MLS Snapshot: D.C. United 0-0 Columbus Crew

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[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wqy2cwgKJqQ]

One game, 100 words or less: Columbus’s second visit to D.C. United proved less successful than its opening day route. Again playing without Federico Higuaín (hamstring), Gregg Berhaltter’s team was shut out for the fifth time this season, putting only two shots on target at FedEx Field. D.C. United did Columbus only one shot better but still had a chance to take all three points when Fabian Espíndola stood over a stoppage time penalty kick. Steve Clark guessed correctly on his paneka, easily catching what could have been the game’s winning goal.

Three moments that mattered:

1. -90′ – Spain in control against El Salvador – Taking advantage of a visit from Spain, D.C. United and Columbus played the second match of a doubleheader. The turf, however, proved better for American football than MLS’s game. Spain went on to beat the Salvadorans, 2-0, but after his team’s scoreless finale, D.C. United head coach Ben Olsen complained “[The field] was slow, thick, it’s not built for soccer … It’s built for big boys that run around and tackle each other.”

2. 83′ – Bedell fails to convert –  Seven minutes from time, after a match of half-chances left neither keeper significantly stressed, Columbus was given a chance to take another three points from United. Unfortunately for the Crew, the team’s chance fell to the wrong man. Having replaced Ben Speas six minutes earlier, Adam Bedell, a third round pick in this winter’s draft, hit his nine-yard shot straight at Bill Hamid, assuring Columbus would need a clean sheet to claim a point from United.

source: AP
Steve Clark’s three saves included a late penalty kick stop against Fabian Espíndola. (Photo: AP)

3. 90+6′ – Too cute, Fabi – Espindola will be criticized for trying his paneka, but the numbers don’t back the claim his choice was a bad one. A vast majority of the time, goalkeepers leap to one side or the other, leaving the middle of goal open. Unfortunately, something Espindola did in his run up may have tipped off Clark, who didn’t move before catching the failed shot.

Three lessons going forward:

1. Doubleheaders may not be worth it – Let’s assume Ben Olsen is right and the field greatly inhibited both teams. Is it really worth it for MLS to book these double headers if the conditions may not allow for a representative product? Of course, that assumes D.C. United knew FedEx Field would play so slow.

2. Crew finally missed Higuaín – In its first game without its Argentine maestro, Columbus managed to score twice in Toronto. It was the team’s defense, not attack, that failed it at BMO Field. On Saturday, however, chances were too scarce, with Bill Hamid enjoying one of his least active days of the season.

3. Steve Clark continues to be under appreciated – I get it. The first year keeper has no MLS legacy to fall back on. He plays in a small market, and his performances tend to be more solid than spectacular. Nobody cares about Steve Clark., though they should. Strong positioning, decisive reads, and, ultimately, results have defined his first year back in North America. That final save on Espindola wasn’t the amazing, diving save we normally laud on from keepers, but something about Espindola told Clark not to move. That he didn’t was proved just as valuable as a leaping stop.

Where that leaves them

  • D.C. United: 6-4-4, one point behind New England in the Eastern Conference
  • Columbus: 4-5-6, still with on victory since March

Conte drops hint about his plans for attacking unit

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LONDON — Antonio Conte‘s decision to play a fluid front three of Eden Hazard, Willian and Pedro worked extremely well against Barcelona in Chelsea’s 1-1 draw on Tuesday, but will he use that trio again in big games coming up?

[ MORE: Conte’s tactical masterclass ]

For the first leg of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 clash at Stamford Bridge, Conte left his two recognized strikers, Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud, on the bench and opted for Hazard centrally with Pedro and Willian close by in wide roles.

Hazard went close twice, Willian twice hit the post before scoring Chelsea’s goal via a pass from Hazard and Pedro chased down Barca’s defense and helped set the tempo for a fine display which should have seen Chelsea win by at least two goals.

[ MORE: Three things learned from Chelsea-Barca

Asked by Pro Soccer Talk after the draw with Barca if he was happy with Hazard’s play in a false nine helped out by Willian and Pedro, Conte seemed to suggest that front three will be Chelsea’s attacking unit moving forward.

“I think our three strikers played very well, a fantastic game,” Conte said. “Willian, he played really well against Hull [in the FA Cup] and he scored twice and in the last three games we scored eight times and seven goals we scored with Pedro, Willian and Hazard. I think that they’re working very well. We must be pleased for the game, not for the final result.”

With huge games coming up against both Manchester clubs in the next few weeks in the Premier League, plus the second leg at Barcelona on Mar. 14, it appears Conte may well go with the in-form trio to create as much havoc as possible for opposition defenders.

Hazard in a false nine is an intriguing situation to unravel as the Belgian is almost certainly better suited to playing in a wide role or as a No.10 just off a targetman such as Giroud or Morata, but in this 3-4-2-1 system he has the freedom to interchange with Pedro and Willian and to roam across the forward line.

Having Giroud or Morata as Plan B seems to be Conte’s plan moving forward and against teams such as Man City, Man United and Barcelona, it may well suit Chelsea best to keep things tight defensively and unleash their speedy, tricky trio on the break.

Conte’s tactics to not start with an out-and-out striker may be questioned by many but if it works half as well as it did on Tuesday, expect Hazard, Willian and Pedro to be Chelsea’s go-to guys in a season-defining few weeks for the reigning PL champs as they aim to cement their spot in the top four, reach the FA Cup semifinal and advance in the Champions League.

Blatter: 2026 World Cup should be in Morocco

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Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter has backed Morocco’s 2026 World Cup bid as he hit out at the joint-bid between the USA, Mexico and Canada.

The 81-year-old claims that joint bids for a World Cup are to be “rejected” after the 2002 World Cup and with voting for the 2026 hosts to take place on June 13 in an expedited process, it appears Morocco is gaining some traction among FIFA’s 209 member associations as the only alternative to a North American bid.

The U.S., Mexico and Canada bid to host the first-ever expanded 48-team tournament still seems to be the overwhelming favorite, but will comments like this help or hinder Morocco’s bid?

Blatter, the disgraced former long-time leader of world soccer’s governing body, is currently banned from all soccer related activity for six-years after being charged regarding a $2 million payment made between himself and the former UEFA President, Michel Platini.

Here’s the message Blatter sent out via Twitter, as the Swiss official is reportedly launching an appeal against his current ban which came after he announced he would step down as FIFA president in 2015 following several high level officials being charged with corruption by U.S. officials.

It is also worth noting that Blatter is still concerned about being extradited to the USA amid the ongoing FBI investigation into widespread corruption in the organization and doesn’t travel outside of Switzerland or Russia.

Brazil’s Gremio wins Recopa Sudamericana in penalty shootout

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PORTO ALEGRE, Brazil (AP) Brazil’s Gremio has won the Recopa Sudamericana, beating Argentina’s Independiente 5-4 in a penalty shootout Wednesday night.

The two-legged final ended 1-1 on aggregate, with no goals scored after 120 minutes in the second.

The winners of last year’s Copa Libertadores overcame the holders of Copa Sudamericana after goalkeeper Marcelo Grohe stopped the last penalty of the series, taken by Independiente’s striker Martin Benitez.

The Recopa is played between the champions of South America’s two most important tournaments.

Independiente played most of the match down to 10 players after defender Fernando Amorebieta was sent off after 38 minutes.

The Brazilians made most of the pressure until the end of extra time, but failed to score.

Gremio also won the Recopa in 1996.

CCL wrap: FC Dallas disappoints; Club America struts (video)

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The CONCACAF Champions League returned Tuesday with Toronto FC’s 2-0 quarterfinal first leg win in Colorado, and a trio of ties began Wednesday across Panama, Costa Rica, and Honduras.

[ WATCH: Fred’s vicious free kick ]

Tauro 1-0 FC Dallas

Veteran striker Edwin Aguilar scored a big goal, and goalkeeper Oscar McFarlane did plenty of good things as the Panamanian side struck a wild first blow against its MLS visitors.

Here’s a random fact underscoring how remarkable of a failure this would be for FC Dallas: Only six of Tauro’s roster members have their own Wikipedia page.

Deportivo Saprissa 1-5 Club America

Cecilio Dominguez and Mateus Uribe each bagged a brace, and Renato Ibarra also scored as the tournament’s top team sauntered into and out of Costa Rica on Wednesday. Club America has been to seven CCL finals, and one every single one.

Motagua vs. Club Tijuana — 10 a.m. ET

Honduran hosts hope to have a leg to stand on — pun intended — once the tie heads to Mexico.