Drilling down on: at Real Salt Lake 3, Toronto FC 2

5 Comments

Man of the Match: You ever get the feeling you’re seeing something in the game and maybe your personal biases are coming into play (even when you’re paid to see through those kind of influences)? That’s the feeling I get every time I watch Real Salt Lake lately, because again I can’t help but feel Kyle Beckerman was almost always their best man. Nick Rimando made some key saves, and Chris Wingert was very good, but Beckerman was again the driving force for an RSL side that needed another later goal to get the result. Just as in Portland, it was Jonny Steele grabbing a winner, but it was Beckerman (and coach Jason Kreis) who kept the team pushing or the extra two points.

Packaged for takeaway:

  • For Toronto, it was an evil, evil way to tie a record. With seven losses to open the season, they’re now in the record books, but for much of the last 10 minutes, they looked more likely to win.
  • It was a three Moments of Brillance ™ that created the winning goal: Javier Morales beat two guys in the corner to get the ball into the box; Beckerman’s full stretch tee’d up the ball better than a punter at football practice; and Jonny Steele showed why he’s MLS’s unofficial super hero (what a name).
  • Jonny Steele, Sebastian Velasquez … Western Conference rivals might want to consider hiring away RSL’s scouts. We know RSL’s perpetually deep, but with no expansion draft this year, they have a chance to consolidate. Yikes.
  • Neither defense was very good, which made the game a treat for the fans. But it was a nightmare for the coaches accountable for organizing the teams.1 The first two goals allowed by Toronto can be pinned on Adrian Cann (I contend), while Jamison Olave gave up a (missed) penalty kick before getting torched on Eric Avila’s goal. For the second time in three matches, Alvaro Saborio lost his mark on a corner and gave up a goal (to Doneil Henry).
  • Toronto had two other first half goals allowed (but waved off) where their defending was horrible. Cann was at fault for one. On the other, the right side of the defense completely collapsed to the middle while an attack was build down the right. A ball to Chris Wingert saw the left back a step offside, but you can hardly blame him. The nearest defender was so far away, it was probably hard to tell if he was on or off..
  • While RSL fans may be frustrated by another mixed performance from their designated player, Saborio was crucial to RSL’s key tactic. Building down the right flank, they isolated Saborio on right back Richard Eckersley and fed him. Eventually, Aron Winter subbed off Eckersley for the 6’2″ Doneil Henry.
  • Though Henry would eventually head in a goal, it was an incredible substitution – a practical capitulation. Rather than adjust his tactics to have Cann mark Saborio while Torsten Frings covered any runners from midfield, he took off a man who could get forward down the right (something that’s kind of important to Winter’s system). I’m trying not to be too harsh about this (so please call me out if you disagree), but is this another event confirming the suspicions that TFC has no idea how to organize their defense? They take their back line’s best performer off because they can’t make another mid-match adjustment?
  • One positive for TFC: Eric Avila was a good shout for Man of the Match
  • Credit Jason Kreis for going after three points. In the 87th minute, he brought on Luis Gil for Tony Beltran, leaving three at the back to be exploited by Joao Plata. Twice Plata came close to finding a winner, bit the extra attackers eventually gave RSL a crucial advantage in the final third. It’s a simple equation (Risk one point to win two? Yes, please.) but one you rarely see coaches reference it, and while I’d like to say Kreis wouldn’t have done this if he wasn’t facing a winless team at home, it’s Jason Kreis. He might have.
  • Interesting debate to be had on the Olave-conceded penalty kick (that Frings missed). The announcing team (with the best color man in the business [IMO], Brian Dunseth) intimated that Olave had little choice but to lay out for the tackle on Avila, leaving himself susceptible to give up the kick. Their reasoning: A poor decision by Alvaro Saborio to backheel a ball in a dangerous area left Olave to be caught in isolation. My view: It’s rare that the chances of scoring at the spot of the foul are greater than the conversion rate of a penalty kick. With Avila deep in the left side of the box, Olave should have stayed on his feet.
  • It might be worth going back through the last month of games, but given the history at stake for Toronto, this is my game of the year … of the month.
  • Though it was a rough night for RSL’s linchpin, the team still got three points. They’re tied with San Jose at the top of the West with 19 points.
  • Toronto has their huge derby at Montreal next week. Lose that and they’ve got the record all to themselves.

1- Toronto FC fans ironically snicker at my latent assumption.

Report: Croatia’s Kalinic sent home from World Cup

Getty Images
Leave a comment

It’s only been five days, and we have our first World Cup dismissal.

According to a bombshell report out of Croatia, Croatia National Team head coach Zlatko Dalic has sent home striker Nikola Kalinic from the team’s camp, after the AC Milan player reportedly refused to be a substitute during Croatia’s 2-0 win over Nigeria.

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

The report states that Kalinic refused to come on due to an injury, but Dalic had said recently that his team had no injuries that would keep players out, potentially meaning that Kalinic used the injury claim as an excuse.

Croatia’s FA is expected to confirm the news on Monday.

After a rough season at AC Milan, with just six league goals in 31 Serie A appearances, Kalinic, at 30, is likely finished with the Vatreni. He scored three goals in World Cup qualifying but hasn’t started for Croatia since a 2-0 win over Peru in March. Kalinic did score against Spain in Croatia’s shock 2-1 win exactly two years prior to Saturday’s match.

He was deemed second choice to Mario Mandzukic as the center forward up top, but was reportedly asked to spell Mandzukic during Croatia’s match against Nigeria, and Kalinic reportedly refused.

If true, Croatia will continue with 22 players for the remainder of the tournament.

VAR, Granqvist penalty lead Sweden over South Korea

Getty Images
Leave a comment

On Day 5 of the World Cup, VAR took center stage once again.

Referee Joel Aguilar of El Salvador made the trek over to the video monitor in the 63rd minute after a no-call on a South Korea challenge in its own box, eventually reversing his decision and giving Sweden a penalty kick. Sweden captain Andreas Granqvist stepped up and sent his side in front before holding on for a 1-0 victory over South Korea on Monday morning in Nizhny Novgorod.

With the win, Sweden is joint top of Group F with Mexico on three points.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

The key moment in the match took place in the 62nd minute, as Sweden’s Viktor Claesson got his foot on a loose ball first before South Korea’s Kim Min-woo went through Claesson to clear the ball away.

Aguilar initially waved the penalty claim away, but after about 20 seconds and a word from his assistant referees in his ear, Aguilar made the sign for VAR and ran over to take a second look. Around 20-30 seconds later, Aguilar reversed his decision, awarding the Swedes a penalty.

Granqvist, who plays his club football for FC Krasnodar in Russia, stepped up to the spot and with veteran poise, sent Cho Hyun-woo the wrong way for the 1-0 lead.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.

Sweden had chances in the first half to get on the board. Marcus Berg was alone on goal in the 20th minute but Hyun-woo stuck out a leg and deflected it away. Another chance from Berg led to another save from Hyun-woo as he kept South Korea in the match.

Following Sweden’s goal, Sweden sat deep and allowed Heung-Min Son to find space on the wings, where South Korea set up numerous half-chances. But the final pass was just missing, and Sweden was able to clear the ball out of the box on numerous occasions, holding on to victory.

It’s a big win for Sweden, which will face an angry and pumped up Germany side coming off a loss in its first match. Meanwhile, South Korea looks to rebound against Mexico, with its spirits higher than the clouds.

It’s confirmed: Club Leon parts ways with Landon Donovan

Getty Images
1 Comment

Landon Donovan’s four-month adventure in Mexico appears to be over.

Club Leon announced on Sunday that it had parted ways with Donovan, despite the 36-year-old having a contract through the end of the calendar year. Donovan made just eight appearances for Leon, with just one start, and failed to score or assist on a goal as Leon slumped to 13th place in the Clausura season.

[READ: England squad reconnects with fans]

“…both parties have decided not to (keep the contract) for the Clausura that united us,” Leon said in a statement. “The departure of Landon from our team has been exemplary in all aspects. The club loses a legendary professional from the world of sports that leaves an indelible institutional imprint.”

It’s unclear what’s next for Donovan, but he stated in an interview with PST’s Matt Reed that he intends to continue playing in Mexico.

Donovan recently drew the ire of U.S. Men’s National Team fans and Donovan’s former teammates when he revealed he was rooting for Mexico at the World Cup this summer as part of a Well’s Fargo campaign.

Panama boss blunt and honest before nation’s World Cup debut

Photo by Trond Tandberg/Getty Images
Leave a comment

SOCHI, Russia (AP) — Panama coach Hernan Dario Gomez isn’t in the business of sugarcoating the truth before his team makes history by playing in its first World Cup.

The Central American team has trouble scoring and his players will need to have a good day to have any chance against Belgium on Monday, he said.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Blunt and honest, Gomez didn’t even hide his starting lineup, the normal way of doing things for coaches these days. And when asked if Panama could repeat Iceland’s upset against Argentina — the teams drew 1-1 on Saturday — the Colombian didn’t bother picking the right words when downplaying the Argentine squad.

“Iceland sent Croatia to the playoffs (in European qualifying), and it did well in the European Championship as well,” Gomez said. “It played against an Argentina squad which isn’t at the same level as Belgium right now. I mean, the distance between Iceland and Argentina isn’t as significant as the distance between Belgium and Panama.”

Gomez didn’t completely dismiss Panama’s chances of a surprise result against the Belgians, saying “anything can happen in football,” but admitted it wouldn’t be normal.

“It’s very clear that they are the favorites,” the 62-year-old coach said. “But each game is different, and if we have a good day, maybe we can achieve something.”

[ MORE: Where to watch Monday’s games, feat. England and Belgium ]

If Panama does find a way to advance past the group stage, Gomez said he already knows how he will be celebrating.

“I’ll drink two bottles of vodka,” he said laughing, before taking it back. “No, no … we are professionals.”

Gomez didn’t bother keeping his lineup a secret for the match in Sochi, naming the 11 starters without hesitating when asked about it. He even frankly talked about the formation his team would be playing Monday.

Gomez said Panama won’t be trying anything but defending against the talented Belgians, and admitted that scoring goals has been a weakness of his team entering the tournament.

“We’ve become strong on defense. It’s Panama’s virtue,” he said. “Panama isn’t a team that will score a lot of goals. We may create good chances in some matches, but we aren’t able to score. We arrive at the World Cup with problems scoring the goals.”

[ LIVE: World Cup scores ]

The 55th-ranked Panama drew 0-0 with Northern Ireland and lost 1-0 to Norway in its final warm-up matches before traveling to Russia.

It qualified for the tournament by finishing ahead of the United States in CONCACAF thanks to a last-minute victory over Costa Rica in qualifying.

Gomez said the team carries a big responsibility by representing the nation at a World Cup for the first time, and his biggest job is to get the players ready for the pressure they are about to face.

“The whole country is excited about this,” Gomez said. “I have to prepare the players mentally.”

Gomez has been coaching Panama since 2014. He was previously with Ecuador, Guatemala and Colombia.

Panama’s other Group G games will be against England on Sunday and Tunisia on June 28.