Drilling down on: at D.C. United 3, Houston 2

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Man of the Match: You can’t go wrong with either Maicon Santos or Dwayne De Rosario. As you can tell by the bold face font, I went with the latter. While we like to think of D.C.’s midfield as a diamond – DeRo allowed to float as a (gulp) trequartista behind Ben Olsen’s striking tandem – De Rosario deserves credit for doing his part in both halves of the park. Playing in line with Nick DeLeon (on the left) and Danny Cruz for much of the night, DeRo helped Perry Kitchen make the middle of the field unusable for the isolated Luiz Camargo. He also chipped in with the second goal and was the driving force behind the winner (shedding would-be tacklers like Brandon Jacobs).

Packaged for takeaway:

  • I usually think of Houston (particularly a Brad Davis-less Houston) as a litmus test. They’re not going to beat you unless you let them, and you can beat them if you craft something (instead of waiting for a gift). On Saturday against D.C. United, we saw a little bit of both.
    • In attack, Houston took advantage of D.C. errors. Poor marking of Will Bruin gave the former Hoosier his first, while a giveaway by Perry Kitchen and some slick gloves (I can only assume) from Joe Willis gave Bruin his second equalizer.
    • In defense, Houston mimicked D.C. For that reason, they may look back on this match as one that got away. A lost aerial challenge (first goal), confusion on a cross (second), and jumping under a ball into the box (third) gave D.C. their scores.
  • For the second match in a row, we didn’t see the best from Geoff Cameron, though his partnership with Bobby Boswell continues to be intriguing. It’s not like it’s a new tandem, but to see Cameron given the freedom to get into midfield and break up attacks makes you wonder how effective the team will be as Cameron continues to grow into the position. (Let’s leave aside the idea that Houston plays with a midfielder who should otherwise be doing this.)
  • Another potentially fruitful partnership: Chris Pontius and Maicon Santos. The first goal was a great example. Pontius did the work to get onto Brandon McDonald’s long ball, leaving Santos with a a ton of space to attack Houston’s broken defense. Pontius’s work seems to afford Santos the freedom to use his strength and skill without having to do his own work to create room.
  • Perry Kitchen’s quickly becoming the key to D.C. United’s season, which is why it was so disappointing to see his giveaway. As essentially the first defender, he’s going to have to shield a defense that allowed 52 goals last year (something that may not be as easy if DeRo doesn’t maintain tonight’s positional discipline). If D.C.’s attack stays this potent, teams are going to adjust, and his ability to distribute from a deep-lying position will become more important.
  • It bares remembering that Kitchen is in his first full season in defensive midfield. It also bares remembering that last year would have served as a great internship.1

1 – The word I originally used was apprenticeship, but that word’s wrong.

Report: Newcastle activates $12m release clause of ex-Arsenal youth

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Reports out of Turkey say Newcastle United have finally struck the transfer market for a new No. 10.

[ MORE: West Ham adds Diop ]

Aksam reports that Rafa Benitez got the Magpies hierarchy to activate a near $12 million release clause for Besiktas midfielder Oguzhan Ozyakup.

The 25-year-old was part of Arsenal’s youth set-up until 2012, making two League Cup appearances in 2011-12 before moving to Besiktas.

Dutch-born Ozyakup is 35-times capped with a goal for Turkey, twice captaining the Crescent-Stars.

Ozyakup lost playing time to Talisca this season, and registered just four assists in 24 appearances. In 219 appearances for Besiktas, he’s posted 27 goals with 50 assists.

Like the move for Newcastle?

Lukaku pens inspiring post on hard-scrabble upbringing

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Manchester United and Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku has an inspiring and emotional post in The Players’ Tribune which tugs at the heart strings and explains his competitive fire.

[ MORE: West Ham adds Diop ]

Lukaku talks about how his family’s poverty caused him to become a fierce competitor in the hopes of meeting his dreams head-on and providing for his family.

The Belgian, 25, scored twice in his side’s 3-0 World Cup-opening win over Panama earlier this week, and is now far removed from his youth, but he tells his story as if it lives fresh in his mind.

From The Players’ Tribune:

There were even times when my mum had to “borrow” bread from the bakery down the street. The bakers knew me and my little brother, so they’d let her take a loaf of bread on Monday and pay them back on Friday.

Lukaku also talks about racism in football, his debut for Anderlecht, and that aforementioned competitive drive. It’s 100 percent worth the read.

West Ham signs club record center back from Toulouse

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West Ham has reportedly set a club record with its latest signing under new manager Manuel Pellegrini.

Issa Diop is the player, the 21-year-old Toulouse captain and center back costing the Irons around $29 million.

[ MORE: Arsenal signs Leno ]

Diop scored three goals with an assist and eight yellow cards in 31 Ligue 1 matches this season, giving the young defender 95 apps, six goals, three assists, and 23 yellows since debuting with the senior team at 18.

Capped by France at every level below the senior team, Diop’s 2.2 interceptions per game ranked sixth in Ligue 1.

Toulose finished 18th in Ligue 1, but won its promotion/relegation playoff to stay in the French top flight.

From WHUFC.com:

“I am very happy to sign for such a historic, English club, and I hope to show my best here. I am a very ambitious player and West Ham is a very ambitious club, as we’ve seen with the appointment of the new coach. I hope to help the team win lots of games and make the fans happy.”

Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show: Episode 3

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In the third episode of Layla’s Occasionally Unbiased Football Show, England pulls out a massive win while VAR finds its way into the World Cup spotlight.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ] 

There will be plenty more to come over the next few weeks, with the show coming via the Men In Blazers.

Click play on the video above to watch the first episode in full.