MLS Snapshot: D.C. United 3-0 Toronto FC

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[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EJjIdK5HA4Q]

One game, 100 words (or less): The teams may be next to each other in the Eastern Conference standings, but Wednesday at RFK Stadium, D.C. United and Toronto were worlds apart. Though United generated fewer chances on the night, their play in the final third proved more efficient, with an early score and a strong night from Bill Hamid allowing them to complete a July double over Toronto.

With goals from Eddie Johnson, Chris Rolfe, and Nick Hagglund (own goal), the Black and Red took a convincing 3-0 win from Toronto, closing their gap with Sporting Kansas City atop the Eastern Conference.

Goals:

D.C. United: Johnson 8′, Rolfe 59′, Hagglund (o.g.) 67′
Toronto FC: None.

Three moments that mattered:

8′ – E.J. with No. 4 – This is the type of goal D.C. may have imagined when they committed Designated Player money to Eddie Johnson. On a ball in from the right, Johnson gets in front of newly acquired Warren Creavalle, meeting Perry Kitchen’s cross to finish into the left of goal. Moments after Dominic Oduro missed a chance to open the scoring, D.C. had its opener, the “E.J.” providing more reason to believe he’s heating up.

46′ – Hamid comes up big on Moore – Strong saves on Luke Moore and Oduro make Bill Hamid a big part of United’s first half success, but early in Wednesday’s second half, the D.C. goalkeeper was called on to make his biggest save of the night. Put behind the United defense by Jermain Defoe, Moore had a chance to equalize from six yards Too casual, perhaps not anticipating Hamid would read the play so well, Moore ended up playing the ball into the oncoming keeper, failing to convert what would have been a game-tying goal.

67′ – Own goal ends hope – Nick DeLeon was involved in D.C.’s last two scores, but it was his part in the third that ended Toronto’s hopes. Coming in from the right flank, DeLeon moved through Toronto’s defense before putting a shot on Bendik. Though the Reds’ keeper got a hand on it, rookie Nick Hagglund’s attempted clearance ended up in his own goal, giving D.C. its insurmountable lead.

Lineups:

D.C. United: Bill Hamid; Sean Franklin, Bobby Boswell, Steve Birnbaum, Chris Korb; Nick DeLeon, Perry Kitchen, Davy Arnaud (Jared Jeffrey 82′), Chris Rolfe (Conor Doyle 74′); Luis Silva (Lewis Neal 69′), Eddie Johnson
Toronto FC: Joe Bendik; Warren Creavalle, Bradley Orr (Daniel Lovitz 65′), Nick Hagglund, Justin Morrow; Dominic Oduro (Jonathan Osorio 65′), Collen Warner, Michael Bradley, Jackson; Luke Moore, Jermain Defoe (Gilberto 73′)

Three lessons going forward:

1. Toronto may not have another gear – We remember their start, we look at their talent, and we think the Reds can another level, but after the last two performances against United, Toronto doesn’t look like a team ready to compete with the East’s top two.

2. The potential of Eddie Johnson – The numbers still aren’t great, but Johnson’s playing better, and with his early goal against Toronto, he gave D.C. fans reason to think their team can still get better. While you can chalk his opener up to a poor night from Warren Creavalle, Johnson’s value is in a versatility that allows him to take advantage of mismatches across the defense. If he starts converting more of the chances those match ups allow, D.C. won’t have to play out as many close games.

3. All-Star Bill Hamid – When Caleb Porter’s selections were announced, we (read: I) intimated a few goalkeepers were having similar seasons, but Hamid’s selection was a decent reward for a strong D.C. defense. On Wednesday, Hamid flashed a true All-Star’s form, making eight saves while leading United to their 11th win of the season.

Where this leaves them:

  • With 37 points, D.C. is only one point back of Sporting Kansas City in the East. They’re also one point back in the race for the Supporters’ Shield.
  • And with the loss, Toronto stays in third place, albeit 11 points back of second place United.

Arsenal sends Gabriel Paulista to Valencia

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Arsenal has a thin defense, but that hasn’t stopped Arsene Wenger from thinning the squad even further.

Gabriel Paulista is headed back to the Spanish top flight after the completion of his transfer to Valencia. The Brazilian was sold for a reported $12.8 million, just below the $14 million price tag Arsenal coughed up to Villareal back in January, 2015. He will partner with Manchester City loanee Eliaquim Mangala at Valencia.

The 26-year-old made 64 appearances for the Gunners across all competitions, including 46 in the Premier League. His only goal for the club was Arsenal’s first of a 2-0 win over Bournemouth in December, 2015. His high-water mark with the club was a 120-minute performance against Manchester City in the FA Cup semifinals where Arsenal came back to win 2-1 on an Alexis Sanchez goal in extra time.

“We would like to thank Gabriel for his contribution to the club and to wish him well for his return to La Liga with Valencia,” Arsenal said in its confirmation of the deal.

Paulista was utilized more than expected last season thanks to an injury crisis at the back, and still the Arsenal squad doesn’t seem fat enough to offload defenders, but Gabriel’s over-aggressive nature and tackling inaccuracy led him to an early exit.

With Arsene Wenger now deploying a back-three, the only natural central defenders currently on the roster are Laurent Koscielny, Per Mertesacker, Shkodran Mustafi, and Rob Holding. Koscielny is suspended from a red card at the end of last season, and Mertesacker is battling a head injury. Sead Kolasinac, Nacho Monreal, and Calum Chambers have played CB for the Gunners in the recent past, but it is not their natural position.

Fabian Johnson misses Gladbach training with injury

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With John Brooks already out long-term due to a thigh injury, the United States may have another key injury to work around.

According to Borussia Monchengladbach manager Dieter Hecking, full-back/winger Fabian Johnson missed training on Friday due to an unspecified injury, and is now a question mark for Gladbach’s home match on Sunday against FC Koln. It could be nothing, but even the scare is cause for concern among U.S. fans.

Johnson has battled a few injuries the past couple of seasons, including a hamstring problem last spring that kept him out for nearly two months, including a pair of World Cup qualifiers in March.

Johnson’s absence would leave a hole at right-back for the United States. The 29-year-old has been deployed some at right wing for the USMNT, but he has been relatively poor at that position in the national setup, looking better when pushed further back where he is given more defensive duties, roaming forward with less frequency but more intent.

In place of Johnson, another converted winger in Graham Zusi has been seeing more time at right-back, but he offers less in the attack and lacks Johnson’s recovery speed, meaning mistakes by the Sporting KC veteran are punished more often.

Falcao scores again to extend red hot start

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Monaco is hoping to ride out the final two weeks of the transfer window with 18-year-old wonderkid Kylian Mbappe still in tow.

While they wait, they aren’t missing a beat.

With Mbappe out of the squad, Radamel Falcao has begun the 2017/18 Ligue 1 season as Europe’s hottest goalscorer. He bagged a hat-trick last weekend with Mbappe on the bench to give him four goals in the first two league matches. Then, with Mbappe out of the squad entirely, Falcao netted the winner in a 1-0 road win over FC Metz.

Falcao has scored five goals so far this year, and his club has a +5 goal differential. In a way, Falcao has already been worth six points thus far.

Thanks in part to Ligue 1’s early start, Falcao’s five league goals are by far more than anyone else in the major European leagues. Four players have scored a pair of Premier League goals, nobody in La Liga or the Bundesliga have scored more than one, and the Serie A season has yet to start.

The Colombian did the same thing last season. After eventually coming off the shelf from to hamstring and concussion problems to start the season, Falcao scored 10 goals in 10 Ligue 1 matches leading up to the new calendar year.

At 31 years old, Falcao isn’t a long-term solution and the club will clearly look to retain Mbappe despite Falcao’s hot start, but should they lose the young Frenchman, the club will be in good hands while they search for a replacement over the next year.

Arena should give Ream a look in Brooks’ absence

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With John Brooks out three months thanks to a horribly timed thigh injury, the United States yet again has to scramble to fill a void at the back. It’s not the first time an injury to Brooks has left the USMNT scrambling for cover at a thin position.

In the successful Gold Cup this past summer, with a largely domestic squad in place, Omar Gonzalez saw the bulk of the time at central defender, with Matt Besler his partner through the final two matches. However, with European-based players now in contention for spots with the early September international break, those two are unlikely to continue, at least not together.

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The most obvious choice to start September 1st against Costa Rica and likely shoo-in should he remain healthy for the next two weeks is Geoff Cameron. The 32-year-old has been back and forth between defense and midfield with club and country, and although he has publicly acknowledged his preference for a spot higher up the pitch, he was used in a back-three in Stoke City’s Premier League opener last weekend and is steadiest at the back.

But with a spot next to Cameron up for grabs in Brooks’ absence, a player who should get serious consideration is United States fill-in extraordinaire Tim Ream.

Ream has had to work hard to earn his place with the U.S., and while he’s seen time of late, he’s not been a first-choice pick. The 29-year-old has four caps so far in 2017, with two of those starts, including one in the impressive 1-1 draw against Mexico at the Azteca with the US still clawing its way back up the Hex standings. Even then, Ream would likely not have earned that spot had Arena not chosen to rotate nearly the entire squad between the pair of qualifiers in that window. His other start this year, the 1-1 draw at Panama, only came after Cameron pulled out of the squad the day of the game with a late injury. The last time Ream started back-to-back matches for the U.S. came back in 2015 when he was somewhat of a regular through the second half of the calendar year.

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But now, with Brooks out, Ream looks like the perfect man to fill in again. The 29-year-old defender finished last season in top form as Fulham narrowly missed out on promotion, earning the official website’s Man of the Match award in a May 2nd draw with Brentford, and won it again in the club’s final match of the season.

Without missing a beat, Ream has picked up where he left off last campaign in the first few matches this month. Last weekend against Reading at the Madjeski Stadium, Ream’s center-back partner Tomas Kalas was sent off 36 seconds into the match, forcing Fulham to play a man down for 89 minutes. Ream and company solidified the back, conceding just once in the 61st minute en route to a 1-1 draw.

The club still likely requires reinforcements at the CB position – Ream was forced to partner with right-back Denis Odoi against Reading with Kalas suspended and Michael Madl injured – meaning Ream could see an influx of competition in the coming weeks. However, as it stands, the American is far and away the best (and most improved) central defender on a club favored for promotion.

Gonzalez performed well in the Gold Cup, and Matt Besler was serviceable, but with few other options in the heart of defense to take Brooks’ place, Bruce Arena could yet again look to Ream for an in-form replacement.