MLS Snapshot: Real Salt Lake 3-1 Montréal Impact

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One game, 100 words (or less): A well-worked 31st minute goal for Hassoun Camara gave Montréal a chace to destroy the narrative, but come full-time, this was a typical Real Salt Lake performance. Control without dominance, pragmatism without panache, RSL took the three points they were expected to claim, and while a home win over the Impact has become obligatory, the simple precision of their restrained display hinted last year’s heights are still within reach. Thanks to a second half double from Olmes Garcia, RSL won, 3-1, but had Javier Morales proved more clinical, the two-goal gap could have been more.

Goals:

Real Salt Lake: Mulholland 3′, Garcia 70′, 90+3′
Montréal: Camara 31′

Three Four moments that mattered:

59′ – Garcia comes on for Findley – In the first move of the night, RSL puts the young Colombian on for Robbie Findley, who’s still trying to work his way back to full match fitness. The move seems obligatory, and it’s hard think a player who has zero goals this season can turn this match, but it’s only moments before Garcia is in position to break the 1-1.

61′ – Evan Bush saves Montréal? – The score is even, but early in the second half, the next RSL goal feels inevitable. Yet with a quick move across his goal, Evan Bush gives Montréal reason to think they can outlast RSL. In position after Chris Wingert’s ball across the top of the six finds Morales near the far post, Bush made the initial save before keeping himself alive for a kick save on Garcia’s followup. For a moment, it looks like the Impact can survive.

65′ – Issey’s a poor Nigel de Jong – This could have been one of the worst tackles of the year, but given Chris Schuler got up and walked off the field, we can judge it on a different level and note: If Issey Nakajima-Farran really was trying to be the next Nigel de Jong, he’s got it all wrong. His jump, shin-high, was far too low. Pulling back at the last second, his leg is not even aiming for Schuler’s chest. It’s almost as if he realized something was about to go horribly, tragically wrong.

Yeah, he got dismissed, but if he was trying for one of the more memorable tackles in league history, he thankfully came up short:

70′ – Garcia breaks through – Over his year-plus with RSL, Garcia has shown a  proficiency with his head, but with no goals thus far this season, that proficiency has been absent through the first half of the season. In the 70th minute, however, the Colombian’s snap header far post off a ball from the right gave RSL the lead, an advantage he’d double three minutes into stoppage time with his second of the season.

Lineups:

Real Salt Lake: Nick Rimando; Tony Beltran, Nat Borchers, Chris Schuler, Chris Wingert; Luke Mulholland (Cole Grossman 83′), Kyle Beckerman; Ned Grabavoy; Javier Morales (John Stertzer 94′); João Plata, Robbie Findley (Olmes Garcia 59′)
Montréal: Evan Bush; Hassoun Camara, Matteo Ferrari, Heath Pearce, Krzysztof Krol; Andres Romero, Callum Mallace (Jérémy Gagnon-Laparé 62;), Patrice Bernier, Issey Nakajima-Farran; Felipe Martins (Justin Mapp 62′); Marco Di Vaio (Jack McInerney 77′)

Three lessons going forward:

1. Boosts for RSL – Robbie Findley isn’t an All-Star, but for a team looking for a way to survive without Álvaro Saborío, his return to full strength could be a significant boost. Tonight moved the former U.S. international one step closer. Off the bench, García picked up the slack, giving RSL fans hope last year’s dangerman could emerge in the second half of the season.

2. Performing to reputation – RSL is known for its diamond midfield, but to this point in the season, that midfield had yet to impose itself on matches, a lack of control reflected in the teams possession and shots (and, shots allowed) numbers. On Thursday, the team held 62 percent of the ball and put 11 shots on target to Montréal’s two. Yeah, it was Montréal, but you have to start somewhere.

3. Even on bad nights – A first half chance at the left post. A second half chance at the right. Javier Morales had two chances to get on the scoresheet, but each time, the Argentine couldn’t craft a goal. On the surface, it seemed like a difficult night.

Then you look up, and the RSL playmaker finished the night with two assists, setting up the tying and winning goals. While RSL might have blown out Montréal on Morales’s good nights, they still managed a controlled, steady performance. And even amid his imperfection, Morales managed two assists.

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

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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