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Villa, NYCFC show courage with comeback win against Red Bulls

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Entering the 2017 MLS season, New York City FC had only defeated their cross-river rivals once.

[ MORE: Valeri’s scorcher helps Timbers run past Galaxy on Sunday ]

Now, in fairness to the team, it was a very small sample size of matches against the New York Red Bulls, but the results were certainly lopsided in the head-to-head series.

Fast forward to this season, and there have been changes within this NYCFC squad. Drastic chances. Noticeable changes that have pushed the team to another level.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Patrick Vieira’s men traveled to Toronto last weekend to take on arguably the best side in the Eastern Conference and MLS, in Toronto FC, and NYCFC laid an egg with a brutal 4-0 defeat at the hands of Sebastian Giovinco and company.

The disappointment and anger that lingered from that match was not present on Sunday night at Yankee Stadium, though, as NYCFC came back and knocked off the Red Bulls in front of a packed 33,679-supporter crowd in the Bronx.

Perhaps the fight in the squad and ensuing result came because of the fact that club was facing its undoubted greatest rival. Or it was a result of NYCFC’s growing confidence and ability to exhibit short-term memory loss, even after a devastating defeat like they suffered north of the border last Sunday.

A club always expects its top players to be on their game at the biggest moments, and captain David Villa displayed that grit and tenacity in his play against the Red Bulls, which was something that the former Spanish international had had a difficult time doing in the past against Jesse Marsch’s group.

I try to do my best always, in the training facility or in games,” Villa said. “I try to show the young players I arrived to where I arrive because I always give 100 percent on the pitch.

“Sometimes you can play well like today and score three goals and sometimes you can play bad like in Toronto the other day, like I did, but it is mandatory to give 100% and I try to do that. If they show me like a leader, it is a pleasure to me.”

Not only did Villa score his first-ever MLS hat-trick, but the 35-year-old goalscorer helped his side come back from a 2-1 deficit with less than 20 minutes remaining in the rivalry match.

“I don’t like to come back every time, I hope we’re not always in the same situation, but it’s great,” Villa said following his three-goal performance. “If you look at the team it is great, the whole feeling. Today the team went down then back up so it was great.”

On top of that, NYCFC can boast the fact that they have captured the season series against their Harrison-based foe, which was something that they couldn’t say during the first two years of this growing rivalry.

To Vieira, though, the result doesn’t matter if NYCFC doesn’t build off of the result and establish consistency in its future endeavors.

“We are not a big team yet because a big team plays like this every week,” Vieira said.

He continued: “We are getting close to the Red Bulls (in terms of stature) and games like tonight show we are close.”

“I told them I want them to enjoy the win but keep their feet on the ground and focus on the details game by game.”

NYCFC will hit the road next weekend when Vieira and his side head west to take on the LA Galaxy on Saturday night.

West Ham to friendly neighbors Dag & Red: “Will help save our club”

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English Conference Premier side Dagenham and Redbridge has seen better days, and is getting a hand from a Premier League pal.

[ WATCH: Fred’s vicious free kick ]

West Ham United will pay a visit to Dag & Red as part of the latter’s #SaveTheDaggers campaign, and the March 21 date will cost fans between $7 and $21 to see a top flight side at 6,000-seat Victoria Road.

Dagenham and Redbridge chairman Paul Gwinn said, “It really will help save our club.”

“So please come on down to the Chigwell Construction Stadium for an additional night of football. Bring a friend, or two, or more and we can use the gate takings to help get us back on track,” reads a press release.

Dag & Red was founded in 1992 and climbed as high as League One in 2011, and plays just 2.5 miles from West Ham United’s training ground. Newcastle’s Matt Ritchie and Dwight Gayle are among Dag & Red alums in the Premier League.

It’s a terrific gesture from West Ham, and is even more impressive in the United States where the growing club game is increasingly cutthroat (especially between non-synced leagues).

Angry Di Francesco extremely quotable after Roma loss

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AS Roma manager Eusebio Di Francesco absolutely roasted his charges after i Lupi tossed aside a Cenzig Under-inspired lead to fall 2-1 at Shakhtar Donetsk in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 tie on Wednesday.

Di Francesco had praise for Edin Dzeko, who assisted Under’s goal, as well as goalkeeper Alisson, but was mostly enraged by his side.

[ MORE: Recap + Fred’s vicious free kick ]

Rather than construct a narrative, we’re going to point out our five favorite selections from Di Francesco’s post-match talk.

4) “The difference was that in the first half we tried to hurt them while in the second we were looking to hold on – to what? I don’t know.”

— “To what? I don’t know” is hilarious. Di Francesco’s side has posted some serious wins this season, including killing off Chelsea 3-0 at home and coming back from 2-0 to draw the Blues at Stamford Bridge. He doesn’t preach sitting back.

3) “There were far too many schoolboy errors – even by players with a wealth of international experience.”

— Schoolboy errors!

2) “I saw two completely different teams out there today. There were lots of players I should have taken off after we conceded the first goal.”

— Again, one mistake by a number of players on Facundo Ferreyra is enough for Di Francesco. He’s not just happy to be here.

1) “I can’t imagine we’d get arrogant just because we’re winning an important game. It’s not as if Roma are used to reaching the final every year.”

— When you’re willing to essentially rip an entire club’s history — Roma’s been to just two UCL quarterfinals since losing the final to Liverpool in 1984 — you’re putting your footprints in new cement.

Europa League preview: Rating every second leg

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Christian Pulisic and Borussia Dortmund are one of many teams with their UEFA Europa League fates realistically in the balance come Thursday’s second legs of the Round of 32.

[ MORE: Sevilla 0-1 Man Utd | Mourinho reacts ]

Aside from a sextet of big teams posting blowouts, there’s still hope for the Round of 16 and a step closer to an automatic berth in the 2018-19 UEFA Champions League.

Basically done

Atletico Madrid 4-1 Copenhagen — 1 p.m. ET
Sporting Lisbon 3-1 Astana — 1 p.m. ET
Arsenal 3-0 Ostersund — 3:05 p.m. ET
Milan 3-0 Ludogorets Razgrad — 3:05 p.m. ET
Athletic Bilbao 3-1 Spartak Moscow — 3:05 p.m. ET
Braga 0-3 Marseille — 3:05 p.m. ET

In four of these cases, the heavy favorites emerged with multiple goal leads and at least three away goals.

Actually done

CSKA Moscow beat Red Star Belgrade 1-0 on Wednesday to win 1-0 on aggregate.

Unlikely, but big club lurks

RB Leipzig 3-1 Napoli — 1 p.m. ET
Villarreal 1-3 Lyon — 1 p.m. ET

In the case of Napoli, their 3-1 home loss to Leipzig was stunning but it’s impossible to rule out a club with such firepower. Villarreal trails by two to Lyon, but is home and dangerous.

Advantage one side, but anyone’s guess

Lokomotiv Moscow 3-2 Nice — 11 a.m. ET
Lazio 0-1 FCSB — 1 p.m. ET
Zenit Saint-Petersburg 0-1 Celtic — 1 p.m. ET
Red Bull Salzburg 2-2 Real Sociedad — 3:05 p.m. ET
Atalanta 2-3 Borussia Dortmund — 3:05 p.m. ET

Salzburg’s two away goals in a draw feels like a one-goal lead, and the one-goal matches are especially interesting. In the case of Atalanta, 1-0 to the Serie A side could undo Michy Batshuayi‘s first leg heroics for BVB.

Wide open

Plzen 1-1 Partizan Belgrade — 1 p.m. ET
Dynamo Kyiv 1-1 AEK Athens — 1 p.m. ET

Yes, nil-nil will get it done for the hosts, but there wasn’t a 0-0 in the entire group of first legs.

De Gea remarks on that save after Man Utd draws Sevilla

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It was probably the save of the UEFA Champions League’s Round of 16’s first legs, as David De Gea slapped away Luis Muriel’s bid to give Sevilla a halftime lead over Manchester United on Wednesday in Spain.

[ MORE: Recap | Mourinho reacts ]

Playing in his home country, De Gea had a massive outing in the scoreless draw.

The defiance of Muriel was De Gea’s second big save of the first half’s closing moments, and one of eight in the match.

“It was a good moment, a good save of course, especially because of the moment in the game. It was the last minute of the first half, it was important to not concede a goal. We defended well. They had control of the game, but it remains open.”

Watch the save below, and then catch De Gea against Chelsea on Sunday as two of the Premier League’s biggest clubs duke it out for Top Four positioning at Old Trafford (Watch live Sunday at 9:05 a.m. ET online via NBCSports.com).