Drilling down on: Houston Dynamo 1, at D.C. United 1

1 Comment

No one does the playoffs like Houston – and they are going back to MLS Cup. Again.

This will be Houston’s fourth trip in seven seasons.

Dominic Kinnear’s team held a semi-cushy two-goal lead heading into RFK Stadium, and Oscar Boniek Garcia’s first-half goal turned a hill into a mountain for a young D.C. United team with good days apparently ahead.

For now, it’s Houston’s day to celebrate.

Kinnear’s men in orange had the right plan and the right players to professionally manage out a 1-1 draw, earning them a 4-2 win on total goals aggregate after Sunday’s Eastern Conference final at RFK Stadium.

Man of the Match:

The visitors had sterling performance all over the field, and most certainly all along the back five (the back four, plus goalkeeper Tally Hall, who never had a foot or a glove out of place. But veteran center back Bobby Boswell, who started his career at RFK with United, was a picture of calm command back there. He won headers, poked balls away, kept from being dragged out wide and even got a little tough when the situation called for it. For 75 minutes, United had done little to both Hall, and Boswell was a major reason why.

Threesome of knowledge: What we learned

Houston had the perfect plan, executed flawlessly:

Talk about a calm, disciplined and professional performance.

Dominic Kinnear did it again. The master of manufacturing playoff results got a little help when his top pair of central midfielders, Adam Moffat and Ricardo Clark, were adjudged healthy enough to start.

So he lined up the team in a 4-5-1, pushing Brad Davis and Clark up higher in the middle, allowing Moffat to sweep up behind them. They did concede some possession, but that was built into the scheme, and the men in orange more or less had things in control all along.

That’s because they were able to get just enough offensive push up the flanks through Mac Kandji and Garcia to create some opportunities. Meanwhile, Davis helped keep enough midfielder possession, while Clark covered his ground and Moffat kept that critical positional discipline.

Meanwhile, United choice to go with two defensive midfielders once again looked iffy; sure enough, Marcelo Saragosa, redundant alongside Perry Kitchen, was removed at halftime.

So all that DC United possession led to … precious little for the home side, which was missing too much offensive energy without a fully fit Dwayne De Rosario and without left-sided dynamo Chris Pontius.

United had just one shot on target – just one! – in the first 60 minutes. And Ben Olsen’s side had no corner kicks for almost 60 minutes through the middle of the match, from the 12th until the 68th.

For Houston, there was never a moment of defensive panic, and the Dynamo didn’t make the same mistake it made two weeks ago in a second-leg escape from Kansas City, where they sat back too far and absorbed too much pressure.

Not this time. This was under control all the way. In fact, if the Dynamo did one thing wrong, it was a failure to cinch this series off sooner. Will Bruin, Davis and Kandji wasted beautiful second-half chances on the counter attack.

DCU defense just not good enough:

From United’s side, the series wasn’t lost Sunday; it was dropped a week ago in Houston, when the Dynamo built a brick house of confidence while stacking up three goals.

All year, United’s weak link was along the back, where a collection of adequate defenders (but no commanding ones) gave up 43 goals this year. Defensive mistakes were abundant in last week’s loss at Houston.

And there were the pimples again on Sunday when Brad Davis shot through United back line along the right, while United midfielder Nick DeLeon and DCU’s center backs lost track of Oscar Boniek Garcia in the middle. Goal! And that was pretty much it.

That first-half heartbreaker sucked the life right out of Sunday’s big crowd at RFK, a gut punch from which a deflated United simply could not rally past.

In the bigger picture, United management was overly smitten with attacking DPs. And given the chance to trade late in the season, they picked up … Lionard Pajoy, another striker.

Meanwhile, Olsen had to arrange a system with two holding midfielders to present the back line with sufficient protection. That did get United into the playoffs, but it wasn’t the ticket for breaking all the way through.

United conceded five goals in four playoff games; Houston conceded four in five games, and they’ll go to MLS Cup once again as a result.

Houston’s main men delivered, a couple from the home team did not:

Davis is Houston’s most creative player, which may not be saying much on a meat-and-potatoes side like Houston’s.

But he did create a meaningful moment, and that’s the point. Meanwhile, Hall, Boswell and Jermaine Taylor all had afternoons that deserve long, slow applause. The other Dynamo men were sturdy as battleships.

But “sturdy” isn’t always enough to drive into an MLS Cup; it takes decisive moments from the difference makers.  And that’s where the comparison moves to United’s side, a ledger of lesser. Because United desperately needed one man in particular to deliver: Branko Boskovic.

Originally brought as a Designated Player, he was ostensibly the playmaker to open gaps in defenses around RFK. His struggles have been well documented – but what a moment this would have been for the veteran midfielder to re-write the narrative!

Instead, we saw a quiet symphony of lateral and negative passes. We saw Boskovic defer to teammates time and again. It really was a stark contrast to the way De Rosario made his emotional comeback and immediately enlivened the attack. He actually got balls into the penalty area. He pushed the attack. He finally helped make Houston’s center backs look less comfortable.

Boskovic did finally slice through the Dynamo defense. But where was that earlier? The home team needed that kind of attacking push out of the midfield from the first minute, not just in the 83rd.

Then again, at least he got the start. Hamdi Salihi, another failed DP around RFK, couldn’t he get that. He did get in late, but never did a thing to rattle Hall in Houston’s goal.

Packaged for take-away:

  • Following up on the last point,  Salihi came into Sunday’s contest with just one minute in the playoffs so far. Yikes.
  • The save of the match came from Hall, who pushed away Chris Korb’s perfectly struck, wildly knuckling half-volley in the first half.
  • Houston’s Clark will finally get to play in an MLS Cup; He missed two for Houston due to suspension.

ProSoccerTalk will keep up the discussion of the chase for MLS Cup through the Dec. 1 final.

Why Pulisic could be more likely to stay at Dortmund

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Christian Pulisic isn’t short of potential suitors this summer as he ponders his future.

Without a World Cup, Pulisic has plenty of time to recover from another full season of European football, one where he fully experienced the harsh realities of soccer at the highest level – two managers in and two managers out.

[READ: Emery set to replace Wenger at Arsenal]

With Dortmund hiring another coach, it seemed there was a chance Pulisic could decide to leave Dortmund and reunite with former manager Jurgen Klopp, or head elsewhere for a more stable situation. But Tuesday’s news that Dortmund has hired Lucien Favre may change all of that.

The 60-year-old Swiss native signed a two-year contract Tuesday, and his preferred style of play fits perfectly into how Pulisic performs best on the field.

The Bundesliga recently posted a detailed look at Favre’s tactics from his time at Nice, where he led the club to finishes of third and sixth the last two years, while re-juvinating the careers of Mario Balotelli and Younes Belhanda as well as unearthing young gems in Jean Seri and Allan Saint-Maximin.

In Favre’s 4-3-3, you could easily see Pulisic lining up on the right of the forward trident, running to the byline and dishing out assists, with Marco Reus on the left, cutting inside and firing shots home with his howitzer of a right leg. Or we could see the pair switch.

One thing that is currently missing is a dynamic No. 9, but with the whole summer transfer window ahead, Dortmund could easily re-sign Michy Batshuayi or find a new powerful center forward (Balotelli, anyone?).

In short, while Pulisic may have had a reason to leave Dortmund had another Peter Stoger-type manager been hired, Pulisic now has no reason why he can’t be a wild success at Dortmund for years to come. The 19-year-old (he’s still a teenager!) American star will have plenty of chances to bend in crosses or cut in and score goals himself, as well as the opportunity to play in the UEFA Champions League.

Kane named England captain, set to break record

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Call him captain Kane.

The FA confirmed on Tuesday that Harry Kane would captain England at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, where he’ll break a record for being the youngest England captain at a World Cup. At just 24-years of age, Kane appears wise beyond his years and has over the past World Cup cycle developed into arguably the best striker in the Premier League, if not one of the top center forwards in the world.

The previous youngest England captain was the late, great Bobby Moore, who was 25-years old at the 1966 World Cup – hosted of course by England.

Considering the overall youth movement within the England ranks, this comes as a smart decision from manager Gareth Southgate. Though strikers aren’t usually made captains, he leads the line by example and has displayed great leadership for Tottenham over the last two years. In addition, should he remain consistent in his club and country form, he could be an England captain for another eight years or so.

In the last two World Cups, England has gone with the veteran hand for captain, with Steven Gerrard wearing the armband for both. But England was knocked out in the Round of 16 in 2010 and didn’t make it out of the group stage in 2014, which, combined with the shocking defeat to Iceland in Euro 2016, necessitated a change in management and culture.

Arsenal, Puma drop new kit for upcoming season

Arsenal
Leave a comment

Arsenal will have a new home kit next year, but there’s a bit of a twist compared to the old reliable we know and love.

Puma and Arsenal released the club’s 2018-2019 home kit on Tuesday morning, featuring a red and white top with a “pulse” design through the center, which displays different shades of red to symbolize the heartbeat of the club, and lighter red on the white sleeves. White shorts and socks will accompany the home outfit.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Mesut Ozil, Alexandre Lacazette, Hector Bellerin and Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang all modeled the new kit, giving a hint that the quartet could be in Arsenal colors next season.

The uniform also uses Puma’s “seamless evoKNIT” technology, making it easier for players to play in while running across the pitch. The club has picked the marketing campaign “#WeAreTheArsenal” to drive sales.

Will the new kits bring Arsenal more success next season? Time will tell.

Short-handed Galaxy beat Impact after Ibrahimovic red card

Getty Images
Leave a comment

MONTREAL (AP) Playing a man down after Swedish star Zlatan Ibrahimovic got a red card in the 42nd minute, the Los Angeles Galaxy got past the Montreal Impact 1-0 Monday on a goal by Ola Kamara.

The Galaxy (4-6-1) ended a four-game losing run. Montreal (3-9-0) has lost three in a row, all by shutout, with the last two coming at home.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Ibrahimovic was sent off after slapping Michael Petrasso, who had stepped on Ibrahimovic’s foot while marking him well away from the ball. After consulting video, referee Ismail Elfath showed Ibrahimovic the red card and Petrasso the yellow.

Both went down after the slap, and Ibrahimovic was limping as a trainer helped him off the field.

With 10 men, the Galaxy stayed back in the second half, looking for counterattacks.

In the 75th minute, substitute Emmanuel Boateng headed a ball forward that Kamara took on the run. He beat Marco Donadel and Jukka Raitala with a cut into the middle and scored his team-leading fifth goal on a low shot from inside the penalty area.

Montreal had some chances, including back-to-back shots in the 55th minute by Alejandro Silva and Raheem Edwards that were blocked by goalkeeper David Bingham.