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MLS (late-night) roundup: SKC win in Portland; RSL, Crew SC comebacks

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With six MLS Saturday afternoons/evenings officially in the books, only 28 more to go…

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Portland Timbers 0-1 Sporting Kansas City

Two teams remain unbeaten to start the 2017 MLS season: FC Dallas, the defending Supporters’ Shield winners, and Sporting KC. As far as statement wins go during the first month and a half of the season, few, if any, look better right now than Sporting’s 1-0 victory in Portland on Saturday.

Through six games played, Portland led the league in points (13), goals scored (16) and goal differential (+8). They were the unstoppable force. Through five games played, Sporting had conceded just two goals (fewest in MLS) — neither of which were scored prior to second-half stoppage time during games in which three points had already been safely secured — en route to securing the aforementioned unbeaten start (two wins, three draws).

With a defensive record like that, Peter Vermes’ side typically only ever needs to score one goal, and what a beauty they managed to score in this one. Roger Espinoza, Benny Feilhaber and Jimmy Medranda were heavily involved in the build-up around the 18-yard box, and Dom Dwyer headed home expertly for his second goal of the season. As is customary now, Tim Melia made one unbelievable save to secure all three points and send Sporting to within a point of Portland and Columbus Crew SC (both of whom have played one more game than them) in the (very early) Shield race.


Houston Dynamo 2-2 Minnesota United

The exciting, young attacking talent was on full display in the first half, as Mauro Manotas and Alberth Elis pushed Houston out to a 2-0 halftime lead, but leaky spells at the back indicated trouble was always lurking just around the corner.

Barely 90 seconds into the second half, that trouble came to full fruition, as Cristian Ramirez finally converted on his fourth chance on the night to make it 2-1. 12 minutes later, everyone in orange fell asleep and stood around the penalty area watching the ball, and Johan Venegas slammed home a deserved equalizer.


Columbus Crew SC 2-1 Toronto FC

If you’ve managed to work out the narrative surrounding Toronto this season, please do tell. They’re a confounding bunch at the moment: while they entered Saturday’s game as one of three teams unbeaten to start the season, they’ve got just one win in seven games, and they blew an early 1-0 lead in Columbus. Jozy Altidore headed home the opener, and TFC looked to finally have found their stride.

In the space of seven minutes just before halftime, they threw it all away and found themselves a goal down, which is where they’d finish. Niko Hansen set up Ola Kamara with a spectacular ball into the box, and Justin Meram popped up at the near post to slot home past Alex Bono.


New York Red Bulls 2-0 D.C. United

D.C. should be thankful for Minnesota and the Philadelphia Union, as they’re the only two sides who somehow manage to make Ben Olsen’s side seem a cohesive squad. (At least Minnesota are extremely watchable, and Philadelphia… well, OK, never mind.)

A visit from their I-95 (Atlantic Cup) rivals was exactly what New York, winless in four games entering the weekend, needed. Alex Muyl made it 1-0 less than a minute into the second half, and Bradley Wright-Phillips continued his march toward 100 MLS goals (currently at 72 in fewer than four full seasons).


Colorado Rapids 1-2 Real Salt Lake

The 2016 Rapids were a mirage, perhaps even a figment of our imagination from beginning to end. The difference is night and day. 1-0 victories were the hallmark of last year’s Supporters’ Shield runners-up.

As for RSL, that’s two wins in two games under new head coach Mike Petke. On Saturday, they trailed 1-0, thanks Kevin Doyle‘s 29th-minute opener, heading into the 85th minute. Then, Colorado’s Jared Watts gave away a penalty and got himself sent off at the same time, and Brooks Lennon rifled a low laser past Zac MacMath three minutes later.

Elsewhere in MLSAFTERNOON ROUNDUP

Montreal Impact 2-1 Atlanta United
Orlando City SC 2-1 LA Galaxy
Chicago Fire 3-0 New England Revolution

MLS Snapshot: NYCFC run rampant on Red Bulls, win 2-0

Photo credit: NYCFC
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The game in 100 words (or less): The only thing standing in the way of New York City FC avenging their infamous 7-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls with a lopsided demolition job of their own, on Saturday, was an otherworldly goalkeeping performance from Luis Robles. It was the Red Bulls shot-stopper, with his four saves on the afternoon (three of them coming in spectacular fashion), who kept Jesse Marsch’s side within touching distance for more than an hour. Jack Harrison was denied early on by Robles, but got the better of him not long later for the game’s opening goal. Heroics from Robles kept the score at 1-0 for another 32 minutes, before Ben Sweat’s (accidental?) header made it 2-0 in the 65th minute. The Red Bulls, on the other hand, managed their first shot on target in the 80th minute. That’s three wins in a row for NYCFC, who go seven points clear of their Hudson River rivals and keep Toronto FC in sight at the top of the league table, five points ahead.

[ MORE: Transfer rumor roundup ]

Three moments that mattered

18′ — Robles goes full-stretch to deny Harrison — David Villa’s vision and Rodney Wallace‘s hold-play created the chance for Harrison, but Luis Robles’ acrobatics denied the 20-year-old Englishman in spectacular fashion.

33′ — Harrison not to be denied this time — Sweat delivered the ball to Harrison near the top of the box, and the second-year man did everything right with what’s a really, really difficult chance to take — facing away from goal, first-time, ball traveling across the goalkeeper, upper-90 to the far post.

65′ — Sweat loops a header past Robles for 2-0 — Sweat probably didn’t mean it, but the ball hit the back of the net, and that’s all that matters. Not a bad time to score your first MLS goal, either.

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Man of the match: Luis Robles

Goalscorers: Harrison (33′), Sweat (65′)

Watford signs Will Hughes from Derby County

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Watford has completed the capture of 22-year-old central midfielder Will Hughes, a fantastic transfer for one of England’s younger talents.

Hughes, despite his young age, racked up 189 appearances for Derby County (despite missing significant time in 2015 for an ACL tear) and now gets his first shot at the Premier League, and with it potentially a chance to push his way into the England fold. Hughes has been a staple for the England youth system, making 22 appearances for the country’s U-21 side but is yet to feature for the senior team.

The fee for the transfer was undisclosed but reports have tabbed the amount at around $10 million.

Hughes came close to making the Premier League with Derby County on multiple occasions, reaching the Championship playoffs in both 2014 and 2016. Now, he’ll battle the likes of Valon Behrami, Tom Cleverley, Etienne Capoue, Abdoulaye Doucoure for a spot in Watford’s midfield.

The club release confirmed that Hughes has not yet completed his medical, and will do so when he returns to the U.K. from competing in the U-21 European Championships in Poland.

New Zealand 0-4 Portugal: Ronaldo, Portugal win Group A

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New Zealand gave the 2017 Confederations Cup all they had, but they go home empty-handed as Portugal won the Group A finale 3-0 to advance to the knockout round.

Portugal held much of the possession as expected, but they found little at the end early on. The first true chance fell to Cristiano Ronaldo in the 24th minute, who latched onto a Ricardo Quaresma cross from wide right and produced a powerful header, but it was poorly directed straight to New Zealand goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic for the easy save.

[ RECAP: Mexico eliminates Russia with 2-1 comeback ]

Ronaldo had another headed chance minutes later, but he rocketed the attempt back off the post. Portugal would eventually find the opener just past the half-hour mark via the penalty spot. Danilo was clearly shoved by a pair of defenders on a set-piece, and Ronaldo easily dispatched the spot-kick for a 1-0 lead.

The favorites would double their lead just a few minutes later as Eliseu on the overlap came down the left flank and cut horizontally into the box. He fed a charging Bernardo Silva, and the in-demand Monaco attacker jumped to meet it and poked home. Silva was unable to celebrate after turning his ankle heavily on the landing, but he would come back onto the field.

[ MORE: Latest 2017 Confederations Cup news

Portugal finished things off with 10 minutes to go in the game as Andre Silva burst through the midfielder, shucked his defender, and fired past Marinovic to seal the game for good. Nani added a fourth The win means Portugal finishes level on points with Mexico at the top of Group A, winning the group on goal differential thanks to Silva’s final goal.

Mexico 2-1 Russia: Comeback seals semifinal place

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Mexico again produced a poor first half, but were saved in the final 45 minutes as Juan Carlos Osorio led the CONCACAF squad to the semifinals of the 2017 Confederations Cup.

Right off the bat, there was a controversial moment. Just five minutes into the game, Yuri Zhirkov burst into the Mexico box and went to ground under a challenge from Hector Moreno. The referee waved play on, but it appeared on replay that Moreno tripped Zhirkov. Nevertheless, no call was made and no word came from the video assistant referee.

[ RECAP: Portugal eases by New Zealand 4-0 ]

The hosts had another huge penalty shout, but the referee again waved play on as Fedor Smolov was sent flying to ground as Nestor Araujo contacted his leg from behind in the 17th minute. After about a minute of play, the VAR called for a review, but even after a look at the monitor, the referee decided there was not obvious reason to reverse the call.

With Russia applying all the pressure, they would find the breakthrough in the 25th minute. A pair of fantastic saves from Memo Ochoa went for naught as Alexandr Erokhin whiffed, but he was able to find Aleksandr Samedov who struck low past Ochoa for the opener.

[ MORE: Latest 2017 Confederations Cup news

The lead wouldn’t last long. Mexico didn’t exactly seem sparked by the deficit, but they would draw back level against the run of play just past the half-hour mark. It appeared that Nestor Araujo’s looping header was meant to set up a teammate at the far post, but it ended up chipping Igor Akinfeev and tucking inside the woodwork for the equalizer.

After halftime, Mexico scored completely out of nowhere. A bombed clearance out of the back by Hector Herrera seemed an easy collect for Akinfeev, but as the ball bounced high up into the air, Hirving Lozano charged it down and headed the ball under feeble pressure from the Russian goalkeeper. The ball bounced unchallenged into the net, and Mexico took a shock 2-1 lead.

Mexico appeared to have a third to pad the lead, but VAR took 34 seconds to correctly reverse the call as replay spotted goalscorer Hector Moreno in an offside position on the delivery. Russia was doomed to defeat when Zhirkov was given a second yellow card for a clear elbow to the face of Miguel Layun. Somehow, the hosts still had one big chance in the 72nd minute despite the disadvantage, but Igor Smolinkov somehow missed the net on what should have been a tap-in.

The win for Mexico sees them into the knockout stage, but they fail to win the group, finishing level with Portugal on 7 points but coming up short on goal differential by one. Mexico will be without Andres Guardado in the semifinals, as he was shown his second yellow card of the tournament in the first half.