MLS Snapshot: Toronto FC 1-0 San Jose Earthquakes

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One game, 100 words or less: Without Chris Wondolowski in the team, San Jose couldn’t afford to give up an opening goal to a TFC that relishes the opportunity to revert to it shell. While that’s not exactly what happened in the wake of Jermain Defoe’s opening goal, the Earthquakes were still made to pay for Alan Gordon’s early foul, one that struck Nick Hagglund and drew the attention of Fatis Bazakos. Defoe’s 26th minute conversation into the left of goal was all TFC needed to win its third in four.

Three moments that mattered:

1. 23′ – Are we sure he isn’t a right back? – In his first season out of Xavier, Hagglund has impressed in the middle when called up to replace Steven Caldwell or Doneil Henry. He’s made casual fans forget Toronto has Gale Agbossoumonde. On Saturday, however, the 21-year-old was called on to play right back. Twenty-three minutes in, he almost came good with his first Major League Soccer goal, trapping a ball swung to his side before volleying a 17-yard shot toward Jon Busch. The San Jose keeper kept the ball out, but very early on, Hagglung showed he wasn’t miscast in his new role.

2. 26′ – Gordon gives Toronto its shot – TFC’s corner from the left would have been innocuous enough had Gordon kept Hagglund on his back. Or not flailed his right arm toward the rookie’s face. Or just stood there and did nothing while the ball floated over this head. Instead, the forward’s arm gave Bazakos no reasonable choice. Ultimately, it cost his team the game.

source: AP
Toronto FC’s Jermain Defoe scores from the penalty spot against San Jose Earthquakes during first half in Toronto. (Source: AP)

3. 66′ – Did Goodson get lucky? – In the 66th minute, a long ball seemingly headed over the San Jose defense was batted down by the recovering Clarence Goodson, who received a yellow card for his troubles. The question is, with nobody but the goalkeeper behind him, whether the San Jose center back prevented an obvious goal scoring opportunity. Ryan Nelsen argued the point to the fourth official, but the counter point: The foul seemed to play into the “last man” fallacy rather than reflect an actual chance. To the extent it was an opportunity, it wasn’t an obvious one.

Three lessons going forward:

1. Toronto can get points without Bradley – This lesson didn’t start tonight. It started when Michael Bradley left for U.S. men’s national team camp. Since his departure, Toronto has 10 points in four games. The team had nine point in its previous seven.

2. The Reds may not need Gilberto – TFC fans are split. Some espouse the Brazilian Designated Players’ all-around virtues. Others focus on that goals column: 0. Today the 25-year-old injured his left thigh in warm ups and had to be pulled from the starting lineup. To the extent that TFC’s attack has beats, it didn’t miss one.

3. Sam Cronin still doesn’t fit in San Jose’s midfield – It’s sad to say this about a player who’s been so influential int eh past, but Sam Cronin just doesn’t fit with this year’s team. The hypothesis was played out after Khari Stephenson and Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi became the team’s regular starters, and it was verified when Cronin looked redundant to the Frenchman for much of Saturday’s game. The sooner Stephenson returns to health, the better for Mark Watson.

Where that leaves them

  • Toronto: 6-4-1, fourth the the East, unbeaten in four
  • San Jose: 4-5-4, two points our of fifth in the West, 3-2-0 in its last five

Championship Focus: Bluebirds flying, Villa second-last

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The wild 46-game slate that is the Football League Championship is already howling, with all 24 teams three matches deep into their campaigns toward Premier League promotion (or avoiding relegation to League One).

The three clubs relegated from the Premier League last season all sit within the Top 8 after three match days. Sunderland is unbeaten with a win and two draws, while Hull City is 1-1-1.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

Middlesbrough has two wins from three matches, three points behind three sides who’ve started a perfect 3-0.

Wolves and Ipswich Town are two of the three, and Cardiff City leads the way. Owner Vincent Tan has seen his club score six goals without conceding once in defeats of Burton Albion, Aston Villa, and Sheffield United.

Burton is 0-3, while Steve Bruce‘s Villa is just one point better and sits 23rd.

As for individual superlatives, Bristol City’s Bobby Reid has four goals to lead the league while familiar names Lewis Grabban (Sunderland) and Abel Hernandez (Hull City) are among a quartet of players to score thrice.

Meanwhile, PL transfer target Jota of Brentford continues to impress with three assists through three matches. Will he remain in the second tier by the close of the transfer window?

MLS Snapshot: Montreal Impact 3-0 Chicago Fire

Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press via AP
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The game in 100 words (or less)Ignacio Piatti is very good at soccer, and Chicago backstop Matt Lampson is going to see him deep into his dreams. Piatti beat Lampson up close on a turnover and then, with Montreal ahead 2-0 off a PK, the Argentine curled a surprise shot from distance around the keeper. Game, set, match, and it wasn’t even halftime. The loss keeps Chicago from using its match-in-hand to catch second place New York City FC, while the three points move Montreal to within two points of the East’s final playoff position.

Three moments that mattered

6′ — Piatti starts the party — Gifted a chance with the keeper by a sloppy missed clearing attempt, the Argentine deftly pops the ball over Fire keeper Matt Lampson.

36′ — Lampson hurts his cause — Chicago’s backstop wasn’t at fault on the opening goal, but he was for the second. After chopping down Matteo Mancosu in the box, Lampson guessed wrong on the striker’s penalty kick and the Fire went down 2-0.

38′ — It’s not your night, Lamps — Pretty sure you can anyone named Lampson, Lamps. Anyway, this time it was one of MLS’ top newcomers who set up Piatti for a goal. “Nacho” has his 12th of the season thanks to Blerim Dzemaili, and my goodness did Piatti do well here.

Man of the Match: Piatti.

Forbes ranks the top supporters in Major League Soccer

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Forbes claims the shared honor will give two Cascadia Cup rivals one less thing to argue about, but we completely disagree.

The celebrated magazine says their metrics show the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders tied for the honor of who has the best fans in Major League Soccer.

The post says the determination was made through four factors: attendance, local TV ratings, merchandise sales, and social media followers on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Attendance was weighted heaviest, which certainly gives Atlanta United hope to go charging up the rankings in the future. For now, the “Five Stripes” are not included in the list.

The Galaxy finish third in the rankings, while the sixth-place New York Red Bulls edge New York City FC by one spot.

For the report and full explanation, head here.

Europa League preview: Everton, Milan, Marseille take next steps

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The UEFA Europa League playoff round takes full flight Thursday, a day after Utrecht struck a blow for the Eredivisie with a 1-0 win over Zenit Saint-Petersburg in a Wednesday first leg.

Premier League participants Everton will be seeking a result at home against Hajduk Split, the third-place team from Croatia’s top flight.

Gylfi Sigurdsson passed his medical at Goodison Park but will not be available for Everton on Thursday.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

As for the match, manager Ronald Koeman knows the Thursday matchdays for the UEL will try his club’s endurance and depth. From EvertonFC.com:

“We know English teams have some problems. I think it is more mental than physical because if you play in the Champions League – so Wednesday and Saturday – you have the same amount of days to recover. I try to put out the strongest team to start the game. That will take into account the tactical aspects of each game. That will mean different players start and different options in terms of substitutions.”

Captained by Zoran Nizic and managed by Joan Carrillo, Hajduk has a young star in the making in the form of 19-year-old attacking midfielder Nikola Vlasic, but Everton is heavily favored at home with Hajduk given 12:1 odds by bookmakers.

[ MORE: Barca GM says Coutinho, Dembele “close” ]

Those numbers are a relative sure thing compared to AC Milan’s visitors. Macedonia club Shkendija are a 33:1 underdog for its trip to Italy.

Elsewhere, Slovenian side Domzale is a longshot at home to visiting Marseille.

Speaking of bookmakers, Arsenal won’t enter the competition until the group stage but is considered the favorite to win the UEL by a hair over Milan. Everton, Villarreal, and Athletic Bilbao are level with third-best odds.

UEFA Europa League playoff first legs
Utrecht 1-0 Zenit — Weds.
BATE Borisov vs. Oleksandriya — 1 p.m. ET Thursday
Apollon Limassol vs. Midtjylland — 1 p.m.
Krasnodar vs. Red Star Belgrade — 1 p.m.
Dinamo Zagreb vs. Skenderbeu — 1 p.m.
FH vs. Braga — 1:45 p.m. ET Thursday
PAOK vs. Ostersund — 2 p.m. ET Thursday
Vardar vs. Fenerbahce — 2 p.m.
Plzen vs. AEK Lamaca — 2:15 p.m. ET Thursday
Altach vs. Maccabi Tel-Aviv — 2:30 p.m. ET Thursday
Ludogorets Razgrad vs. Suduva — 2:30 p.m.
Panathinaikos vs. Athletic Bilbao — 2:30 p.m.
Domzale vs. Marseille — 2:45 p.m. ET Thursday
Osijek vs. Austria Wien — 2:45 p.m.
Viitorul vs. Red Bull Salzburg — 2:45 p.m.
Ajax vs. Rosenborg — 2:45 p.m.
Legia Warsaw vs. Sheriff — 2:45 p.m.
AC Milan vs. Shkendija — 2:45 p.m.
Club Brugge vs. AEK — 2:45 p.m.
Partizan vs. Videoton — 3 p.m. ET Thursday
Everton vs. Hajduk Split — 3:05 p.m. ET Thursday
Maritimo vs. Dynamo Kyiv — 3:30 p.m. ET Thursday