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UEFA president talks up Champions League final in U.S.

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UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin is open to the idea of the UEFA Champions League final being played outside Europe.

Specifically, Ceferin thinks about New York.

[ VIDEO: Previewing all 10 PL matches ]

Ceferin said Thursday that staging the first ever UCL final away from Europe would be discussed at some point.

From FOX:

“To go from Portugal to Azerbaijan for example is almost the same or the same as if you go to New York. For the fans it’s no problem but we should see. It’s a European competition so let’s think about it.”

Given the preseason matches played in the United States, China, and Australia, it makes sense to stage an important UEFA match outside Europe. Those first two countries especially aim to become power players in the game, and certainly it would benefit UEFA to showcase its absolute finest (if only as a reminder).

We don’t get to see entire first teams playing the game in earnest when friendlies hit U.S. soil, and the successful Copa America showed UEFA that CONMEBOL and CONCACAF trust the States with critical matches.

Selfishly, of course we want this. And selfishly, of course Europe wants to keep it. Their fans wouldn’t necessarily want to take an incredibly expensive trip to see a UCL final.

Houston scores late to draw with New York Red Bulls, 2-2

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HOUSTON – The New York Red Bulls took command early, but then collapsed beneath the weight of a red card and a motivated second half effort from the home team Sunday, drawing with Houston at BBVA Compass Stadium, 2-2.

Houston rallied for two second half goals, including one in stoppage time, erasing a big first half from the visiting Red Bulls, thus sending the teams’ home-and-away series back up to New York tied on totals goals.

Omar Cummings finished a stoppage time scramble in front of New York’s goal for the late equalizer. Dynamo teammates Ricardo Clark had cut New York’s lead in half with a deflected 52nd-minute shot.

The match really turned 13 minutes later when Red Bulls center back Jamison Olave was shown a straight red for a bad tackle on Cummings. Thus, he will miss the return leg Wednesday at Red Bull Arena.

(MORE: Man of the Match, New York’s Tim Cahill)

The Red Bulls, who were rolling so mightily, with so much authority and swagger through the final weeks of Major League Soccer’s regular season, appeared ready to do the same in the playoffs. If there was any doubt about whether Mike Petke’s team, the 2013 Supporters Shield winners, would forfeit some of that confidence and form once into the post-season, the visitors had removed all doubt within half an hour.

Tim Cahill’s header off Thierry Henry’s swell assist got things going, and by the time Eric Alexander turned and fired into the near post after 30 minutes, the Red Bulls seemed well in control of the Eastern Conference semifinal first leg.

But things changed in the second half, and especially so after Olave’s 65th minute ejection. Houston had all the momentum from there.

Petke’s team looked quite dangerous from the start, sitting back and not really even trying to play with much possession on Houston’s small field. It worked perfectly as Henry got isolated along the left side. His nifty little turn created enough room for a centering ball, which Cahill turned into his first MLS playoff goal on an unchallenged header.

Yes, an unchallenged header; this year’s Dynamo defense just hasn’t been the classic, tough unit to score against we are so used to seeing from Dominic Kinnear clubs.

The defending was sloppy once again as Alexander got free down the right, the finishing touches of yet another quick thrust from the visitors. He turned on Eric Brunner and beat Houston ‘keeper Tally Hall – who didn’t look good on either New York goal – to the near post.

Houston had just a series of half-chances in the opening half before Will Bruin took Boniek Garcia’s sweet little release into the penalty area, pulled it around one defender to create some shooting space … but then hit his lightly contested shot well over New York goal from about 15 yards just before the break.

Houston was much stronger to start the second half, and Clark needed just six minutes to take advantage for David Carney’s awful clearance. Carney ”cleared” a ball from the wing into the middle of the field, where Clark gathered near the top of the penalty area and then saw his deflected shot beat a stranded Luis Robles. That cut the New York lead to 2-1.

New York had lost the initiative when Olave, so commanding at center back when he can stay on the field, when he is not dealing with injuries or suspensions, left his team a man down for 25 minutes.

The ball was nowhere nearby when Olave launched his dangerous tackle from behind on Cummings. Referee Ricardo Salazar was quickly on scene with red card in hand.

Cummings’ late equalizer came after a corner kick, which the Red Bulls failed to clear initially.

Kinnear, suspended but watching from a suite, used a lineup unchanged from the 11 that made easy work of Montreal in a mid-week elimination match.

Lineups

Houston Dynamo: Tally Hall, Kofi Sarkodie, Eric Brunner, Bobby Boswell, Corey Ashe; Oscar Boniek Garcia, Warren Creavalle, Ricardo Clark, Brad Davis; Will Bruin, Giles Barnes.

New York Red Bulls: Luis Robles, Markus Holgersson, Ibrahim Sekagya, David Carney, Eric Alexander, Dax McCarty, Jonathan Steele, Peguy Luyidula; Thierry Henry, Tim Cahill

Disaster in Houston sees Dynamo fall to New York, 3-0, lose control of their playoff destiny (video)

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Seven seconds into the game, Houston was on their way to a potentially back-breaking loss, one which cost them lose control of their playoff destiny. But that’s how long it took for Tim Cahill, streaking toward the Houston defene at the opening kickoff, to score off a long ball from Dax McCarty, the Dynamo’s defensive error paving the way to a 3-0 defeat Sunday at BBVA Compass Stadium.

Setting a league record for fastest goal, Cahill beat Jermaine Taylor in the air on a long ball hit toward Houston’s penalty area. The Red Bull attacker headed into the vacated space, with Taylor’s partner (Bobby Boswell) slow to provide cover. One-timing his volley past Talley Hall from 19 yards out, Cahill hit a ball hit with the outside of his right foot, his shot tailing away as the Houston keeper dove for his left post. With the fifth touch of the game, New York was up 1-0.

Houston generated a number of chances to equalize before Ibrahim Sekagya doubled New York’s lead in the 65th minute. Substitute Bradley Wright-Phillips blasted his insurance off the woodwork and in to put the Red Bulls up three with 15 minutes to play, the 3-0 result vaulting the Eastern Conference leaders back to first in the Supporters’ Shield chase.

With a win next week over Chicago, New York will claim their first major honor in club history as well as earn home field advantage throughout the playoffs, and although Chicago will be fighting for their playoffs lives, the Red Bulls will be favored to close out their campaign with a win at Red Bull Arena.

After the loss, Houston’s third of the season to New York, the Dynamo also find themselves fighting for their playoff lives. Now sitting sixth in the East, Dom Kinnear’s squad will need help to continue their quest for a third straight MLS Cup final appearance. That help could come from New York (who play Chicago next week), Toronto (who face Montréal), or Columbus (taking on New England). If, however, the teams that sit third through fifth in the East all win next weekend, Houston is out.1

It’s an amazing turn of events given Houston seemed to right their ship after their midseason impotence, yet here we are, with one weekend left, and Houston’s decided to out Seattle the Sounders. Not only are they face-planting, but they’re on the outside looking in. At least Seattle had the foresight to collapse once they were all but clinched.2

For a team that many picked in March to come out of the East, Houston’s was an unexpectedly poor performance in a must-win game. And yes, “must-win” gets thrown around too much, but at the point you’re about to lose control of your playoff destiny, you have to start winning games. There’s no way Houston can look at this result and say “live to fight another day.” They no longer get to decide when that next day comes.

The problems have been in defense, where the team is too often giving up goals uncharacteristic of a Kinnear-coach team. They’ve also been in attack, where the team has gone through stretches unable to consistently produce goals.

And not to over-simplify the game, but if you have trouble putting goals on the scoresheet and keeping your opponents off it, then you’re probably not a very good team. Tonight, Houston was not, and if may have cost them a spot in this year’s post season.

1 – Houston is out in that scenario unless they win and out-score New England by 10, in which case they’ll pass the Revolution on the league’s second tiebreaker: Goals scored.

2- San Jose caveats apply.

MLS Preview: Sporting Kansas City at Houston Dynamo

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  • Teams sit second, third in the Eastern Conference.
  • Houston has eliminated Kansas City from the last two postseasons.
  • Zusi, Besler out for Sporting; Garcia, Taylor missing for Houston.

Two years ago, Houston moved to the Eastern Conference. Ever since, the Dynamo have been the biggest obstacle between Sporting Kansas City and an MLS Cup final. Twice Sporting’s claimed first in the East, and twice it was rendered meaningless once eliminated by the Dynamo.

So Wednesday’s match in Houston (8:30 p.m. Eastern) should provide some insight as to where the teams stand with three weeks left in the season. Though Kansas City has made changes since last season — eschewing some Espinoza/Cesar brutality for a little Feilhaber/Rosell quality — Sporting’s on roughly the same level as last year. A win in Houston could hint this squad’s ready take the extra step. A stumble and not only will tracking down New York (and, the Supporters’ Shield) become  more difficult, but Kansas City will be given new reason to doubt by what’s turning into an old nemesis.

That may be reading too much into a regular season game (we’ll have to see how the match plays out), but given the familiarity the teams built in the last two postseasons, a match this late in the year’s bound to carry special meaning. For Houston, a team that’s had postseason success the last two seasons, perhaps getting into the playoffs will be enough, but for a Kansas City team that’s seen the Dynamo undermine their regular season success, a hiccup could leave a lasting effect.

Then there’s the little matter of the standings. Kansas City’s second in the East. Houston’s third. If those places hold, these teams meet for a homa-and-home in the conference semifinals. Third time’s a charm, right KC fans? Montréal, one point back of the Dynamo, have a game in hand, so tomorrow’s match may not be an outright playoff preview; regardless, we’re likely to learn a lot about how each team’s positioning themselves going into the postseason.

Houston will get a small boost from the return of Andrew Driver, the winger’s calf injury having sidelined him during the Dynamo’s recent surge. With Boniek Garcia on international duty, the Scot’s return comes at the perfect time, giving Dominic Kinnear an alternative to Jason Johnson wide.

The international break isn’t as forgiving for Sporting. Graham Zusi, the team’s best player going forward, will be with the U.S. national team, as will Matt Besler, half of the team’s league-best defensive duo. The depth at Peter Vermes’ disposal means quality options will be ready to step in, but with the difference between these sides so small to begin with, the loss of two key players could play a major part.

That in addition to the increased stakes for Houston provide a couple of reasons to see the Dynamo as favorites. Kansas City has the Supporters Shield in view, but they’re otherwise both securely in the playoffs and likely to finish in the East’s top two. Houston, on the other hand, are only four points clear of sixth. When deciding who’s more likely to win a game, always start with who wants it more.

Lose this weekend, and Houston could be back in a fight for their playoff lives. Win, and they move closer to avoiding another four-five, play-in game. They also move closer to a third-straight postseason meeting with Kansas City.

Late Cahill equalizer gives New York result in Seattle (Video)

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This a good result for both sides, once you zoom out and see in the big picture. For New York, playing without their two best players, this draw will only look better on closer examination. For Seattle, while a late equalizer leaves the feeling of points lost, they’re still in-control of their Supporters’ Shield fate, a position which would have been slightly more precarious had they contrived to lose on Sunday.

But with the 1-1 result, the Sounders remain one point behind East-leading New York in the Supporters’ Shield chase, and with two games in hand, the Western Conference co-leaders remain  favorites to claim their first regular season title. This weekend’s results did see Real Salt Lake pull even with them in the West, but still holding two games in hand on their Rocky Mountain foes, Seattle can only be so disappointed with the weekend’s results.

Against New York, Sigi Schmid’s team took the lead just before intermission, finally coming good on a slew of late-half chances when Brad Evans converted from the spot. But Seattle lost their edge in the second, allowing New York to hit the woodwork twice before Tim Cahill, lost in the left of the penalty area, buried a late equalizer. The right-footed curler inside Michael Gspurning’s far post gave Red Bull a well-earned point from a match few saw them winning.

That’s because Thierry Henry, with a chronic Achilles condition, was a no-go. Jamison Olave was scratched, too, his knee costing him the battle of conference leaders on Seattle’s FieldTurf surface. Though highly-debated during the week, the decision proved prescient as a unexpectedly heavy storm saw Sunday’s match played beneath a downpour. In those conditions, without their two best players, New York have to be happy with the point, even if they failed to deal a blow to Seattle.

For the Sounders, the result may be disappointing, but they didn’t lose any ground. Against a backline that had not played together before this season, the team may not be satisfied with a draw, but now seven unbeaten and with only one loss in their last 11, the Sounders continue to position themselves for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.