MLS Snapshot: Real Salt Lake 2-1 Seattle Sounders

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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.

 

MLS playoff scenarios heading into the final weekend

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Time certainly has flown by, and just like that the MLS Cup playoffs are well within sight.

While the Eastern Conference is all locked up in terms of which teams will be in the postseason, seeding can change drastically on the final weekend.

[ MORE: Tab Ramos confirms interest in USMNT job ]

Meanwhile, the West sees three clubs vying for one final spot in what has proven to be a very intriguing battle over the last several weeks.

All eyes will be on three teams in the Western Conference as the San Jose Earthquakes, FC Dallas and Real Salt Lake all have an opportunity to move into the sixth spot.

Below, PST takes a look at where clubs can finish in relation to the playoff race.

Eastern Conference

#1 seed: Toronto FC is locked into the top spot

#2 seed: NYCFC — clinches the two seed with a win; Chicago Fire — clinches two with win and NYCFC draw or loss; Atlanta takes two with win plus NYCFC loss/draw and Fire loss/draw

#3 seed: Fire — finishes third with win; NYCFC — takes third with loss to Crew and Fire win; Atlanta — third with win and Fire loss; Crew — finish third with win over NYCFC and don’t overtake NYCFC on GD, plus losses by Fire and Atlanta

#4 seed: NYCFC — fourth with loss to Crew and overtaken on GD, plus Fire win; Fire — finish fourth with loss and Atlanta win, plus NYCFC win or draw; Atlanta — takes fourth with loss and NYCFC/Fire wins; Crew — fourth with win over NYCFC, Fire win and Atlanta loss/draw

#5 seed: Crew — finish fifth with loss/draw; Atlanta — finishes fifth with loss and Crew win; Fire — takes fifth with loss and Atlanta/Crew victories; NYCFC — drops with loss to Crew, Atlanta win and Fire win/draw

#6 seed: New York Red Bulls are locked into sixth spot

Western Conference

#1 seed: Whitecaps — clinch top spot with win; Timbers — finish first with win and Whitecaps loss

#2 seed: Whitecaps — finish second with loss to Timbers; Timbers — second with loss/draw and Sounders/Sporting KC losses; Sounders — finish second with win and Whitecaps win

#3 seed: Timbers — third with loss and Sounders win; Sounders — loss to Rapids and Sporting KC/Dynamo losses; Sporting KC — finish third with win, Sounders loss and Whitecaps/Timbers draw; Dynamo — third with win, Sporting KC loss and Sounders loss

#4 seed: Whitecaps — finish fourth with loss to Timbers, Sounders/Sporting KC wins; Timbers — loss to Whitecaps, plus Sounders/Sporting KC victories; Sounders — finish fourth with loss/draw and Sporting KC win; Sporting KC — fourth with loss and Dynamo loss/draw; Dynamo — finish fourth with win and Sporting KC loss

#5 seed: Timbers — fifth with loss to Whitecaps and Sounders/Sporting KC/Dynamo wins; Sounders — loss to Rapids, plus Sporting KC/Dynamo victories; Dynamo — finish fifth with loss; Sporting KC — fifth place with loss and Dynamo win

#6 seed: San Jose Earthquakes clinch with win; FC Dallas takes sixth with win/draw and Earthquakes loss/draw; Real Salt Lake clinch with win/draw, Earthquakes loss and Dallas loss/draw

The next Pulisic? A 10-year-old American is heading to AS Roma

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With everything that has transpired since last week’s U.S. Men’s National Team debacle, American soccer fans can use a pick-me-up.

What better could there be than perhaps another young star-in-the-making? Dare I say, the next Christian Pulisic?

[ MORE: Bruce Arena is out as USMNT manager ]

Perhaps, but it’s way too early to say that.

His name is Alessandro Cupini, a 10-year-old from Kansas City, Missouri that is about to complete a dream that a soccer player of any age would be thrilled to achieve.

Less than two weeks ago, Cupini and his family announced that the Kansas City Fusion midfielder/striker would be accepting a spot in the AS Roma academy starting in the Spring 2018, after having trained with the club for the better part of two years off and on.

Pro Soccer Talk had the opportunity to speak with Cupini’s father, Eddie, ahead of his son’s big move to Italy.

“This is something that Alessandro has worked really hard for,” Eddie Cupini told PST. “There are times where I tell him that he needs to take a step back and be a normal kid, but he doesn’t have any of that. He’s an incredibly hard-working and driven kid that does more than most people regardless of his age.”

Alessandro — who recently turned 10 years old — isn’t the typically American youngster though, according to his father.

“There are times where I wish Alessandro would take a break and be a kid, but that’s just not in his desire,” Cupini said. “We built him a mini stadium downstairs where he trains basically every day after school. As soon as he gets home from school he’s doing work down there and always looking for other kids to come over to practice with.”

That’s where the comparisons to Pulisic can be worked into the conversation.

Pulisic followed a very similar path to the professional level when he left his hometown of Hershey, Pennsylvania at the age of 16 to sign with Borussia Dortmund. Now, he’s U.S. Soccer’s most promising star as the USMNT looks to rebuild.

“We’re very familiar with Christian’s story, and he’s certainly somebody that Alessandro looks up to,” Cupini said.

Cupini is already on the radar of U.S. Soccer and the Olympic Development Program (ODP), which helps identify young talent in the United States starting at the Under-12 level.

However, because of Cupini’s Italian heritage and his unique opportunity to move to Italy next year, Alessandro could potentially have the chance to represent either the USMNT or the Azzurri in the future.

“It’s a long ways away and we’re taking things slow in that regard,” Cupini said in regards to his son’s international plans. “We’d certainly be willing to explore our options, but I think it would be a real dream and his main goal to play for Italy.”

New Jersey-native and former Italy international Giuseppe Rossi made a similar career choice when it came down to choosing a national team. Despite living in the United States for much of his youth years, Rossi appeared for a number of Italy’s youth teams before holding a stint with the senior side from 2008 to 2014.

Prior to making the announcement that Roma would be where Cupini will ply his trade next year, the young American also had the opportunity to train with Italian academies Empoli and Atalanta.

“My father is from Rome, so for Alessandro to have the opportunity to play for his hometown club it was almost a no-brainer,” Cupini said. “We were very grateful to the other clubs for the chance Alessandro had to train with them, but Roma is a club that is very close to our family.

Leicester City 1-1 West Brom: Mahrez nets first goal of PL season

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The Foxes haven’t had the start to the season that Craig Shakespeare and Co. would have hoped for, but Monday’s performance was certainly a step in the right direction.

[ MORE: Mike Ashley puts Newcastle up for sale ]

Leicester City pulled out a 1-1 draw against West Bromwich Albion at the King Power Stadium, however, the Foxes remain in the bottom three of the Premier League.

Riyad Mahrez had plenty of chances on the day, and he rescued his side with 10 minutes remaining after powering home a strike into the far corner. The goal marks the Algerian’s first of the 2017/18 campaign.

Despite a frustrating opening hour, the visitors led on 63 minutes when Nacer Chadli curled home a brilliant free kick that left Leicester goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel stunned.

For the Belgium international, Chadli becomes West Brom’s seventh different goalscorer of the season.

Leicester nearly came out flying in the second stanza whenMahrez had an open chance in the center of the Baggies penalty area, however, the Algerian winger’s left-footed attempt was too high to hit the target.

[ MORE: Liverpool’s Lovren accuses Lukaku of deliberate stamp ]

Mahrez’s chance came just minutes after West Brom keeper Boaz Myhill was nearly sent off after the 34-year-old took out a streaking Jamie Vardy on the edge of the penalty box.

Monday’s result means both clubs have now gone six matches with a win in PL play.

Liverpool’s Lovren accuses Lukaku of deliberate stamp

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Saturday’s titanic clash between Liverpool and Manchester United ended in an uneventful draw, but that didn’t mean the match itself was short on drama.

[ MORE: Mike Ashley puts Newcastle up for sale ]

Reds defender Dejan Lovren wasn’t happy with Romelu Lukaku‘s action after the former made a tackle on the Man United striker during the first half of the 0-0 draw.

The Liverpool center back spoke ahead of Tuesday’s Champions League match against Maribor.

“I made a tackle there and I just felt he was over me and could just move away,” Lovren said in regards to the play in question. “To be honest, my point of view is that he did on purpose.”

Despite his claims of Lukaku’s malice, the FA has already come out and stated that they won’t take any action against the Belgium international.

“It is not my decision,” Lovren continued. “He seemed nervous during the game and maybe that’s why. Normally if you do it, you apologise.

“It happened and it’s over. Nobody can change it.”