D.C. United takes a point out of Columbus, but referee has some explaining to do (video)

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Fabian Espindola’s superb finish of a late first half counterattack had D.C. United on track for a third straight win, one that would have represented a dramatic turnaround from the team’s opening day result. Embarrassed at home 3-0 by Columbus last month, United saw 2014 begin as 2013 ended. Five weeks later, Ben Olsen’s team was minutes away from redemption, allowing a late, controversial decision from referee Juan Guzman to be rendered irrelevant.

Instead, a 90th minute goal from Héctor Jiménez allowed the Eastern Conference leaders to earn an unlikely 1-1 draw, one they would have been less likely to claim had Giancarlo Gonzalez rightly been sent off in the 73rd minute.

That’s when Eddie Johnson, having gotten behind the Columbus defender, was pulled down from behind as he was going in on goal. The United forward had possession of the ball. There was nobody in between him and goal. He was running right toward Steve Clark. It was, by all definitions of the scenario, a denial of an obvious goal scoring opportunity, with the nature of the grab by Gonzalez hinting the Costa Rican knew what was likely to come:

At the time, Columbus was down 1-0. Had Johnson been allowed to go in alone, he would have a good chance of putting the match away. In acting so obviously, Gonzalez seemed to be conceding his team had a better chance of coming back if he got dismissed but kept his team within one.

He also had a chance to encountering a lenient referee, something you can’t ignore in these situations. Gonzalez had to assume he was going to walk, but there are a significant number of officials that would probably make the same mistake. Some referees just loathe using that red card, even if the rules make it obligatory. In pulling out the yellow, Guzman not only gave Columbus an unfairly generous judgment, he also showed why it sometimes pays to hope for human error.

Gonzalez’s hopes paid off big-time at the end of regulation time. After Wil Trapp forced a turnover and found Jiménez on the left flank, the former LA Galaxy midfielder cut in on his right foot and beat Andrew Dykstra – a beautiful, curling goal that allowed Columbus to avoid an upset loss.

Columbus could have very well come back to draw had they lost Gonzalez, but it would have been far less likely, particularly given Bernardo Añor got himself sent off for a two-footed tackle in the 81st minute. Nine on 11? Yeah, it could happen, but that game is probably over. D.C. United would have been far more likely to get a second goal than concede an equalizer.

Regardless, Guzman did D.C. a disservice. Perhaps the team’s lead was less a result of great play than opportunism, but it was a lead they earned – a lead they deserved to defend without such an obvious officiating error helping Columbus.

Unfortunately, in this game, a one-goal lead is never secure. You have to be prepared for fortune to complicate your night. You have to try to get another goal.

Antonio Conte admits he misses Italy, plans to return home

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This is not exactly what Chelsea’s fans will want to hear on a Monday morning after a resounding 4-0 win at Stoke as the Blues moved up to third in the Premier League table.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Antonio Conte, who delivered the Premier League title in his first season in charge of the Blues, and his first season in England, in 2016-17, has been speaking of his desire to return to his homeland.

Conte, 48, spoke to Italian radio station RadioUno about his experience in the Premier League and left the door wide-open for a return to Serie A in the coming months as he admitted he misses Italy.

“I miss it, that’s beyond doubt,” Conte said. “Italy is my homeland, so once I have had some good experiences, formative experiences, important and life-changing experiences, I’ll be back. I don’t know when but that’s the aim.

“It’s always difficult to predict the future. Us managers have the most precarious job of all. Today you’re working, tomorrow you’re out. I want to succeed, to finish one project and make the right decision about the next. This experience has given me so much, has improved me so much, but perhaps in the future I won’t be a manager. Perhaps I’ll work as a director of football. I don’t know.”

Conte has been linked with the managers job at Inter Milan and with comments like this, those links will not go away.

Adding further fuel to the fire was his decision to only signed an improved contract over the summer rather than extending his stay at Stamford Bridge. Conte’s current deal is due to expire at the end of the 2018-19 season.

After a tough summer and a tough start to the season which saw a feud with Diego Costa dominate the talk surrounding Chelsea, a loss to Arsenal in the Community Shield, an opening day defeat at home to Burnley, plus some questionable dealings in the transfer market, the pressure was piling on Conte.

His team have responded with five wins in their next six games in all competitions and are right up there with the early pacesetters in the Premier League.

That said, the fact that Conte was under any pressure whatsoever was a joke considering what he had achieved last season when nobody expected Chelsea to seriously challenge for the title. Therein lies why he could want out when his current deal at Chelsea is up, or maybe even sooner than that.

In situations like this I often think about what Eric Cantona did: leave before anybody else expects you to and you’ll go out, and remain, a hero.

Mourinho escapes ban after sending off

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Jose Mourinho will face no further action from the English Football Association after he was sent off at Southampton on Saturday.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Towards the end of United’s 1-0 win — which keeps them unbeaten and in second-place in the standings — Mourinho encroached slightly onto the pitch (we are talking half a yard here) and referee Craig Pawson sent him to the stands after being called over by fourth official Mike Jones who pulled Mourinho back into his technical area.

Mourinho, in true fashion, then delayed his sending off by shaking the hands of every member of Southampton’s coaching staff before he took his place in the stands for the final few seconds of the game.

After being sent off nine times in his career for various discrepancies over the years, Mourinho is no stranger to having the FA’s rule book thrown at him.

However there is an argument out there, and a credible one, that due to his high profile and history of misdemeanors Mourinho is treated rather differently than most managers.

In his long list of previous incidents where he has stepped out of line, stepping slightly over the touchline at Southampton was incredibly minor.

Common sense has prevailed.

MLS Snapshot: POR carve up 9-man ORL, keep pace with VAN, SKC

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The game in 100 words (or less): All of a sudden, the Western Conference has sprung to life as the 2017 regular season winds down — Vancouver Whitecaps, winners of five of their last seven games (unbeaten); Portland Timbers, winners of four of their last six following Sunday’s 3-0 victory over 10-man nine-man Orlando City SC at Providence Park; Sporting Kansas City, losers of just two of their last 15 games; Seattle Sounders, who had their 13-game unbeaten run snapped on Saturday; and Real Salt Lake, winners of four of their last five. With fewer than a handful of games remaining, Vancouver’s lead on Portland and Sporting KC remains one point after all three sides won this weekend; RSL and Seattle are separated by just three points, three points back of second and third. As for Saturday’s game, Diego Valeri is now a top-two candidate for MVP after scoring two more goals (his 19th and 20th, to go with 9 assists) against 10-man Orlando.

[ MORE: TFC’s Shield celebration delayed | RSL end Seattle’s run at 13 ]

Three moments that mattered

15′ — Valeri extends his streak, makes it 1-0 — The last time Valeri failed to score in a game, the date was July 23.

29′ — Mattocks taps it home after Asprilla’s cross — Huge credit to Diego Chara for the through ball to spring Dairon Asprilla into acres of space. The ball to Mattocks was simple, and he got it right.

59′ — Valeri gets no. 20, makes it 3-0 — Joe Bendik managed to deny Mattocks’ initial effort, but Valeri followed up when everyone in white had already quit on the play.

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Man of the match: Diego Valeri

Goalscorers: Valeri (15′ – PK, 59′), Mattocks (29′)

The 2 Robbies: City Sparkle, Chelsea Shine, Liverpool Hold On

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Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe take a look at some of the weekend’s biggest storylines, including Liverpool’s thrilling victory over Leicester City, Tottenham Hotspur’s frantic win away to West Ham United and Manchester City’s demolition of Crystal Palace.

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

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