Rimando saves the day as USMNT holds off Czech Republic in 1-0 win

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The United States kicked off its 2018 World Cup cycle with a shorthanded 1-0 victory against the Czech Republic in a Wednesday friendly on NBCSN.

They can thank second-half goalkeeper Nick Rimando for not allowing an equalizer, as the Real Salt Lake netminder made a trio of outstanding saves in a hard-earned victory.

[ VIDEO: Watch full replay of the game ]

Ale Bedoya put home a rebound after Petr Cech saved a shot from Mix Diskerud in the 38th minute for the goal. Diskerud created the chance with a big interception that lead a 3v2 break.

It was a tale of two halves, as substitutions from both sides had the Czechs on the front foot for most of the second half.

The States were without Geoff Cameron, Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley and a bevy of MLS stars in the first game of Tim Howard’s break from playing for the national team. They started youngsters Joe Gyau, Julian Green and John Anthony Brooks before handing debuts to Greg Garza and 18-year-old Emerson Hyndman.

[ VIDEO: Klinsmann says US aim is at least the semis of World Cup 2018 ]

Both teams had chances over the course of the first half. The States had more consistent pressure and possession, but the Czechs showed plenty of danger on the counterattack.

Joe Gyau of Borussia Dortmund recorded the first shot of the match when he picked up an almost-picked off pass from Altidore and hit a low-powered shot that Cech collected. Overall, he was perhaps the most impressive player of the opening stanza.

The States snagged their goal when Diskerud darted in to pick off a sloppy pass in Czech territory. His shot was pushed aside by Cech, but Bedoya followed the play and coolly slotted a left-footed pass inside the post. It was 1-0 in the 29th minute.

Here’s what we were saying at half, with the Yanks up 1-0.

The States subbed on Nick Rimando and Tim Ream at halftime, and opened up the second half with a lot of possession, but spent a solid

The Czechs seized momentum around the 55th minute, and that’s when Rimando made the play of the half, posting a strong left-footed save on Krejci, who was sprung 1v1 on goal after a free kick.

Greg Garza, Brek Shea and Alfredo Morales entered the fray in the 63rd minute, with the days of Corona, Diskerud and Chandler coming to a close.

The changes again forced Rimando into action. After Ream had to clear a mistake by Gyau, the Real Salt Lake goalkeeper had to leap to punch away a hopeful equalizer.

Hyndman is now cap-tied to the United States after entering the game for a hobbled Bedoya in the 68th minute.

The Czechs continued to push for an equalizer, asking questions that their finishers just couldn’t answer. The States were off-balance on the road against a team getting ready to begin Euro 2016 qualification next week, and were fortunate to emerge with the win.

Hyndman made a horrible giveaway in the 84th minute, but to his credit raced back to recover the ball.

Rimando was called on one more time to parry a hard-hit shot in the 87th minute, as the RSL man shone in his 45 minutes of work. He was again called upon in the 90th minute, somehow stopping a 2v1 inside of the goal mouth. Stunning.

Three minutes of stoppage time led to nothing for the Czech Republic, as the States pulled off the win.

The US is off until Oct. 10 and 14, when they’ll host friendlies against Ecuador and Honduras.

USMNT Lineup

United States: Guzan (Rimando, 46′), F. Johnson, Orozco (Ream, 46′), Brooks, Chandler (Garza, 63′); Bedoya (Hyndman, 68′), Corona (Shea, 63′), Diskerud (Morales, 63′); Green, Altidore, Gyau

Goal: Bedoya (39)

Championship Focus: Bluebirds flying, Villa second-last

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The wild 46-game slate that is the Football League Championship is already howling, with all 24 teams three matches deep into their campaigns toward Premier League promotion (or avoiding relegation to League One).

The three clubs relegated from the Premier League last season all sit within the Top 8 after three match days. Sunderland is unbeaten with a win and two draws, while Hull City is 1-1-1.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

Middlesbrough has two wins from three matches, three points behind three sides who’ve started a perfect 3-0.

Wolves and Ipswich Town are two of the three, and Cardiff City leads the way. Owner Vincent Tan has seen his club score six goals without conceding once in defeats of Burton Albion, Aston Villa, and Sheffield United.

Burton is 0-3, while Steve Bruce‘s Villa is just one point better and sits 23rd.

As for individual superlatives, Bristol City’s Bobby Reid has four goals to lead the league while familiar names Lewis Grabban (Sunderland) and Abel Hernandez (Hull City) are among a quartet of players to score thrice.

Meanwhile, PL transfer target Jota of Brentford continues to impress with three assists through three matches. Will he remain in the second tier by the close of the transfer window?

MLS Snapshot: Montreal Impact 3-0 Chicago Fire

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The game in 100 words (or less)Ignacio Piatti is very good at soccer, and Chicago backstop Matt Lampson is going to see him deep into his dreams. Piatti beat Lampson up close on a turnover and then, with Montreal ahead 2-0 off a PK, the Argentine curled a surprise shot from distance around the keeper. Game, set, match, and it wasn’t even halftime. The loss keeps Chicago from using its match-in-hand to catch second place New York City FC, while the three points move Montreal to within two points of the East’s final playoff position.

Three moments that mattered

6′ — Piatti starts the party — Gifted a chance with the keeper by a sloppy missed clearing attempt, the Argentine deftly pops the ball over Fire keeper Matt Lampson.

36′ — Lampson hurts his cause — Chicago’s backstop wasn’t at fault on the opening goal, but he was for the second. After chopping down Matteo Mancosu in the box, Lampson guessed wrong on the striker’s penalty kick and the Fire went down 2-0.

38′ — It’s not your night, Lamps — Pretty sure you can anyone named Lampson, Lamps. Anyway, this time it was one of MLS’ top newcomers who set up Piatti for a goal. “Nacho” has his 12th of the season thanks to Blerim Dzemaili, and my goodness did Piatti do well here.

Man of the Match: Piatti.

Forbes ranks the top supporters in Major League Soccer

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Forbes claims the shared honor will give two Cascadia Cup rivals one less thing to argue about, but we completely disagree.

The celebrated magazine says their metrics show the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders tied for the honor of who has the best fans in Major League Soccer.

The post says the determination was made through four factors: attendance, local TV ratings, merchandise sales, and social media followers on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Attendance was weighted heaviest, which certainly gives Atlanta United hope to go charging up the rankings in the future. For now, the “Five Stripes” are not included in the list.

The Galaxy finish third in the rankings, while the sixth-place New York Red Bulls edge New York City FC by one spot.

For the report and full explanation, head here.

Europa League preview: Everton, Milan, Marseille take next steps

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The UEFA Europa League playoff round takes full flight Thursday, a day after Utrecht struck a blow for the Eredivisie with a 1-0 win over Zenit Saint-Petersburg in a Wednesday first leg.

Premier League participants Everton will be seeking a result at home against Hajduk Split, the third-place team from Croatia’s top flight.

Gylfi Sigurdsson passed his medical at Goodison Park but will not be available for Everton on Thursday.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

As for the match, manager Ronald Koeman knows the Thursday matchdays for the UEL will try his club’s endurance and depth. From EvertonFC.com:

“We know English teams have some problems. I think it is more mental than physical because if you play in the Champions League – so Wednesday and Saturday – you have the same amount of days to recover. I try to put out the strongest team to start the game. That will take into account the tactical aspects of each game. That will mean different players start and different options in terms of substitutions.”

Captained by Zoran Nizic and managed by Joan Carrillo, Hajduk has a young star in the making in the form of 19-year-old attacking midfielder Nikola Vlasic, but Everton is heavily favored at home with Hajduk given 12:1 odds by bookmakers.

[ MORE: Barca GM says Coutinho, Dembele “close” ]

Those numbers are a relative sure thing compared to AC Milan’s visitors. Macedonia club Shkendija are a 33:1 underdog for its trip to Italy.

Elsewhere, Slovenian side Domzale is a longshot at home to visiting Marseille.

Speaking of bookmakers, Arsenal won’t enter the competition until the group stage but is considered the favorite to win the UEL by a hair over Milan. Everton, Villarreal, and Athletic Bilbao are level with third-best odds.

UEFA Europa League playoff first legs
Utrecht 1-0 Zenit — Weds.
BATE Borisov vs. Oleksandriya — 1 p.m. ET Thursday
Apollon Limassol vs. Midtjylland — 1 p.m.
Krasnodar vs. Red Star Belgrade — 1 p.m.
Dinamo Zagreb vs. Skenderbeu — 1 p.m.
FH vs. Braga — 1:45 p.m. ET Thursday
PAOK vs. Ostersund — 2 p.m. ET Thursday
Vardar vs. Fenerbahce — 2 p.m.
Plzen vs. AEK Lamaca — 2:15 p.m. ET Thursday
Altach vs. Maccabi Tel-Aviv — 2:30 p.m. ET Thursday
Ludogorets Razgrad vs. Suduva — 2:30 p.m.
Panathinaikos vs. Athletic Bilbao — 2:30 p.m.
Domzale vs. Marseille — 2:45 p.m. ET Thursday
Osijek vs. Austria Wien — 2:45 p.m.
Viitorul vs. Red Bull Salzburg — 2:45 p.m.
Ajax vs. Rosenborg — 2:45 p.m.
Legia Warsaw vs. Sheriff — 2:45 p.m.
AC Milan vs. Shkendija — 2:45 p.m.
Club Brugge vs. AEK — 2:45 p.m.
Partizan vs. Videoton — 3 p.m. ET Thursday
Everton vs. Hajduk Split — 3:05 p.m. ET Thursday
Maritimo vs. Dynamo Kyiv — 3:30 p.m. ET Thursday