Hat trick from Wright-Phillips gives New York two wins in a row

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This is exactly what teams should get when they pluck attackers from England’s lower leagues: the ability to read a play; get in the right position; and reliably finish. On Wednesday night, those abilities paid off Bradley Wright-Phillips, who produced an unlikely hat trick for the suddenly resurgent Red Bulls, helping New York overwhelm Houston for its second win of the season.

Routing visiting Houston 4-0, New York embarked on its first winning streak of the season, building on last Wednesday’s 2-1 win over Philadelphia. Thanks to a goal and two assists from Thierry Henry, New York gave supporters a reason to believe last year’s Supporters’ Shield-winning season is more than a one-year fluke. After one of the more one-sided performances of the young MLS season, New York is suddenly third in the Eastern Conference.

It’s a swift turn around after a 0-2-4 start left New York near the bottom of the Eastern Conference, but after last week’s break through, the Red Bulls had reason to believe the team’s initial, six-match stretch was as much randomness as an indicative of actual skill. Wednesday’s decisive win over the visiting Dynamo gives the team reason to believe wins over Philadelphia and Houston are better indicators than losses at Vancouver and D.C. United.

In that way, this performance may prove more telling for the Dynamo than the Red Bulls. Two weeks ago, Houston was handed a demoralizing loss in New England, though the team apparently recovered with a 0-0 draw in Philadelphia, Tonight, however, it appeared as if Mike Petke figured them out. Playing wide-to-in, New York used hard, driven crosses to beat David Horst and Jermaine Taylor, avoiding the aerial game where Houston’s duo would have an advantage. It’s an approach that more-or-less worked for the first three goals, with the final tally coming from the spot.

It was a performance that transcended any context two uncertain teams brought into the game. Sure New York was coming off of a week’s rest while Houston’s turnaround was quick, but that doesn’t explain such a lopsided, decisive result. New York fully deserved its four-goal margin.

It goes without saying that’s a good omen for the Red Bulls, going forward. New York may not be on the same level as Kansas City, clearly the best in the East, but who is? It’s a question we won’t even ask if the Red Bulls weren’t holding the Supporters’ Shield.

Still, if the Red Bulls had to match up with the likes or Toronto or Columbus tomorrow, would you really write them off? Toronto may have that Michael Bradley-ness not its side, but beyond that, New York is suddenly playing as well as any non-Kansas City team in the Eastern Conference.

On one hand, that’s life in the Eastern Conference, where two games take you from bottom dweller to contender. On the other, it’s reason for caution. Just because two wins can vault you up the Eastern Conference doesn’t mean you’re contending. New York is recovering and has started putting worries of a collapse being it, but that doesn’t mean it’s suddenly read to defend its Supporters Shield.

All it means is New York, compared to the winless team it was two weeks ago, is in much better shape. The flaws we saw in the seasons first five weeks may still be there, but right now, the Red Bulls are doing a much better job of overcoming them.ws

STREAM LIVE: West Brom-Palace, Liverpool-Leicester in PL Asia Trophy

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It’s a incredibly early kickoff for the third place game of the Premier League Asia Trophy tournament, at least here in the States, where West Bromwich Albion and Crystal Palace duke it out at 6 a.m. ET. in Hong Kong.

West Brom lost to Leicester City in its semifinal when youngster Sam Field missed the side’s seventh attempt in penalty kicks. Jay Rodriguez scored the Baggies goal in regulation of a 1-1 draw.

[ LIVE: Stream PL Asia Trophy here ]  

Palace fell 2-0 to Liverpool in its semifinal.

The final will be staged at 8:30 a.m. ET, when Liverpool will hope to build on a win paced by Divock Origi and Dominic Solanke goals.

2-year doping ban upheld for Finland, CSKA Moscow player

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) The Court of Arbitration for Sport has upheld a two-year ban for CSKA Moscow midfielder Roman Eremenko for a positive test for cocaine.

[ MORE: Morata signs five-year contract at Chelsea ]

CAS says the ban imposed by UEFA was “appropriate” and dismissed the Finland international’s appeal.

[ MORE: Vertonghen says Spurs need to “level up” like rest of PL contenders ]

The ban will expire on Oct. 5, 2018, when Eremenko will be 31.

Eremenko tested positive after playing in a Champions League game for CSKA Moscow against Bayer Leverkusen last September. The 2-2 result was not affected despite Eremenko scoring CSKA’s second goal.

Born in Moscow, Eremenko grew up in Finland and has represented its national team 73 times.

Webb says De Jong would have been sent off with video review

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NEW YORK (AP) Howard Webb says he would have given Dutch midfielder Nigel De Jong a red card in the 2010 World Cup final if a video assistant referee had been in place.

The retired English referee showed De Jong a yellow card in the 28th minute for his karate kick into the chest of Spain’s Xabi Alonso. Hired in March to oversee video technology for professional soccer in the U.S. and Canada, Webb held a media seminar Friday ahead of its Aug. 5 launch in Major League Soccer.

Webb says: “Yes, it was a clear red card. It was a clear and obvious error on my part not to send the player off, and VAR would have been able to recommend a review to me, and I would have been able to make the right call.”

Now 46, Webb was a Premier League referee from 2003-14. He worked the Champions League and World Cup finals in 2010, became director of referees at the Saudi Arabian Football Federation, and started in March as manager of video assistant referee operations for the Professional Referee Organization.

MLS Snapshot: Orlando City 0-1 Atlanta United (video)

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The game in 100 words (or less): Friday night’s effort at Orlando City Stadium wasn’t the prettiest for either side but Atlanta United will gladly take three points from the fixture as the Central Florida venue proved to be a fortress once more. The Lions were far superior in their attacking threats throughout the match, testing USMNT and Atlanta goalkeeper Brad Guzan on multiple occasions. However, it was Hector Villalba that proved to be the difference when he blasted a long-distance effort to beat Joe Bendik in the 86th minute. Atlanta extends its unbeaten streak to four matches with Friday’s decision, keeping Tata Martino’s side in fourth place in the Eastern Conference, while Orlando City moves into fifth.

Three moments that mattered

36′ — Guzan stands tall, denies Rivas — Carlos Rivas thought he scorched this one (and he did…), but Brad Guzan acted like it was nothing as he held his ground to make the stop.

39′ — Spector gets ripped off by Guzan — The U.S. goalkeeper is at it again… What a save!

86′ — Villalba unleashes stunner to propel Atlanta — Sometimes it just takes one good hit as a striker.

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Man of the match: Brad Guzan

Goalscorers: Hector Villalba (86′)