MLS Snapshot: FC Dallas 2-1 Real Salt Lake

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One game, 100 words (or less): Controlling the ball without controlling the danger, Real Salt Lake nearly felt the stink of FC Dallas’s counterattack early, with chances for Fabián Castillo and Tesho Akindele giving the home side chances at an early lead. When Blas Pérez was dismissed just before halftime, FCD looked set to rue those  misses, but when Michel’s 49th minute corner found Je-Vaughn Watson, fortune shined on the home side.

In the 75th minute, Castillo took advantage of the extra space on the field to score his ninth goal of the season, with only a late overhead volley from Olmes Garcia getting RSL on the board. Still unbeaten since May, Dallas won, 2-1.

Goals:

FC Dallas: Watson 40′, Castillo 75′
Real Salt Lake: None

Three moments that mattered:

44′ – Ismail Elfath takes center stage – It was a non-Dallas fans’ dream come true: Blas Pérez booked for simulation. The only problem: Chris Schuler gave the Dallas attacker a very obvious two-handed push, reacting after the two were entangled going up for a challenge. While you could argue Pérez did what he could to embellish the contact, it’s easier to note Schuler is a very big, very strong guy. He’s certainly capable of sending a man to the ground (especially a willing one).

Elfath went to a solution fans have mentioned for a long time, booking both the fouler (Schuler, in this case) and the embellisher. Unfortunately for Dallas, the rarely seen move left them down a man, leaving plenty of debate as to whether the wrong player was sent off.

49′ – Oops – Sometimes Dallas’s success is so simple. For example: Utilizing Michel’s delivery on dead balls. Just after halftime, the Brazilian utility man swung a corner to the edge of the six, one that froze players after a skimmed off  Schuler’s head. On the other side of the big defender was Watson, who saw the ball deflect of his left arm (drawn into his chest) and into goal for the opening score.

75′ – The one, little mistake – Against most teams, the poor header Nat Borchers sent into midfield wouldn’t be a fatal sin. When Fabián Castillo is on the field, however, he provides his own simple solution. Picking up the errant ball, Castillo got his chance to go one-on-one against Borchers, a challenge the veteran defender was bound to lose. When Castillo also beat Nick Rimando into the far site netting, Dallas had its game-winning goal.

Lineups

FC Dallas: Raul Fernández; Je-Vaughn Watson, Zach Loyd, Matt Hedges, Jair Benítez (Kelyn Acosta 64′); Fabián Castillo (Peter Luccin 79′), Adam Moffat, Victor Ulloa, Andres Escobar (Ryan Hollingshead 69′); Blas Pérez, Tesho Akindele
Real Salt Lake: Nick Rimando; Tony Beltran, Nat Borchers, Chris Schuler, Chris Wingert (Olmes Garcia 56′); Luke Mulholland (Sebastian Velasquez 74′), Kyle Beckerman, Ned Grabavoy; Luis Gil; João Plata, Robbie Findley (Devon Sandoval 79′)

Three lessons going forward:

1. FC Dallas is for real – You can’t take 11-on-10 games too seriously, no matter who wins, but if you look at the game in terms of what we learned about Dallas, the result is less aberration than reinforcement. We knew they were good on set pieces. We knew Fabián Castillo is near unstoppable; at least, right now. After tonight, we have another situation where those virtues can lead to victory.

Able to sit deep and play for set pieces and counters, Dallas may not only be capable of beating anyone. Against some of the league’s stronger sides — possession hoarders like RSL, Sporting, and Los Angeles — they may be perfectly set up to do so.

2. Saborío, Morales missed – I’m not sure this qualifies as a lesson as much as a known fact, but when Real Salt Lake struggled to generate decent chances despite their numerical edge, it was easy to think “pumping it into Saborío would be nice,” or “getting Morales between the lines would be good” – you know, the simple observations that reminded you neither of those stars were actually there. Else, Jeff Cassar would have leaned on them.

3. So I guess Je-Vaughn Watson is a right back – Watson was so good at right wing earlier this year that his move to right back seemed a purely function of need, as if Óscar Pareja was being forced to a move the Jamaican international because of injuries at the back. But now that Kelyn Acosta is back, Michael and Jair Benitez are options at fullback, and Walter Cabrera is on board, Watson is still getting time at right back.

Given how much success Óscar Pareja’s had, I’ll defer to him: no criticism; no qualms; no recent failures to cite as in noting this move tools weird. Pareja’s earned the benefit of the doubt. Watson at right wing was great, but using his ability to get forward from deeper in attack might fit how Pareja sees his team moving forward.

Where this leaves them:

  • RSL stayed tied atop the Western Conference with 42 points, although they’ve played two more games than Seattle.
  • With the same number of points, the same number of games played as RSL, Dallas has a share of the West’s lead, technically sitting above the conference champs thanks to one more victory on the season.

La Liga: Real Madrid win wild one, now just 17 points behind Barca

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A roundup of all of Sunday’s action in Spain’s top flight…

[ MORE: Barcelona ties club-record 31-game unbeaten run ]

Real Betis 3-5 Real Madrid

So long as they manage to hold off Sevilla for fourth place (Champions League qualification), Real Madrid will quickly move on from their disastrous 2017-18 season, spend a half-billion dollars in the summer and pretend like the 12 preceding months never even happened.

For a brief period on Saturday — nearly 30 minutes including the halftime intermission — that plan appeared fatally flawed and at risk. After going 1-0 up away to Real Betis courtesy of Marco Asensio’s 11th-minute opener, Los Blancos found themselves in big trouble after Aissa Mandi leveled things up in the 33rd minute, followed by a Nacho own goal four minutes later.

Five minutes into the second half, Sergio Ramos drew the visitors level, followed by another from Asensio in the 59th minute. Cristiano Ronaldo made it 4-2 six minutes later, at which point Madrid appeared home free.

Sergio Leon pulled Betis to within one in the 85th minute, but Karim Benzema restored the two-goal lead in the 91st, less than two minutes after replacing Ronaldo.

Atletico Madrid 2-0 Athletic Bilbao

With Barcelona still unbeaten on the La Liga season, the title is all but decided with more than three months still to play. That hasn’t stopped Atleti, though, as Diego Simeone’s side, which has lost just once in the league, continues to pursue Lionel Messi and Co. Saturday’s 2-0 victory over Athletic Bilbao moved Los Rojiblancos back to within seven points of Barca with a dozen games, and one head-to-head matchup, still to play.

Kevin Gameiro scored what turned out to be the winner in the 67th minute, followed not long after by Diego Costa‘s second league goal of the season (fourth in all competitions) to make it 2-0.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Real Sociedad 3-0 Levante
Espanyol 1-1 Villarreal

VAR provider apologizes for wrong image of offside Man Utd goal

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Whether or not you’re in favor of the use of video-assistant refereeing the world over — and, more specifically, English soccer — one thing on which we can all agree has become abundantly clear: VAR’s maiden voyage has been a chaotic, poorly conducted mess.

[ MORE: Jose Mourinho demands VAR calls be “perfect” ]

Any change to the game’s century-old rules and practices — especially of VAR’s monumental proportions — must be implemented and executed without a hitch. Any issues that had arisen prior to this weekend were minor in significance and import, but that all changed on Saturday, when Manchester United’s Juan Mata had a goal wiped away by VAR (WATCH HERE).

Mata appeared to have timed his run perfectly and been onside before slotting home to put Man United 2-0 ahead of Huddersfield Town in the FA Cup fifth round. After consulting the off-site video assistant, the goal was taken off the board. While the slightest bit of Mata’s knee appeared to have been in an offside position, the issue lies in the fact that the images provided to television broadcasters, by VAR provider Hawkeye, displayed a clearly crooked line of demarcation.

[ MORE: Man Utd draw Brighton in FA Cup QF; Chelsea get Leicester ]

Hawkeye issued a statement on Sunday, acknowledging and apologizing for the faulty image provided to broadcasters, but insisted that a correct version of the image was seen by the refereed:

“A technical error led to an incorrect graphic being provided by Hawkeye to BT Sport on Saturday. To confirm, the VAR saw the correct image with the correct lines to make the decision. This was a case of the wrong image being provided to the broadcaster and we apologize.”

In the end, by the most stringent interpretation of the law, VAR got the call correct. But that won’t matter one iota in the court of public opinion, as one mistake as simple as a crooked line gives the impression that the entire operation is haphazard and not fit for practice.

Juventus suffers blow with apparent Higuain injury

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The back-and-forth battle at the top of Serie A continued on Sunday as Juventus topped Torino at the Stadio Olimpico Grande Torino, however, the visitors suffered a big injury scare in the process.

[ MORE: Man United draws Brighton, Chelsea gets Leicester in FA Cup ]

Alex Sandro‘s winner came in the 33rd minute, but the focus of the match will leave all eyes on Gonzalo Higuain — who exited after just a quarter of an hour.

The Argentine international was looking to latch onto a through ball from Miralem Pjanic in the fifth minute, before jumping over an oncoming Salvatore Sirigu — goalkeeper for Torino.

Higuain appeared to land awkwardly on his ankle, though, and while he attempted to continue on in the match he was substituted off for Federico Bernardeschi 10 minutes later.

The extent of Higuain’s injury is unknown to this point, however, it comes at a very bad time for Juventus.

The Italian giants are heavily involved in the Serie A title race, holding a two-point lead over Napoli at the top of the table.

Additionally, Juve has important fixtures coming up in both the Coppa Italia and Champions League against Atalanta and Tottenham, respectively. Higuain and Co. are level at 2-2 with Spurs heading into their UCL second leg in early March, and Juve will surely need the striker’s presence to have a shot at advancing to the quarterfinals.

Rochdale 2-2 Tottenham: Davies stuns Spurs late

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A valiant effort from a League One side has rewarded the minnows with a replay set to be played at Wembley Stadium.

Tottenham Hotspur looked on its way towards the FA Cup sixth round on Sunday, but a late finish by Steven Davies gave Rochdale a 2-2 draw with the Premier League club at the Spotland Stadium.

[ MORE: Willian stars as Chelsea routs Hull in FA Cup ]

Harry Kane — who scored his 34th goal on the season in all competitions — converted from the penalty spot in the 88th minute, however, Davies had the final say deep into stoppage time to send the two sides towards a replay.

Ian Henderson’s finish in the 45th minute gave Rochdale a gift at the conclusion of the first stanza, after the hosts capitalized on a Spurs giveaway near midfield.

Meanwhile, Tottenham managed to level the match at 1-1 on the hour mark when Lucas Moura calmly slotted his close-range shot past goalkeeper Josh Lillis after a timely through ball from Moussa Sissoko picked out the former PSG man.

The visitors began pressing on in the second half, with Mauricio Pochettino‘s side having trailed at the halftime break.

The two sides will now meet on either Feb. 27 or 28 in the reverse fixture to decide which team advances. The winner will either meet Sheffield Wednesday or Swansea City in the quarterfinals.