After another blown lead, is it time to reconsider our assumptions about Real Salt Lake?

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Here’s what we thought we knew about Real Salt Lake, even if we hadn’t explicitly discussed it:

  • Despite winning only three of its first seven games, the team appeared to have picked up where it left off last season when they won the Western Conference;
  • The transition from Jason Kreis to Jeff Cassar appears to have been a smooth one, with the team’s characteristic formation, style, and performance preserved;
  • The backbone of the team — Nick Rimando, Nat Borchers, Kyle Beckerman, Javi Morales, and Álvaro Saborío — appeared as strong as ever, particularly with a healthy Chris Schuler.

After Saturday’s night’s 2-2, come-from-ahead draw against visiting Vancouver, however, it may be time to reconsider our assumptions. With late goals from Nicolas Mezquida and Sebastian Fernandez, the Whitecaps became the fourth team to snare a comeback draw against RSL – the second to come back from a two goals down.

That RSL had it so easy in the game’s opening minutes made the comeback even more surprising. When João Plata (2′) and Saborío (9′) had the team up two before the 10-minute-mark, it looked as if the league’s last undefeated team would cruise. Ensuring chances for Plata and Saborío were denied by David Ousted and the cross bar, but RSL remained in control. Going into the final moments, there was no indication this would be San Jose all over again.

Then, in the 86th minute, the defense broke, allowed Darren Mattocks to have a crack on Rimando, and let Mezquida pounce when their keeper spilled the shot down in front of goal. Eight minutes later, a heavy touch from Saborío as RSL tried to break out of its own end eventually allowed Fernández to tee off from 30-plus yards. Rimando, failing to get down for the shot, gave Vancouver a point, relegating RSL to its fifth draw in eight games.

From the pure number of goals allowed, to the timing of them, to their effect on the final results, this is not the type performance we expect from one of the league’s best teams, and while it’s difficult to imagine the season ending without Real Salt Lake among the circuit’s strongest sides, Saturday forces us to question whether Cassar’s team is there right now. On one hand, they are undefeated – the only MLS team that can make that claim. On the other hand, the team’s last three performances have failed to impress. They weren’t convincing against (what we now see as) a poor Philadelphia, they had trouble with a winless Portland, and they dropped points at home to Vancouver.

Let’s go back to what we thought we knew, implicitly acknowledging each of item (and more) is part of the complete RSL package – one that would leave the team among the best in Major League Soccer. The identity is in place, the backbone has typically played well, but they haven’t quite picked up where they left off.

In these late match capitulations, we see flaws that weren’t present in November and December. We see a particular defensive frailties that only surface at the end of games. We see an inability to control the moments that matter most.

We may also be seeing nothing more than a phase. But in that phase, is Real Salt Lake really as good as, say, Seattle? Thankfully for them, the question’s pretty meaningless, right now.

French league terminates goal-line technology contract

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PARIS (AP) The French football league has terminated the contract with its goal-line technology provider after a series of glitches.

The LFP had already suspended the use of GoalControl, the German system that was deployed at the 2014 World Cup.

According to L’Equipe newspaper, the league will launch a tender in February to find a new provider of the technology that determines whether the ball crossed the line.

[ MORE: Bristol City 2-3 (3-5 agg.) Man City ]

In recent months, the French league had repeatedly expressed its discontent with GoalControl.

Goal-line technology entered soccer after a goal was wrongly disallowed at the 2010 World Cup.

FIFA is already focused on fast-tracking the next phase of technology – video assistant referees – for the World Cup in June.

Goal-line technology and VAR were provided by Hawk-Eye at the Confederations Cup last year.

Bristol City’s Johnson: “They certainly have heard of us now”

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The Premier League world may see Bristol City next season, but it seems its manager has the personality to arrive on the top flight whether or not his Robins earn promotion this season.

Johnson, 36, earned plenty of plaudits after leading his Championship club to the League Cup semifinals, famously defeated Manchester United in the quarters.

[ MORE: Bristol City 2-3 (3-5 agg.) Man City ]

Before that, Bristol beat Premier League sides Crystal Palace, Stoke City, and Watford. The Robins beat third tier Plymouth Argyle 5-0 in the first round.

Johnson was beaming after the Robins took Man City to the edge, closing to within a goal of extra time before Kevin De Bruyne‘s stoppage time number ended the tie 5-3 on aggregate.

“Absolutely I’m proud. It’s not just tonight but over the course of the season, particularly the cup run. It was a fantastic occasion, I’m sorry we couldn’t get the win but we played against the best side that I have ever seen live. They have so many good individuals.

“We kept going and it’s taken two injury-time goals to beat us. They certainly have [heard of us] now…everybody knows what we’re about. It’s been great.”

Bristol City is in the Championship’s fifth place, bidding for its first top flight campaign since 1980. Johnson should be a hot prospect to earn a shot in the Premier League should the Robins not make the jump.

League Cup semifinal preview: Arsenal vs. Chelsea

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  • Chelsea has won 4-of-7 League Cup matches vs. Arsenal
  • Arsenal leads all-time series 74W-58D-62L
  • Clubs have drawn four times this season

Hardware hopes are on the line when Chelsea hits the Emirates Stadium for a League Cup semifinal second leg with Arsenal on Wednesday.

The sides drew 0-0 at Stamford Bridge, giving Chelsea the advantage of knowing a scoring draw would do the trick and set up a date with Manchester City at Wembley on Feb. 25, though Arsenal has home field advantage in pursuit of a win.

[ MORE: Bristol City 2-3 (3-5 agg.) Man City ]

Henrikh Mkhitaryan may debut for Arsenal, though the club released an interesting note on Tuesday: He’ll wear No. 7 in most competitions, but will have to use a different number in the Europa League because Alexis Sanchez wore it to start the tournament.

Chelsea’s Antonio Conte won’t have Alvaro Morata (back) and Cesc Fabregas for the match, though Andreas Christensen will be available for selection.

The clubs are no strangers to each other in big non-PL spots, squaring off in this season’s Community Shield (Arsenal won in penalty kicks) and last season’s FA Cup Final (Arsenal won).

Nothing has separated the sides on the field aside from those penalty kicks at Wembley Stadium, as Arsenal and Chelsea have drawn 1-1, 0-0, 2-2, and 0-0 since August.

What they’re saying

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger on Henrikh Mkhitaryan“He can play in different positions, but personally I see him first in a wide position, but I’m thinking about him a possibility to play through the middle. You are certain in our job of nothing, that’s absolutely sure. But you believe and I believe he has the qualities to do well, is a team player and our game is based on team attitude and movement and I think he can absorb the quantity of movement in our team.”

Chelsea’s Conte on the lineup: “Every game is different, you change the quality of your opponent and you must be intelligent enough to understand if you should continue with the same players or make some changes.”

Javier Mascherano leaving Barcelona after 8 seasons

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says defender Javier Mascherano is leaving the club after eight seasons.

Barcelona says there will be a farewell ceremony on Wednesday with Mascherano, club president Josep Bartomeu and the rest of the squad.

[ MORE: Man City to buy $86m CB ]

The 33-year-old Argentina international will say goodbye to the fans before Thursday’s game against Espanyol at Camp Nou in the Copa del Rey. He is reportedly going to play in China.

Mascherano, who also played as a defensive midfielder, arrived in Barcelona in 2010 from Liverpool and helped the Catalan club win 18 titles. He has made 334 appearances with Barcelona, but recently hadn’t been playing much.

The club earlier this month signed Colombia international Yerry Mina to boost its defense.

More AP Spanish soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/LaLiga