next five matches
Feb. 14 – vs. Liverpool
Feb. 27 – at Stoke City
March 1 – vs. Everton
March 5 – at Manchester City
March 12 – vs. Spurs

The Villans do have three relegation six-pointers left, and two of those are at Villa Park with Bournemouth and Newcastle United. Villa also heads to Swansea City.

But Villa has to make up 12 points on the Cherries, 11 on Swans and eight on the Magpies. And while they are within two goals difference of Newcastle, they have eight goals to make up on Bournemouth and 11 to make up on Swansea.

That doesn’t include Sunderland and Norwich, sides four and seven points ahead of the Villans (though both have tricky runs left as well).

If Garde’s club is to make its escape, it will be close to unbelievable. That it will close with a match against Arsenal makes it even trickier, but that would be just the final impressive note in what could only be considered a Garde-conducted masterpiece.

VIDEO: Recapping the top stories from an intense Week 25 in the Premier League

JPW at Stamford Bridge
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What a weekend. Let’s relive it.

Round 25 of the Premier League provided plenty more thrills, shocks and excitement as two unlikely title contenders — Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur — are pushing ahead.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Our own Joe Prince-Wright recaps all the major headlines from what could turn out to be a pivotal weekend in the Premier League title race.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League news

Click play on the video below to join JPW as he battles the elements and checks in from outside Stamford Bridge in London following Chelsea’s 1-1 draw with Manchester United.

WATCH: USMNT’s Gonzalez nets first for Pachuca, earns exuberant “Gol” call

Marouane Fellaini, ,Omar Gonzalez
AP Photo/Themba Hadebe
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Come for the goal, stay for the “Gol” call.

Or should we say the “Gol. Goool-Goool-Goool-Goool-Goool-Goool-Goool-Goool-Goool-Goool-Gol” call.

[ MORE: Angry Louis van Gaal rips journalists for “inventing” stories ]

USMNT defender Omar Gonzalez has opened his account for Pachuca with this 88th minute header, and it’s worth it if just for the auditory performance.

Gonzalez also pulls out the high-capacity weapon celebration, though he’s apparently opted to do the version closer to the “Scarface” finale (Spoiler alert).