Mauricio Pochettino

Tottenham eye Champions League spot via Europa League title


When in charge of Southampton last season, Mauricio Pochettino repeatedly dismissed the Europa League and spoke of his dislike for the tournament.

Since taking over at Tottenham Hotspur the Argentina manager has performed a dramatic U-turn. There is a reason for it.

That’s because the first time in the tournament’s history, this seasons Europa League winner will get an automatic spot in next years UEFA Champions League tournament. With the top four of the Premier League so tight and Spurs on the cusp of breaking into it time and time again, winning the Europa League could actually be their best chance of making it back to Europe’s elite club competition for the first time since 2010.

Spurs kick off their Europa League campaign with a a qualifier away in Cyrpus against AEL Limassol on Thursday.

Pochettino has selected an almost full strength squad for the first leg and ahead of the match this is how he now views the Europa League.

“The Europa League now gives the possibility to play in the Champions League and it’s now a more interesting competition than before,” Pochettino said. “Before, if you won the Europa League you never had that chance – but now, with that change, it’s a more interesting competition. But it’s only one more chance – you still have the Premier League and our aim is to win every competition. We’re taking it game by game.”

In conclusion, Tottenham are taking the Europa League seriously this season.

Last year they lost to eventual finalists Benfica in the round of 16, the year before that they were knocked out in the quarterfinals to FC Basel. With a young squad determined to get to the top and a manager ambitious to play in the Champions League as soon as possible, can Pochettino juggle Europa League and Premier League commitments this season?

One thing for sure is that, unlike the past, he’s committed to European soccer’s second-tier competition. But only because it provides a gateway to the Champions League.

MLS Snapshot: Orlando City SC 2-1 Montreal Impact

Cyle Larin, Orlando City SC

The game in 100 words (or less): For weeks, it was a widely held belief that the Montreal Impact would snatch up the sixth and final playoff place in the Eastern Conference with little or no resistance from their opposition. As they went six games unbeaten (four wins), all looked to be setting up perfect for the club that fired Frank Klopas midseason, but there was another team in the race for sixth that kept winning themselves: Orlando City SC. On Saturday night, Montreal and Orlando City faced off at the Citrus, with the expansion Lions claiming their fourth-straight victory with a 2-1 triumph. Montreal now holds a one-point lead on Orlando in the race for sixth, and have two games in hand, but it’s no longer a foregone conclusion L’Impact will qualify for the playoffs no resistance whatsoever.

[ MORE: | Week 30 TOTW | POTW ]

Three moments that mattered

33′ — Bush’s mistake gifts Larin the opening goal — Larin did what your taught to do as a striker — “put it on frame, test the goalkeeper” — but in no universe does a shot so feeble have any business finding the back of the net. Evan Bush has been great this year. Hopefully (for Montreal’s sake), this howler doesn’t turn into the yips with the playoffs looming.

43′ — Hall’s “mistake” gifts Oduro an equalizer — Dominic Oduro equalized in the 43rd minute, when he took the ball out of the hands of Tally Hall and smashed it into the back of the net, but the goal should have been disallowed due to Hall having full control of the ball.

80′ — Hines hits the winner for Orlando — Seb Hines put the ball back into the mixer and just so happened to find the back of the net in the 80th minute. Sometimes that’s all it takes.

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Man of the match: Seb Hines

Goalscorers: Larin (33′), Oduro (43′), Hines (80′)

MLS Snapshot: NY Red Bulls 2-1 Columbus Crew SC

Bradley Wright-Phillips, New York Red Bulls
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The game in 100 words (or less): Two weeks in a row Columbus Crew SC have had a chance to go top of the Eastern Conference with a victory, and two weeks in a row Crew SC have failed to take a single point from massively important fixtures. Their latest defeat, a 2-1 humbling at the hands of the East-leading New York Red Bulls, started so well for Gregg Berhalter’s side, but was undone by a pair of costly, comedic defensive errors that allowed Lloyd Sam and Bradley Wright-Phillips (15th of the season) to erase an early deficit (Justin Meram) and win all three points. The result not only keeps the Red Bulls top of the East, but gives them a three- and four-point cushion with three and two games in hand on their nearest competitors., D.C. United and New England Revoltion respectively. For Crew SC, they’re four points back of the Red Bulls in fourth place, one point ahead of fifth-place Toronto FC, who have a game in hand.

[ MORE: | Week 30 TOTW | POTW ]

Three moments that mattered

9′ — Meram pokes it past Robles for an early lead — Meram “earned” his goal all the way back in midfield, when the Iraqi international’s mazy run took a routine turnover inside Crew SC’s defensive half and turned it into a dangerous counter-attacking opportunity. Harrison Afful overlapped and provided the cross for Meram to send home.

12′ — Sam capitalizes on multiple mistakes to equalize — Crew SC pass the ball out of the back. They don’t boot it forward to clear. It’s just what they do. Sometimes, that’ll bite you. When your goalkeeper and right back both have blunders clearing the ball 10 seconds apart, you probably deserve to concede an ugly, scrappy goal.

21′ — Wright-Phillips capitalizes on more defensive gaffes — See the above description for Red Bulls goal no. 1.

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

Man of the match: Damien Perrinelle

Goalscorers: Meram (9′), Sam (12′), Wright-Phillips (21′)