MLS Snapshot: Real Salt Lake 2-1 Seattle Sounders

1 Comment

One game, 100 words (or less): A largely controlling performance from Real Salt Lake saw the final score undermined by one terrible defensive sequence. While that breakdown prevented Nick Rimando from keeping a third straight clean sheet, it couldn’t stop Jeff Cassar’s team from passing the Sounders in the Western Conference. With early second half goals from Joao Plata and Osvaldo Alonso (own goal) carrying RSL’s first half success through half time, the two teams swapped places in the standings, giving last year’s conference champions a view from the top.

Goals

Real Salt Lake: Plata 53′, Alonso (o.g.) 57′

Seattle: Barrett 72′

Three moments that mattered:

45′ – Deceiving appearances – As the teams left the field at halftime, with Real Salt Lake’s 61 pct. possession having rendered Seattle’s attack a non-factor, Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid expressed his satisfaction with his team’s performance, explaining his players had withstood the home team’s charge. Despite his side giving up three or four good chances (mostly through Plata), Schmid was optimistic about the second half, claiming quicker play out of midfield could help Seattle turn the match in the second half.

53′ – Reality – Eight minutes into the second half, RSL proved Schmid’s optimism ill-placed. Off a restart deep down Seattle’s left, Luke Mulholland found Plata at Stefan Frei’s far post, with the 5’2″ attacker beating Lamar Neagle to head home the game’s opening goal.

57′ – Giving the game away – A series of poor decisions in Seattle’s defensive third culminated in a bad clearance from Zach Scott, one that led to an RSL chance in front of goal. Trying to track a Mulholland run into the penalty area, Alonso inadvertently redirected a through ball behind Frei, his attempted interception becoming the game’s winning goal.

Lineups

Real Salt Lake: Nick Rimando; Tony Beltran, Nat Borchers, Chris Schuler, Chris Wingert (Carlos Salcedo 89′); Luke Mulholland, Kyle Beckerman, Ned Grabavoy; Luis Gil; Joao Plata (Cole Grossman 82′), Olmes Garcia (Robbie Findley 60′)

Seattle: Stefan Frei; DeAndre Yedlin, Chad Marshall, Zach Scott, Leo Gonzalez (Aaron Kovar 88′); Brad Evans (Andy Rose 46′), Osvaldo Alonso, Gonzalo Pineda, Lamar Neagle (Chad Barrett 62′); Clint Dempsey, Kenny Cooper

Three lessons going forward:

1. No answers from Seattle – Are they collapsing? Was Wednesday a rebound? Today, it was hard to tell. Real Salt Lake played very well, and on the road, on short rest, it may be best to give Seattle the benefit of the doubt. With the wisdom of hindsight, this seems like a game they weren’t going to win.

2. And that was a shorthanded RSL – No Javi Morales, out with a hip problem. Álvaro Saborío’s still a couple of weeks away, while Sebastian Jaime’s yet to pull on a uniform. RSL is going to be stronger, yet even with a number of key absences,* Cassar’s team still looked Cup-contender strong. Perhaps they didn’t make complete amends for their 4-0 loss earlier this season in Seattle, but they proved they’re the better team now.

* – Seattle was missing Obafemi Martins and Marco Pappa.

3. Don’t underestimate Joao Plata – As if the Ecuadorian’s goal totals don’t say enough (he’s now up to 11 this season), the diminutive Plata, all 62 inches of him, has scored with his head in two games in a row. From today’s opening moments, he was the key man in RSL’s attack, pulling Chad Marshall wide as his team used him to make headway down the left. In the absence of Morales, Plata served as the team’s focal point, helping RSL claim a key three points.

Where this leaves them

  • 42 points leaves RSL atop both the West and the Supporters’ Shield race. Not bad for a team in the middle of a bad patch just over a month ago.
  • Seattle’s no longer in first, but there’s nothing to worry about, yet. Two games in hand on RSL means the West’s lead is there for the taking, should they recapture their spring form.

 

A burning question for each Premier League team (and the relegated)

Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Leave a comment

We continue our postseason review of the Premier League with the big questions bearing down on 22 (soon to be 23) teams.

Twenty Premier League sides (and two already-promoted Championship clubs) have work to do in order to achieve their aims.

Chelsea, Liverpool, Spurs, and Man City want to a UEFA Champions League title. Manchester United, too, but the Red Devils join Arsenal as sides aiming to compete for titles.

[ MORE: Full 2016-17 season reviews

Others, like West Ham, Everton, and Southampton, are prepared to grow toward top-end competitions, while Stoke City and Leicester City hope to take the next step after relatively disappointing campaigns.

What’s the top question for each team? Read on…

Arsenal  – This one’s easy: Forget will Arsene Wenger stay on (He will) — Will the Gunners name a sporting director and spend, spend, spend to rejoin the elite?

Bournemouth – Manager Eddie Howe and chairman Jeff Mostyn have steadily built the South coast team into a stylish threat that it isn’t afraid to spend, but can they build on their Top Half finish. More importantly, can they hang onto 16-goal man Joshua King, who scored more goals than anyone not on a European-qualifying team?

Brighton and Hove Albion – Chris Hughton is now thrice the Championship manager of the season, now can he identify which players can help him stay in the Premier League?

Burnley – Sean Dyche and the Clarets dug deep into their pocket books to stay in the Premier League for another season, now can the tiny club make the astute moves to do it again?

Chelsea – How will Antonio Conte organize his squad for his first season in the UEFA Champions League with Chelsea is a good one, but what will he do with older stars Diego Costa, Willian, and Cesc Fabregas?

Crystal Palace – Sam Allardyce may want to leave, which is fine, so who’s the right man to keep a very talented XI from underachieving? And will they be able to hang onto Wilfried Zaha?

Everton – This is less about squad than schedule: Assuming the Toffees dust their summer qualifier, how will Ronald Koeman negotiate both the Europa League and the Premier League?

Hull City – With Marco Silva reportedly off to Porto, there are two main questions for Hull: Can they find a new boss capable of keeping them near the top of the Championship, and able to convince ownership to keep spending?

Leicester City – Will Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy still be there come August?

Liverpool – Can Jurgen Klopp straighten out his defending and motivate a squad even when big names aren’t on the other side of the field?

Manchester City – Will another year of additions allow Pep Guardiola to assert his genius in a third major European league?

Manchester United – Is there a good replacement for Zlatan Ibrahimovic at the top of Jose Mourinho’s XI?

Middlesbrough – If the major pieces stick around, Boro has the tools to compete for the Championship title… but will the major pieces stick around?

Newcastle United – Rafa Benitez will again flip the roster at St. James Park, but can he bring the new boys together fast enough to avoid a relegation race?

Southampton – Is Claude Puel going to be the manager? If that one’s too easy, then will Virgil Van Dijk remain at St. Mary’s?

Stoke City – At what point does administration demand the Potters take the next step, or bounce Mark Hughes?

Sunderland – Will Ellis Short and company actually spend, or will Sunderland’s absence from the top flight be a long one?

Swansea City – Assuming Gylfi Sigurdsson leaves, how will Paul Clement address his attack while also fixing his back line and finding a metronome?

Tottenham Hotspur – Can Harry Kane, Dele Alli, and Mauricio Pochettino punch through the glass ceiling to claim a Premier League title or sustained Champions Leagur run?

Watford – How many managers will the Hornets employ in 2017-18?

West Bromwich Albion – Tony Pulis is asking to spend. If the Baggies back him, can he break free from his defensive shell and build a team that aims for more than 40 points and another season in the Premier League?

West Ham United – Both chairman David Gold and manager Slaven Bilic want to make West Ham a big, big club. Can they find the next Dimitri Payet and finally find the elite striker they’ve been chasing for years?

Palace and West Brom: Knowing when to cut ties

Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images
1 Comment

This one’s for two chairmen, Steve Parish of Crystal Palace and John Williams of West Bromwich Albion, if anyone’s passing along advice from a writer with exactly zero Premier League experience.

There’s a temptation to leave well enough alone with managers, an allure made only more seductive by the fact that coaching stability is almost contrarian in the high-turnover world of the Premier League.

And if you’re goal is to just survive every year, then by all means, read no further. You have your men in Tony Pulis and Sam Allardyce.

Before we go any further, let’s admit to some prejudices. Pulis’ management preference to often bunker down and strip attacking talents of freedom, at least on the surface, is far from alluring and doesn’t quite fit the expectations of West Brom. And Allardyce is Allardyce, a blustery, credit-claiming boss who’s prime claim  is “I keep ’em up.”

But even beyond that, there’s a question whether either can change aims with so many years of the same anthems.

Pulis’ stingy teams have done relatively well, no doubt, and in no way is he a bad hire for a team with a vacant manager’s chair. But what happened for a second-straight season at the Hawthorns should be unacceptable, especially considering that this season saw a ship chartered toward high success.

When the Baggies clinched safety in 2015-16 only to fall flatter than Saido Berahino‘s West Brom career, it was forgivable. The Baggies hit the 39-point mark with a memorable win over Manchester United, then managed just four points over their last nine matches. That included home losses to Norwich City and Watford.

But critics — myself included — were eating their words when Pulis had West Brom dancing in the Top Ten deep into the 2016-17 season. These weren’t 1-0 counterattacking snoozefests, either, as Pulis was producing goals. Yet what happened when the Baggies hit their vaunted 40-point mark, this time on Feb. 25? One more win the rest of the way, to go with nine losses and two draws.

Here’s what Pulis said after a couple losses, “Complacency is the most annoying word in the dictionary. It is human nature to switch off a bit sometime.”

Sure, but how can it surprise when your mantra from August on is seemingly, “Get 40 points.” Staying switched on when you’ve targeted 40 like it’s the Champions League group stage is tough.

Still, that’s nothing compared to Allardyce, and Parish would be wise to leap at Big Sam’s latest big threats of quitting Palace. Forget that he was hired anywhere after his embarrassing ouster from the England job for a second, and focus on this:

Allardyce took over from Alan Pardew, and Palace slipped into the drop zone. Palace had done a woeful job of recruitment in the summer and Pardew overly complicated his problems by refusing to consistently plug service machines Andros Townsend and Wilfried Zaha into the mix with Christian Benteke.

Allardyce did fix that, but if he deserves anything it’s for striking it rich on three terrific transfer buys in Luka Milivojevic, Mamadou Sakho, and Patrick Van Aanholt. Spending in January is as important as it’s ever been, and Allardyce had more tools in his shed than Pardew or even Pulis beforehand.

Which is to say that if Palace likes Allardyce, fine, but to credit him for this turnaround is only partially worthwhile. To expect him to suddenly become or surprass the man who thrived at Bolton between 1999-2007 is foolish. Almost all of his career nods that don’t involve “avoided relegation” come at levels outside the Premier League, and Palace wants to keep growing.

Back to Pulis, he’s again highlighting the need for West Brom to spend, and perhaps that would allow him to adjust his mentality in the run-up to next season (You’d like to think he’d at least target a Cup run).

What’s worth saying is not that Palace and West Brom should fire their bosses. In Pulis’ case, let’s see if spending can change his stripes a bit (although it should be noted they’ve purchased Nacer Chadli, Matty Phillips, and Salomon Rondon). In Allardyce’s case, it’s a matter of employing a man who’s only out for his reputation and is either going to succeed and claim it was all his genius, or fail and put it on the players or board.

Aren’t there better options?

Football leaks: French police raid PSG HQ, 3 players’ homes

Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Leave a comment

PARIS (AP) A French official says police investigating suspected tax fraud linked to the soccer industry have raided the headquarters of Paris Saint-Germain and the homes of three Argentine players in France.

The official said anti-corruption police units searched the homes of PSG players Angel Di Maria and Javier Pastore, and that of Nantes forward Emiliano Sala on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Real Madrid signs $50m teen ]

Police also raided the head offices of PSG at Parc des Princes and other offices in Boulogne-Billancourt, outside the French capital, the official said.

The official, familiar with the case, declined to be identified because the investigation is ongoing.

The national financial prosecutor’s office opened an investigation in December after so-called “football leaks” reports allegedly detailed tax arrangements by top players, coaches and clubs.

Real Madrid signs most expensive Brazilian since Neymar

Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Real Madrid didn’t wait long after learning Vinicius Junior was healthy.

The 16-year-old Flamengo star is committed to the Bernabeu after passing a physical, and Real Madrid announced Tuesday that they’ll have their new player no later than July 2019.

The reported fee is $50 million, which would be the most money spent on a Brazilian player since Barcelona landed Neymar for about $64 million in 2013.

[ VOTE: Premier League Goal of the Season ]

The forward has made two appearances for Flamengo, and turns 17 on July 12. He has 19 goals in 22 appearances for Brazil’s U-17 side.

Here’s Real’s announcement:

Real Madrid C. F. and Clube de Regatas do Flamengo have reached an agreement regarding the transfer of the federative rights of the player Vinicius Junior from July 2018. The player will remain at his current club until July 2019, although he will be able to play for Real Madrid before then if both clubs agree to it.