João Plata's fifth goal of the season gave Real Salt Lake full points at Toyota Park in Chicago. (Photo: AP Photo.)

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.


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.


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 Cup Playoffs: NY Red Bulls 1-0 (1-2 agg.) Columbus Crew SC

Tony Tchani, Michael Parkhurst

The game in 100 words (or less): Columbus Crew SC are headed to their second MLS Cup in club history (champions – 2008) after defeating the New York Red Bulls, 2-0 on aggregate, in the Western Conference finals (0-0 draw in an extremely chippy second leg on Sunday). Justin Meram and Kei Kamara scored the two-leg tie’s only goals — eight seconds and 85 minutes into the first leg, respectively — and Crew SC confidently managed the second leg by defending with numbers and wisely picking their spots to break out on the counter. RBNY held nearly 60 percent of possession in the second leg, but could muster just six shots on target over the 90 minutes. Crew SC will host the Portland Timbers in MLS Cup 2015 next Sunday (4 p.m. ET) at MAPFRE Stadium.

[ MORE: Previewing the MLS weekend ]

Three moments that mattered

38′ — Robles at full stretch to deny Kamara — What’s better: the first touch, second touch, turn and shot by Kei Kamara; or, the sprawled-out save by Luis Robles to swat away a ball clearly headed for the bottom corner? Quality on quality.

90+3′ — Abang heads home to make it nervy late — Anatole Abange rose above the crowd and headed home a recycled ball inside the penalty area after a Sal Zizzo cross was headed high into the air late into stoppage time.

90+5′ — Madness in the penalty area, RBNY hit the post — It was absolute scenes inside the Crew SC penalty area. Ball after ball pumped into the box, headed high into the air and briefly cleared. The final chance of the game fell to Bradley Wright-Phillips, who headed the ball toward the far post with Steve Clark rushing out quickly, only to see his slow dribbler bounce off the front side of the post and back into the field of play.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Wil Trapp

Goalscorers: Abang (90+3′)

MLS Cup Playoffs: FC Dallas 2-2 (3-5 agg.) Portland Timbers

Fanendo Adi, Portland Timbers FC
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The game in 100 words (or less): The Portland Timbers are headed to their first MLS Cup in club history after defeating FC Dallas, 5-3 on aggregate, in the Western Conference finals (2-2 draw in the second leg). Fanendo Adi scored in Sunday’s second leg, giving Caleb Porter’s side a 4-1 aggregate lead before Ryan Hollingshead and Blas Perez scored inside the last 25 minutes to give Oscar Pareja’s bunch a late lifeline, but Lucas Melano’s spectacular tap-in sealed the Timbers’ trip to MLS Cup. The third seed heading into the playoffs, Portland bounced Sporting Kansas City in an epic penalty shootout in the knockout round and outlasted the Vancouver Whitecaps in the conference semifinals before knocking off the West’s top seed over two legs to advance to MLS Cup 2015. No matter who advances from the East finals later on Sunday, Portland will play away in MLS Cup, to either the New York Red Bulls or Columbus Crew SC.

[ MORE: Previewing the MLS weekend ]

Three Four moments that mattered

54′ — Adi fires past Gonzalez to make if 4-1 — Oscar Pareja elected to go with Walker Zimmerman at center back on Sunday, dropping regular starter Zach Loyd to the bench. On the game’s opening goal, it was Zimmerman who wound up on the ground as Adi received the ball, turned and fired a massive away goal past Jesse Gonzalez.

68′ — Diaz’s magical ball curled home by Hollingshead — Mauro Diaz is a wonderful magician capable of playing the kill through ball from anywhere on the field — this we’ve known for quite some time. His chipped through ball to set up Hollingshead’s goal was extraordinarily brilliant, even for him.

73′ — Perez heads home the free kick to pull within one — Would you be surprised to hear that it was Diaz who set up FCD’s second goal? His free kick was Perez-finding missile and found the head of the Panamanian striker at the top of the six-yard box, where 34-year-old headed home with ease.

90+5′ — Melano rounds Gonzalez, seals MLS Cup berth — Poor Jesse Gonzalez. Absolutely schooled and posterized by Lucas Melano. What a way to sew up a place in the championship final.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Mauro Diaz

Goalscorers: Adi (54′), Hollingshead (68′), Perez (73′), Melano (90+5′)

La Liga & Serie A: Real Madrid bounce back; Juventus on the charge

Gareth Bale, Real Madrid CF
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A roundup of all of Sunday’s action in Spain and Italy’s top flights:

Eibar 0-2 Real Madrid

Real Madrid bounced back from back-to-back La Liga defeats with a 2-0 victory away to Eibar on Sunday. Gareth Bale (below video) and Cristiano Ronaldo (penalty kick) provided the goals to keep Rafa Benitez‘s bunch (27 points) third in the league, two points behind Atletico Madrid and six behind leaders Barcelona.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Getafe 2-0 Villarreal
Rayo Vallecano 0-3 Athletic Bilbao
Sevilla 1-0 Valencia

[ MORE: Saturday’s La Liga roundup ]

Roma 0-2 Atalanta

Losing at home to sides currently in a relegation battle — rarely a good idea, especially if you fancy yourselves title challengers, but that didn’t stop Roma from doing just that on Sunday. Alejandro Gomez and German Denis scored the goals to knock off a 10-man Roma side (Maicon – 81st minute) and keep Rudi Garcia’s bunch (27 points) from gaining ground on any of the three teams currently ahead of them — Inter Milan, Napoli and Fiorentina — all of whom play on Monday.

AC Milan 4-1 Sampdoria

M’Baye Niang scored twice, while Giacomo Bonaventura and Luiz Adriano (below video) added single tallies for AC Milan (23 points) to keep pace with the top-five pack in Serie A. After 14 rounds of games, the Rossoneri sit sixth, a point outside fifth (UEFA Europa League) and five points out of third (UEFA Champions League).

Palermo 0-3 Juventus

Don’t look now, but here come Juventus. Sunday’s 3-0 triumph over Palermo makes it four straight wins in the league for Massimiliano Allegri’s side — a run that pushes them all the way up to fifth in the league (24 points), just six points off the pace of leaders Inter, who play on Monday. Mario Mandzukic (below video), Stefano Sturaro and Simone Zaza scored the goals for the world’s most frightening fifth-place team.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Torino 2-0 Bologna
Chievo 2-3 Udinese
Frosinone 3-2 Hellas Verona
Genoa 1-2 Carpi
Empoli 1-0 Lazio

Monday’s Serie A schedule

Sassuolo vs. Fiorentina (1 p.m. ET)
Napoli vs. Inter Milan (3 p.m. ET)

Arsenal’s injury crisis — add Sanchez, Cazorla, Koscielny to the list

Alexis Sanchez, Arsenal FC
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From title challengers to just hoping to hold on to a top-four place while Arsene Wenger is forced to play reserves and academy players because half of his star players are currently out injured — the annual story of Arsenal.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Oct. 27, when Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain both went down with injuries in the same game, marked the unofficial start of Arsenal’s 2015-16 injury crisis, but things didn’t really get going full bore until the last seven days, when five more players — four of them full-time starters — picked up injuries that will keep them out of action for anywhere between three weeks and three months.

Added to the list last weekend: Francis Coquelin (knee – three months minimum), Mikel Arteta (calf – three weeks)

Added to the list on Sunday: Alexis Sanchez (hamstring – MORE DETAILS), Santi Cazorla (knee), Laurent Koscielny (hip)

Following Sunday’s 1-1 draw with Norwich City, Wenger said Koscielny “could not walk” due to the hip spasm that forced him out of the game after just 11 minutes. He also divulged that Cazorla, who could not be subbed off because Wenger had already used all three subs late on, played the second half “on one leg.” Sanchez came into Sunday injured after picking up a hamstring injury in Arsenal’s UEFA Champions League victory over Dinamo Zagreb on Tuesday.

[ MORE: Sunday’s PL roundup — Chelsea, Arsenal, Spurs all draw ]

Arsenal fans were up in arms during the summer transfer window — let’s be honest, the following is true of every transfer window the last five years — crying out, “We must buy, we must buy.” Have a look at Arsenal’s complete injury list at the moment, and try to say, “They didn’t need to buy in the summer.”

In chronological order: Danny Welbeck (knee – early 2016 return), Tomas Rosicky (knee – Christmas time return), Jack Wilshere (leg – Christmas time return), Theo Walcott (calf – December return), Mikel Arteta (calf – three weeks), Francis Coquelin (knee – three months minimum), Laurent Koscielny (hip – to be assessed), Alexis Sanchez (hamstring – to be assessed), Santi Cazorla (knee – to be assessed)