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MLS Snapshots: Fire in 1st; FCD coast past TFC; SKC extend streak

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Sporting Kansas City 1-1 Portland Timbers

The game in 100 words (or less): Sporting KC extended their home unbeaten streak in MLS play to 18 games with a 1-1 draw against the Portland Timbers on Saturday, but only just by the skin of their teeth. The visitors controlled and dominated in every aspect for the game’s opening 55 minutes and held a 1-0 lead before Sporting came to life just before the hour mark. Diego Valeri fired Portland ahead with a long-range striker in the 26th minute, but Daniel Salloi’s first MLS goal pulled the home side level after 60 minutes. Tim Melia saved his third penalty kick (he’s faced only four) of the season in the 75th minute, denying Valeri after Fanendo Adi won the spot kick in controversial fashion.

Sporting were far from their best, playing without Matt Besler, Graham Zusi and Dom Dwyer (international duty), on the day that their lead in the Western Conference was cut from five points down to three.

[ MORE: Saturday’s transfer rumor roundup | Friday | Thursday ]

Three moments that mattered

26′ — Valeri’s blast from distance makes it 1-0 — No one stepped to Valeri as he approached the 18-yard box (due in large part to Sebastian Blanco‘s full-sprint run to occupy Kevin Ellis), and the Argentine playmaker-turned-sniper made them pay.

60′ — Espinoza sets up Salloi for 1-1 — Everything about Salloi’s equalizer — from Roger Espinoza‘s pass, to Salloi’s first touch and finish — is perfect.

74′ — Melia denies Valeri from the spot — Adi threw himself to the ground and won Portland a penalty with just over 15 minutes left in the game, but the ball simply refused to lie, as Melia atoned for his “mistake” and stood tall as Valeri hit his penalty down the middle and into the goalkeeper’s waiting hands.

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

Man of the match: Tim Melia

Goalscorers: Valeri (26′), Salloi (60′)


FC Dallas 3-1 Toronto FC

The game in 100 words (or less): The first half of the 2017 season was about one thing for FC Dallas: biding their time until Mauro Diaz returned to full fitness and form after rupturing his achilles last October. Through their first 15 games (before Diaz returned to the starting lineup last weekend), Oscar Pareja’s side managed to tread water and hold onto a top-three place in the Western Conference throughout. On Saturday, making his second start of the season, Diaz was unleashed, and FCD’s sky-high potential was unlocked. Hosting league-leading Toronto FC, the Hoops found themselves 2-0 ahead after 21 minutes (a brace from Roland Lamah, the second of two set up by Diaz), were pegged back by Marco Delgado in the 56th minute, and sealed the victory courtesy of Maximiliano Urruti’s 10th goal of the season in the 78th minute. The win moves FCD, who have two games in hand, to within three points of Sporting KC at the top of the West. TFC, meanwhile, relinquish their hold on the East and league’s top spot, due to results elsewhere.

[ MORE: Saturday’s transfer rumor roundup | Friday | Thursday ]

Three moments that mattered

5′ — Lamah pokes it past Bono for 1-0 — Maynor Figueroa released Urruti into the channel, and Urruti cut it back for Lamah who arrived in the nick of time to poke it past Alex Bono.

21′ — Lamah reels in Diaz’s through ball to make it 2-0 — The brilliance that is Mauro Diaz, on full display.

78′ — Barrios feed Urruti for 3-1 — Totally stretched while chasing an equalizer, TFC were caught out and Michael Barrios set up Urruti, with ease, to put the game out of reach.

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

Man of the match: Roland Lamah

Goalscorers: Lamah (5′, 21′), Delgado (56′), Urruti (78′)


Chicago Fire 4-0 Vancouver Whitecaps

The game in 100 words (or less): The only way to describe Chicago’s current standing as the first-place team in MLS is as rarified air, or unfamiliar territory.

Saturday’s 4-0 thrashing demolition destruction of Vancouver was but the latest in a string of impressive results, spurred on by a string of star performances by newcomer Nemanja Nikolic, who’s presently miles and miles ahead of everyone else in the Golden Boot and MVP races. Nikolic scored two more on Saturday, four minutes apart before the clock read 20:00, taking his 2017 tally to 16 (David Villa and Erick Torres are second, with 11 each). Nikolic turned provider on Chicago’s fourth, setting up Michael de Leeuw to complete the rout. The most impressive part? Dax McCarty and David Accam were away on international duty, and Bastian Schweinsteiger left the game after 43 mintues with an injury.

[ MORE: Saturday’s transfer rumor roundup | Friday | Thursday ]

Three moments that mattered

14′ — Nikolic slams home Polster’s cross for an early lead — Matt Polster’s future is undoubtedly as a right back. A central midfielder up until last season, the 24-year-old still has the patience and vision required to excel in his former position, and showed it off in picking out Nikolic for the opener.

18′ — Nikolic slots past Ousted for 2-0 — Right down Main Street this time, Chicago create scoring chances from every level and every area of the field.

25′ — Alvarez volley’s Polster’s cross for 3-0 — See again: Polster, Matt, above. Arturo Alvarez does incredibly well with the finish, and it was “game over” after 25 minutes.

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

Man of the match: Nemanja Nikolic

Goalscorers: Nikolic (14′, 18′), Alvarez (25′), De Leeuw (84′)

Liga MX wrap: Pachuca earns first win, Leon stays unbeaten

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All of Saturday’s action from around Mexico’s top flight…

Pachuca 3-1 Lobos BUAP

A strong first-half push from the hosts was all Pachuca needed on Saturday night to earn their first victory of the 2018 Clausura season. Angel Sagal brought the home side in front after just 10 minutes off of a near-post header, before Pachuca’s lead soon doubled 14 minutes later from the penalty spot when strike Franco Jara converted on the dead-ball attempt.

Just prior to halftime, Pachuca was out to a 3-0 advantage when 20-year-old outside back Erick Aguirre tallied his first goal for the club.

Last-place side Lobos got on the board three minutes into the second stanza via a finish from Heriberto Olvera, however, it wasn’t enough to provide anything more than a consolation for the visiting side.

Necaxa 1-3 Chivas Guadalajara

Mexican international Alan Pulido made it a dream start for the visitors from Guadalajara at the Estadio Victoria, however, that lead was cancelled out in first-half stoppage time after Carlos Gonzalez leveled the match up at 1-1.

The difference proved to be with 25 minutes left to play, when a goalkeeping error by Marcelo Barovero allowed Chivas to regain possession inside the Necaxa penalty area, before Ronaldo Cisneros tapped home the winner.

Then, a third goal came just prior to the end of regulation when Edwin Hernandez killed the game off for Matias Almeyda’s men, who also earned their first victory of the Clausura season.

Rest of Saturday’s Liga MX action

Cruz Azul 0-0 Club Leon
Queretaro 0-0 Tigres UANL
Monterrey 0-0 Club Tijuana

Sunday’s matches

UNAM vs. Club America — 1 p.m. ET
Santos Laguna vs. Morelia — 7 p.m. ET

The 2 Robbies: Alexis/Mkhitaryan transfer saga and more

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Robbie Mustoe and Robbie Earle recap all the key stories from the latest Premier League Saturday fixtures including Manchester City’s 3-1 win over Newcastle (0:20), Chelsea’s 4-0 victory at Brighton (10:15) and the latest on the Alexis Sanchez/Henrikh Mkhitaryan saga after wins for Arsenal and Manchester United (19:00). Plus, a closer look at the bottom of the table and thoughts go out to James McCarthy after his serious injury against West Brom (29:00).

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

All of the The 2 Robbies content can be accessed by clicking on this link:

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Follow them on Twitter @The2Robbies

Video: Stoke’s Imbula scores stunner on loan at Toulouse

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Stoke City supporters know the name Giannelli Imbula, and perhaps they’ll be clamoring for the Frenchman to return to the bet365 Stadium if he can score more goals like this.

[ MORE: PL Roundup — Top three all victorious; Gunners thrash Palace ]

The holding midfielder is currently on loan with Ligue 1 outfit Toulouse, and for the first time this season, Imbula opened his goalscoring account in some fashion.

Right on half-hour mark, Imbula unleashed a left-footed strike from nearly 40 yards out to give Toulouse the lead over Montpellier (below).

Imbula joined Stoke during the 2015/16 PL season, and has made 26 appearances for the Potters in his time with the club, prior to his loan to France.

Willian proves he’s Chelsea’s x-factor against Brighton

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There’s a considerable difference when watching a Chelsea team that plays with and without one of its Brazilian influences in the attacking part of the field.

Willian — who first debuted for the Blues back in 2013 — hasn’t always managed to be a regular starter for Chelsea, whether it was Jose Mourinho, Guus Hiddink or current manager Antonio Conte at the helm, though.

[ SOURCES: Jack Harrison expected to join Stoke City this winter ]

The 29-year-old plays with considerable flair, something that certainly isn’t uncommon amongst many players that have grown up in Brazil.

At times Willian’s overconfidence is a significant blessing, and at others it can be considered a curse, however, the former Corinthians player’s presence is something that Chelsea needs now more than ever.

That was on display on Saturday during the side’s 4-0 win at Brighton, a match in which Chelsea dominated from start to finish with Willian on the pitch. While the performance cannot solely be attributed to the attacking midfielder’s showing, it’s easy to argue that the Blues midfielder is becoming the club’s biggest x factor — one that can determine the outcome of a match.

Just look six minutes into the match, when the Blues put together one of the best team goals you’ll see in a match this year (or any year for that matter), which of course, was started and finished by none other than Willian.

What stands out about the play isn’t the brilliant slicing shot into the near post corner by the veteran playmaker, but instead the confidence that Willian exudes and brings to a Chelsea lineup that has plenty of talent to be considered one of the best teams in England and all of Europe.

After all, Conte’s group is just a season removed from winning the Premier League and still sits inside the top three in the world’s top league.

Then, there’s the Blues’ third goal against Brighton, which was set up by a smart, and instinctive, through ball played into the path of Eden Hazard by Willian (below).

Even though Hazard ends up with a ton of time on the ball to make his next decision, which was ultimately to cut inside on his preferred right foot, the run by Willian towards the end line dragged a defender away from the Belgian international — allowing the sequence to progress.

Arguing Willian’s importance isn’t a knock on Hazard — a world-class player in his own right — or Alvaro Morata, who has had the intolerable task of replacing a key player like Diego Costa.

Instead, it simply shows that Chelsea has a plethora of talent, and that some of the club’s attacking struggles throughout the 2017/18 season can be chalked up to Willian being left out of the starting XI on a regular basis.

[ MORE: Sergio Aguero continues to display brilliance for Man City ]

The Brazilian international has scored eight goals and added seven assists this season in all competitions for the Blues, despite only starting 19 matches.

The mind of manager Conte is an ever-changing one, so maybe Willian still doesn’t get the starting nod on an every week basis, but just by watching the team’s performance at the Amex Stadium it’s quite hard to argue against the player being on the field as much as possible.