Author: Liviu Bird


PST Man of the Match: Darlington Nagbe

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SEATTLE — Portland Timbers wunderkind midfielder Darlington Nagbe turned in another gem of a performance against Seattle Sounders FC on Saturday. He scored the second goal of the 2-1 first leg of the MLS Western Conference semifinal.

With his team up a goal, Nagbe began a run on the left wing that left multiple Seattle defenders frozen in place. Kalif Alhassan played a pinpoint ball to Nagbe’s foot, and he took a touch to turn and then fire past Marcus Hahnemann to seal the match — and probably the series.

Beyond his nose for goal in that instance, Nagbe had another steady game as Portland’s creative outlet on the wing. He completed 24 of 27 passes, good for a 88.9-percent success rate.

In a first half largely dominated by the Sounders, Nagbe held the ball up well in the attacking third. In the 42nd minute, he burned two defenders on the right side of the penalty area before Osvaldo Alonso had to take him down.

Diego Chará receives an honorable mention for Man of the Match, mostly as a result of his tireless work rate and constant ability to find the action areas. Everywhere the ball moved, Chará was on the spot, whether it was in attack or defense.

He pressed forward from his holding midfield spot more often than usual, leaving Will Johnson to cover. Chará received a secondary assist on Ryan Johnson’s opening goal, as it was his pass that found Jack Jewsbury overlapping on the right side.

On the other side of the field, Alonso also played well on both sides of the ball. He completed 100 percent of his 23 attempted passes in the first half, finishing with 54 of 59 successful passes in 90 minutes.

Defensively, he patrolled in front of Seattle’s center backs as usual, with varying success. But in a game where the Sounders failed to create many clear-cut opportunities, despite its clear superiority in attacking personnel and boisterous home crowd, Alonso kept possession ticking and looked for seams going forward.

When the Sounders needed an influential player to step up, Alonso was on the spot in the form of his 90th-minute volley to give his team some hope on Thursday. Should Seattle mount any sort of comeback, it will have its Cuban talisman — steady all season and his entire career in rave green — to thank.

Moscow derby to be played without fans after midweek incident

People demonstrate as they hold a Nazi flag displaying a swastika at the stands of the Spartak Moscow supporters during a soccer match finals between Shinnik Yaroslavl and Spartak Moscow in Yaroslavl

One of the most volatile fixtures in the Russian Premier League, Spartak Moscow hosting Lokomotiv Moscow on Sunday, will be played in a closed Lokomotiv Stadium. The clubs share the ground until Otkrytie Arena is ready next year.

Spartak will also play a subsequent league match against Zenit St. Petersburg behind closed doors, as punishment for fan violence at a Russian Cup match at Shinnik Yaroslavl on Wednesday. Fans threw lit flares and torn-out stadium seats onto the field and fought with riot police, as well as displaying Nazi swastikas on flags in the crowd.

“For the use of fireworks by spectators, the audience throwing fireworks, for the unrest in the stadium and the public display of Nazi symbols in the audience,” the official RFU statement reads, “FC Spartak Moscow is fined 600,000 rubles [about $18,500] and is obliged to hold two of the next home games under the auspices of the RFU without spectators.”

Shinnik Yaroslavl was fined 500,000 rubles — about $15,500 — and mandated to play three home games behind closed doors “for the use of fireworks by spectators, the audience throwing fireworks, for the unrest the stadium and the failure to maintain public order and security at the stadium.”

(MORE: Russia’s racism stems from lack of education but can be reversed, experts say)

Spartak appealed the Russian Football Union punishment, likely in the hope that a final decision could not be made until after the derby on Sunday, allowing fans to attend. However, the appeal was rejected early on Saturday.

The club said in a press release that, despite having sold out the stadium for the match, the RFU would not suspend the punishment until after the weekend. The game will likely have an impact on the Russian Premier League title race, as the teams are tied at the top of the table — in second, underneath Zenit — on 30 points from 14 matches.

“The Appeals Committee of the RFU, alas, would not grant our petition,” the Spartak release read. “As a result, innocent fans suffered because of some provocateurs and thugs who rioted in Yaroslavl.”

Manchester City 7-0 Norwich City: Seven different scorers for City dismiss Canaries

Red-hot striker Aguero is likely to be the difference between the two sides on Saturday.
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The easiest way Manchester City could have taken the pressure off debutant goalkeeper Costel Pantilimon would have been to score a lot of goals. That’s exactly what the home side did, defeating Norwich City, 7-0, on Saturday.

The Romanian goalkeeper had little to do all game. Manager Manuel Pellegrini handed him his first Premier League start in place of Joe Hart, whose troubles this season have been well documented.

His teammates at the other end helped him by scoring early and often.

In the 16th minute, Canaries midfielder Bradley Johnson got the last touch on the opening goal. Gaël Clichy overlapped on the left flank and sent in a cross for David Silva. His initial shot was blocked, as was Sergio Agüero’s follow-up effort. However, that block ricocheted off Johnson and looped into the goal.

Just four minutes later, Silva would find the target. Samir Nasri found Agüero over the top on a counter-attack, and he laid the ball off for Silva’s late run into the penalty area. He made no mistake this time, smacking the ball past John Ruddy in the Norwich goal.

Nasri got another assist, helped by a defender, five minutes later. His corner kick found Matija Nastasić at the near post, and he headed into a defender, the deflection deceiving Ruddy on its way into the goal.

The fourth came from center forward Alvaro Negredo. Silva and Yaya Touré exchanged short passes on top of Norwich’s penalty area before slotting the ball through to Agüero. The Argentine was in an offside position when the ball was played, but the flag stayed down.

Shortly after, Pantilimon made the only tough save he needed to preserve his clean sheet. Gary Hooper took his chances from long distance, and the lanky Romanian needed nearly all of his 6-foot, 8-inch height to touch it around the post.

Yaya Touré added a fifth in the second half, curling a world-class free kick directly into the top corner from about 23 yards out on the hour mark. Agüero added a goal of his own after his two previous assists, slamming home a volley from around the penalty spot after a soft clearance by Sébastien Bassong in the 71st minute.

Substitute forward Edin Džeko capped it off in the 86th minute with a nice turn and strike inside the penalty area. The cheers from the City crowd felt almost ironic by that point, as its team won through seven different goalscorers. Pantilimon never looked uncomfortable in his Premier League debut, as his team outshot Norwich, 26-7.


Manchester City (4-2-3-1): Costel Pantilimon — Gaël Clichy, Matija Nastasić, Martin Demichelis, Pablo Zabaleta — Yaya Touré, Fernandinho — David Silva (Jesus Navas, 73), Sergio Agüero, Samir Nasri (James Milner, 70) — Álvaro Negredo (Edin Džeko, 46)

Unused substitutes: Joe Hart — Joleon Lescott, Micah Richards, Aleksandar Kolarov

Norwich City (4-4-2): John Ruddy — Sébastien Bassong, Steven Whittaker (Johan Elmander, 46), Michael Turner, Russell Martin — Martin Olsson, Bradley Johnson, Leroy Fer, Anthony Pilkington — Jonathan Howson, Gary Hooper (Josh Murphy, 46)

Unused substitutes: Mark Bunn — Wes Hoolahan, Javier Garrido, Luciano Becchio, Ryan Bennett

Watch Live: Manchester City vs. Norwich City (lineups and discuss)

Manchester City v Norwich City - Premier League
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The biggest question before Manchester City hosts Norwich has been settled: Joe Hart will be on the bench, while Romanian Costel Pantilimon will get the start. That signals that manager Manuel Pellegrini’s patience may have finally run out for his up-and-down English goalkeeper.

(MORE: Joe Hart dropped for Manchester City vs. Norwich)

In the last two seasons between City and Norwich, 25 goals have been scored, so the new man is sure to see some action between the posts.

For Norwich, Nathan Redmond (thigh) and striker Ricky van Wolfswinkel (ankle) were in doubt before the match, and they have indeed been left off the match-day squad completely for the Canaries.

City may have lost two of its last four, but Norwich has only won once in its previous six matches. Neither side will want to drop points today, with the host side trying to remain within striking distance at the top of the table, and the visitors trying to scrap their way out of the relegation zone.

You can watch the game live on NBC Sports Live Extra, on your television and online, with coverage starting at 11 a.m. ET.


Manchester City (4-2-3-1): Costel Pantilimon — Gaêl Clichy, Matija Nastasić, Martin Demichelis, Pablo Zabaleta — Yaya Touré, Fernandinho — David Silva, Sergio Agüero, Samir Nasri — Alvaro Negredo

Bench: Joe Hart — Joleon Lescott, Micah Richards, Aleksandar Kolarov, Jesus Navas, James Milner, Edin Džeko

Norwich City (4-4-2): John Ruddy — Sébastien Bassong, Steven Whittaker, Michael Turner, Russell Martin — Martin Olsson, Bradley Johnson, Leroy Fer, Anthony Pilkington — Jonathan Howson, Gary Hooper

Bench: Mark Bunn — Wes Hoolahan, Johan Elmander, Javier Garrido, Luciano Becchio, Ryan Bennett, Josh Murphy

What We Learned from Houston Dynamo’s 3-0 shellacking of Montreal Impact

Marco Di Vaio got in several physical altercations, including when he got in Corey Ashe's face early in the game. It was Ashe's throat that Di Vaio put his hand around to see a red card in the last minute on Thursday. (Photo: Bob Levey/AP)

Five thoughts on the Houston Dynamo’s easy 3-0 win over the Montreal Impact in the MLS Eastern Conference play-in game on Thursday night:

1) The Montreal Impact’s epic meltdown doesn’t make it look good. — Frustration with losing 3-0 is understandable, but a full-blown temper tantrum from one of the team’s supposed leaders was tough to watch. Marco Di Vaio lost his mind a little bit at the end of the game, undoubtedly not helped by his lack of attacking support all game long.

Before Di Vaio put his hand around Corey Ashe’s throat, and Andrés Romero kicked out at Kofi Sarkodie while he was on the ground after the whistle had already blown, Hernán Bernardello’s strange lapse of judgment in giving away a penalty to Oscar Boniek García set the tone.

With two defenders in support, Bernardello had no need to lunge into a tackle on García, which ended up giving away the goal that effectively killed the game in the first half. It wasn’t just the incidents themselves; it was the people making the mistakes — two Designated Players and a top young prospect — that was hard to swallow.

(MORE: Houston Dynamo 3-0 Montreal Impact: Quick start lifts Houston to next round)

source: AP
Marco Di Vaio got in several physical altercations, including when he got in Corey Ashe’s face early in the game. It was Ashe’s throat that Di Vaio put his hand around to see a red card in the last minute on Thursday. (Photo: Bob Levey/AP)

2) This was the Houston Dynamo everybody expects to see in the playoffs. — Despite a shaky regular season, head coach Dominic Kinnear knows how to win in the MLS playoffs, as does Los Angeles Galaxy coach Bruce Arena. Even if they finish in fourth or fifth place, those teams have proven they can be dangerous and claw their way to MLS Cup finals from anywhere.

It was an inspired performance all around, from Tally Hall staying focused and making two big saves on Di Vaio to keep the Italian frustrated, to Ricardo Clark playing like a 2009 version of himself, to Will Bruin rediscovering his Mr. Playoffs personality.

After just half an hour, the teams on the field were mirror images: Houston looked like a team that’s been in playoffs before, while Montreal looked increasingly flustered and couldn’t muster much more of an attack than kicking it toward an offside Di Vaio.

(MORE: Bruce Arena: ‘I don’t know if anyone has the formula’ for MLS playoff success)

3) Center back experiments aren’t working out in the two playoff games we’ve seen so far. — Nelson Rivas didn’t play a minute in the regular season, largely due to his recurring injuries, and it showed on Thursday night. Like the Colorado Rapids playing German Mera at center back against Seattle Sounders FC on Wednesday, this gamble didn’t pay off.

Rivas was lucky not to see a straight red card in the 35th minute after getting his arm in Giles Barnes’ face, but he finished the deed when he received a second yellow for a similar infraction in the 70th minute. That began the wave of red cards for Montreal and ended the game, as Bruin scored again two minutes after Rivas left the field.

4) Will Bruin broke out of his slump in a big way on Thursday. — Forget the last five regular-season matches. Bruin scores goals in big games.

The young forward scored four goals in the 2012 playoffs, and his brace on Thursday gave him half that total already in 2013. He will need to be in top form for Houston to have any chance against the New York Red Bulls in the conference semifinals, where he will match up against behemoth center backs Jámison Olave and Markus Holgersson.

(MORE: PST Man of the Match: Will Bruin)

5) The Dynamo gives itself a chance to reverse poor regular-season results against the New York Red Bulls with that performance. — Kinnear’s side can use the play-in game to create momentum and sustain a long playoff run, as it did in 2012. But this time, the next opponent will be tougher than last year.

New York owned Houston in the regular season in all three matches, at home and away. The Red Bulls won all three matches and put up an aggregate score of 9-1 across those games — two of which were at BBVA Compass Stadium. If they can get another good result in Texas this weekend, it will be a long road back.

To sustain a serious upset threat, Houston must win the first leg of the series, preferably by more than one goal. As is true throughout the playoffs, the Dynamo’s biggest game of the season is just around the corner.