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Paris Saint-Germain crush Chelsea in absorbing Champions League clash

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Paris Saint-Germain beat Chelsea 3-1 in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League tie at Parc des Princes on Wednesday.

Ezequiel Lavezzi put PSG ahead but an Eden Hazard penalty made it 1-1 at half time, then an own goal from David Luiz put PSG 2-1 up early in the second half. However one of the major taking points from the game will be a hamstring injury to Zlatan Ibrahimovic, as Paris Saint-Germain’s talisman limped off and his status for next Tuesday’s second leg at Stamford Bridge looks to be hanging in the balance.

However PSG now have a massive advantage heading into the return game, as substitute Javier Pastore danced past three Chelsea defenders in the 93rd minute and slammed the ball past Petr Cech to potentially put the tie beyond Chelsea. The 3-1 victory was the tenth in a row in all competitions for Laurent Blanc’s side and gives them a two-goal advantage heading into the second leg. Can Jose Mourinho rally his side for a Champions League comeback in West London?

(MORE: Chelsea on brink of Champions League elimination, are PSG the real deal?)

PSG took a deserved lead in the fourth minute, as Lavezzi capitalized on a poor defensive header from John Terry and half-volleyed the ball into the roof of the net to put Les Parisiens in front. That stunning start energized PSG, with the home fans baying for Chelsea’s blood as the English side were caught cold early on. Ramires was then booked for Chelsea after a bad tackle and will miss the second leg, with the marauding midfielder walking a tight-rope for the rest of the game.

However as the first half wore on Chelsea settled down and the West London side drew level in the 27th minute from the penalty spot. Oscar was brought down by Thiago in the box, as the Brazilian defender took down his countryman with a needless lunge in the box. Hazard stepped up and sent Salvatore Sirigu the wrong way, as Chelsea bagged a valuable away goal.

source: AP
Lavezzi gave PSG an early lead, as Les Parisiens have a one-goal advantage to take to London with them.

PSG still looked dangerous, with Ibrahimovic, Lavezzi and Edinson Cavani causing plenty of problems. Yet it was Chelsea who came closest to going in ahead at the break, as Hazard met Willian’s right-wing cross with a perfectly executed volley across goal but the Belgian’s effort hit the foot of the post and PSG cleared.

(MORE: Zlatan injures hamstring, huge blow for PSG)

A hugely entertaining first half carried over into the second period, as Matuidi’s cross from the left was headed just over by Lavezzi as PSG started the second half superbly. A midfield battle then ensued, as Chelsea soaked up pressure and tried to hit the reigning French champions on the break.

However in the 61st minute PSG took the lead, as David Luiz gave away a cheap free kick on the left after a clumsy foul on Matuidi. Lavezzi then whipped in a delightful ball into the ‘corridor of uncertainty’ and amongst a whole host of bodies Luiz knocked the ball into his own net to put PSG back in front and compound the Brazilian’s misery.

After that setback Chelsea, predictably, surged forward time and time again as substitute Fernando Torres, Hazard and Oscar linked up to take the game to Paris Saint-Germain. Then in the 67th minute a pivotal moment in the tie arrived, as Ibrahimovic fell to the ground and clutched his hamstring after he lofted the ball forward but then struggled to accelerate. PSG’s Swedish talisman limped off the field, as the Ligue 1 club were dealt a huge blow ahead of the second leg at Stamford Bridge in just six days time.

(RECAP: Minute-by-minute updates from PSG 2-1 Chelsea)

PSG’s players were dropping likes flies late on as Marco Verratti was caught late and the Italian youngster also limped of, with Blanc forced into two quick-fire substitutions. Late on Chelsea pushed for an equalizer, but the home side almost extended their lead late on as Cavani worked some space on the edge of the box and curled a vicious effort just wide of the post. Substitute Pastore then scored a crucial goal, as he picked the ball up in the box and looked to be running down a blind alley. However the Argentine danced past three Chelsea players and rifled in a hammer blow to Chelsea’s hopes of advancing in the UCL.

The battle between two teams from either side of the English Channel will recommence in less than a week, with the French side sitting on a two-goal cushion as Chelsea have it all to do.

LINEUPS

Paris Saint-Germain: Sirigu, Jallet, Alex, Thiago Silva, Maxwell, Verratti (Cabaye, 76′), Motta, Matuidi, Ibrahimovic (Moura, 68′), Cavani, Lavezzi (Pastore, 85′)

Goals: Lavezzi (4′), David Luiz – Own Goal (61′), Pastore (90+3′)

Chelsea: Cech, Ivanovic, Azpilicueta, David Luiz, Cahill, Terry, Willian, Ramires, Schürrle (Torres, 59′), Oscar (Lampard, 79′), Hazard

Goal: Hazard (27′)

Cellar dwelling Houston Dynamo, Owen Coyle decide to part ways

TORONTO, ON - MAY 10:  Head Coach Owen Coyle of the Houston Dynamo smiles prior to an MLS soccer game against Toronto FC at BMO Field on May 10, 2015 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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A week ago, Owen Coyle was whispered as possibly leaving the Houston Dynamo to lead Celtic.

With that opening filled by Brendan Rodgers, the Dynamo and Coyle cut ties anyway.

[ USMNT-ECUADOR: Match recap | Player ratings | 3 things ]

Coyle struggled to pick up the pieces left behind by Dominic Kinnear in Houston, and the Dynamo are dead last in Major League Soccer after a quarter of the season.

On Wednesday night, the Dynamo announced that Coyle wanted to be closer to his family in England and would be leaving the club immediately.

From HoustonDynamo.com:

“I asked Chris (Canetti) if I could speak with him today and I explained to him the challenge of being away from my family and how we all want the best for Houston Dynamo,” Coyle said. “I want to wish all members of the staff, from owner Gabriel Brener to president Chris Canetti to general manager Matt Jordan, everyone has been such a source of support, along with the players and the technical staff. I’d like to thank the Dynamo supporters, who have been outstanding. We have a brilliant club, and I have no doubt success is just around the corner.”

The Dynamo went 14W-21L-11T during his reign, but have also been severely lacking in talent. The long delay from acquiring Cubo Torres to getting him on the pitch was one of the many things that frustrated progress in Houston.

Coyle is best known for his time with Bolton Wanderers, though that ended early in a Championship season following relegation. Houston is 3W-7L-2T this season, and has Vancouver up next.

Wade Barrett and a pair of Dynamo assistants will lead the club in the interim.

Three things we learned from the late USMNT win over Ecuador

FRISCO, TX - MAY 25:  Frickson Erazo #3 of Ecuador battle for control of the ball against Clint Dempsey #8 of the United States in the first half during an International Friendly match at Toyota Stadium on May 25, 2016 in Frisco, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
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Darlington Nagbe was the star against Ecuador, giving the United States the late 1-0 win in Frisco. There wasn’t much to take away from the match, but one attacking setup certainly performed better than the other, and that was the biggest talking point.

[ RECAP – United States earns late win over Ecuador ]

Three things we learned

1 – When the US plays good defense, it has a creativity problem.

This isn’t anything new, as teams who sit back obviously will have less of the ball. But this isn’t exactly that. The US defended quite well through the first 45 minutes, and they held the majority of the possession, but they failed to do much with it. It resulted in…

That. Yuck. It was horrid to watch, and is frustrating given the level of competition being faced compared to the level of competition to come.

[ MORE: USMNT player ratings against Ecuador ]

2 – Does the Pulisic-Wood-Nagbe lineup have more to offer?

The United States began with Clint Dempsey isolated up front, supported by Gyasi Zardes and Graham Zusi, with Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones sitting deep. That lineup was utter trash in the attacking half, producing one good chance in the first half which Zardes flubbed. When Klinsmann switched things up soon after halftime, bringing on Christian Pulisic, Bobby Wood, Darlington Nagbe, and Alejandro Bedoya, the attack began to show life. It certainly helped that all those substitutes were placed in their natural positions, something not always a given for Klinsmann. This may give the US manager a good look at the more creative setup, and could bode well for the aforementioned players heading into the Copa America. There are obvious downsides to this lineup, such as lack of experience, but it might be worth the risk, especially with those players much more likely to be contributors in 2018 given their age.

3 – Christian Pulisic can actually be a useful piece this summer

On for the final half-hour, the young Borussia Dortmund winger provided positive touches along the left flank. He created a few opportunities for Bobby Wood and Graham Zusi, a promising development to push back against the “he’s not ready” crowd. Pulisic was electric down the left, and was vital in the push the last 20 minutes. It’s just 20 minutes, but it’s a promising small sample size.

Player ratings from the USMNT’s late win over Ecuador

FRISCO, TX - MAY 25:  Brad Guzman #1 of the United States blocks a shot against Ecuador in the first half during an International Friendly match at Toyota Stadium on May 25, 2016 in Frisco, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
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“Fits and starts” is a good way to describe the United States friendly against Ecuador in Texas on Wednesday, a match that ended 1-0 to the hosts after a controlling second half.

The Yanks took more than 20 minutes to get their act together, and then had a bit of trouble penetrating La Tricolor’s back four.

[ MORE: Match recap ]

The second half, however, was straight-up dominant. The lack of finish was troubling, but Darlington Nagbe took care of that. The Portland Timbers man not only scored, but also piled vindication on supporters who couldn’t wait to see him up high, and Michael Bradley deep.

And Christian Pulisic, well, he’s a swoon-worthy talent.

STARTING XI

Brad Guzan — 8 — Didn’t have a ton to do, but did it very well. A welcome improvement from the Aston Villa keeper.

Fabian Johnson — 6 — Probably deserves a 7, but that missed trap of a Jermaine Jones cross was just so ugly.

Steve Birnbaum — 6 — Very shaky early, but settled into the game.

FRISCO, TX - MAY 25:  Christian Noboa #6 of Ecuador takes a shot against John Brooks #6 of the United States and Brad Guzman #1 of the United States in the first half during an International Friendly match at Toyota Stadium on May 25, 2016 in Frisco, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
 (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

John Brooks (off 78′) — 7 — Played very well after a weak opening 10 minutes or so. Still takes chances like the center back version of Jermaine Jones, but those chances came off well on Wednesday.

DeAndre Yedlin — 6 — Hit and miss from the right back, who had a heck of a task in dealing with Jefferson Montero. Still, the defensive improvement is impossible to ignore.

Kyle Beckerman (off HT) — 6 — Might’ve picked up an injury. Hard-nosed as usual, but feels like he’s a single lost step away from not fitting the bill.

Jermaine Jones (off 64′) — 6 — Playing as an attack-minded mid with some defensive responsibilities may be the role he was meant to play, and his early second half was promising before subbing off for Bedoya.

Michael Bradley — 7 — No surprise that he — and the States — thrived once Klinsmann moved the Toronto FC man deeper in the midfield.

Gyasi Zardes (off HT) — 5 — The effort was there, as were the runs. The kid works hard and has a brain for the game, but his first touch betrayed him once again. Should’ve been 1-0.

Graham Zusi (off, 88′)– 7 — You know what you’re getting with Zusi, and the Sporting KC man was one of several players who played an assist-worthy ball in this one. Bedoya tapped his 72nd minute pass just wide of the far post.

Clint Dempsey (off 63′) — 5 —  Will be kicking himself for a poor first touch on an early second half cross from Bobby Wood. Didn’t get much service in the first half, but did play a great ball to Zardes.

Substitutes

Darlington Nagbe (on HT) — 8 — This guy. We all knew he had it in him, even Klinsmann after a long enough wait. He was the best player on the pitch in the second half.

Bobby Wood (on HT) — 6 — Missed a few key chances, but set up Nagbe’s winner.

Christian Pulisic (on 63′) — 7 — Dangerous, lively, and that touch. More of him, please.

Alejandro Bedoya (on 64′) — 6 — Should’ve scored, but didn’t. Also probably should’ve started, so we’ll cut him a bit of slack.

Matt Besler (on 78′) — 6 — Totally fine, but Ecuador rarely tested during his tenure.

Michael Orozco (on 88′) — N/A

United States 1-0 Ecuador: Nagbe grabs late winner in 90-minute snoozefest

FRISCO, TX - MAY 25:  Gyasi Zardes #9 of the United States controls the ball against Angel Mena #14 of Ecuador in the first half during an International Friendly match at Toyota Stadium on May 25, 2016 in Frisco, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
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The United States snoozed its way through one half and flubbed its way through another, saved by an 89th-minute winner from Darlington Nagbe that gave the home side the admittedly deserved win over an even worse Ecuadorian side.

Ecuador came to Frisco, TX as both sides get ready for the Copa America to come just days away, and they each left with little to take from the scoreless draw until Nagbe broke the ice with a minute to go.

The first big chance of the game came just on the half-hour mark, as a beautiful chipped ball from Clint Dempsey over the Ecuador back line sprung Gyasi Zardes free. Unfortunately, the famous Zardes touch saw the ball get away from him and out of play.

The rest of the half snoozed by, and after the break, the US spurned another great chance just three minutes into the second half. A beautiful ball from Michael Bradley reached the far post where Steve Birnbaum, John Brooks, and Clint Dempsey were all waiting, and somehow none of them made contact, instead toppling over each other as the ball rolled harmlessly to the goalkeeper.

Soon after, the US conceded its best chance yet to Ecuador. A great touch by Miller Bolanos sends Angel Mena into acres of space through on goal, but Michael Bradley sprinted from the mid-line to recover and punch the ball out as Mena cut back.

Jurgen Klinsmann switched up the attack past the hour mark, bringing on Bobby Wood, Darlington Nagbe, and young Christian Pulisic. They created a chance with 20 minutes to go as Graham Zusi delivered a ball across the face of goal. It was out of the reach of Pulisic, but it came to Alejandro Bedoya on the far side, who sent it back across the face, again untouched.

As the US took control through the late stages, they got the winner. DeAndre Yedlin sent in a cross that came off the head of Juan Paredes. Bobby Wood won the rebound, heading it back to Nagbe waiting in the middle, and the 25-year-old chested it down and volleyed it in for his first international goal.

The US takes on Bolivia on Saturday before the Copa America begins June 3.