Brad Guzan backs young Villa defense to mature

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Aston Villa goalkeeper and U.S. international Brad Guzan believes the young defense in front of him at the Premier League club will improve thanks to their tough go last season.

Villa finished 15th last season and needed a few good results down the stretch to avoid feeling the head of relegation.

“We had a tough spell but that was what made us stronger and helped to bring out our character” Guzan told the Birmingham Mail. “When you go through those tough times you are able to help each other, pick each other up and dust each other down. You keep fighting.”

The defense at Villa Park allowed 68 goals throughout the league season, tied for the second-most in the Premier League.

“If you make mistakes it’s how you respond to the criticism that comes your way, you have to be man enough and move on. I think as a group and as a team we did a really good job of that and that will help us now in the future.”

It will be an important and crucial season for the young defensive unit.  Captain Ron Vlaar and right-back Alan Hutton are 28 years old, but aside from those two not a single defender on the Villa roster is older than 24.  Hutton probably won’t even be back next season as he looks to renew his loan spell with Real Mallorca, leaving Guzan and Vlaar to guide the roster into next season.

Vlaar saw both 23-year-old Ciaran Clark and 22-year-old Nathan Baker split time next to him in central defense, although Clark was dropped from the lineup down the stretch.

23-year-old Joe Bennett received most of the playing time down the left-hand side from manager Paul Lambert last year, and 24-year-old Matthew Lowton impressed on the right.

Guzan praised the young group’s effort, and pointed out how much of a trial-by-fire it really was.

“You need the help of defenders, and you need them to be brave because in England there are lots of balls coming into the box” said the 28-year-old keeper. “I think they improved massively. The guys in front of me did a really good job coming into a situation that maybe wasn’t the easiest. For them to learn as they went along – some new guys, some younger faces that have learnt on the job – was a tough ask. But they just got on with it, and that’s a test of their mental strength and focus.”

Villa have added two more youngsters to the defensive unit this summer, and they will be given a full preseason to prepare with Guzan and the rest of the squad.  20-year-old Jores Okore joined Lambert’s men from FC Nordsjaelland in Denmark for just over £4 million ($6 million), and 22-year-old Antonio Luna came over from Spain’s Sevilla.

RSL knocks out Portland to reach West semifinals (video)

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The game in 200 words (or less): Real Salt Lake outlasted the Portland Timbers in a constantly changing winter’s climate at altitude at Rio Tinto Stadium to book their place in the Western Conference semifinals, where they’ll visit the Seattle Sounders. A massive amount of rain and sleet fell throughout the first half, followed by a brief period of heavy snow, followed by clear(er) skies more conducive to actually playing soccer. Damir Kreilach opened the scoring in the 28th minute, but the visitors drew level barely 60 seconds into the second half.

Everyone had braced themselves for extra time, but Jefferson Savarino played the part of hero in the 87th minute when he slotted home past Steve Clark from a tough angle.

The career of Nick Rimando, the all-time record holder for essentially every goalkeeping statistic who will retire at the end of the 2019 season, is extended by at least one more game.

[ MORE: Lampard “pleased for Pulisic,” praises subs in Chelsea win ]

What did we learn?

  • Slow start leaves Portland an uphill battle: To say that Portland started this game slowly would be the understatement of the season.

After all that, it took Portland 37 seconds to register a shot in the second half. The ensuing corner kick wound up in the back of the net.

  • Portland should re-sign Valeri. End: It doesn’t matter whether the sides are hung up on money or length of contract — heck, even if he wants full control of the club’s roster as next technical director — it simply doesn’t matter. Diego Valeri is the (MLS) Portland Timbers; he is their best player in their MLS era; he is still their best player in 2019. Valeri didn’t play the first 63 minutes of this game, and Portland managed all of four shots in that time. They equaled that number in the first seven minutes Valeri was on the field. If you look up “difference maker” in the dictionary, it will simply read Valeri, Diego.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Damir Kreilach

Goalscorers: Kreilach (28′), Asprilla (47′), Savarino (87′)

Toronto score 4 goals in ET to bounce DCU, Rooney (video)

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The game in 200 words (or less): Toronto FC outplayed D.C. United by a wide margin but needed extra time — and a 13-minute explosion of goals — to book their place in the Eastern Conference semifinals, where they’ll face top-seeded New York City. The Reds led for exactly an hour, thanks to Marco Delgado’s goal just after the half-hour mark, only to throw their advantage away — after failing to convert a number of chances to go 2-0 up — in second-half stoppage time. The 1-1 scoreline lasted for all of about three minutes of game time before Toronto scored not once, not twice, not three times, but four times in the first period of extra time. Now, Greg Vanney’s side will cross its fingers and hope to get Jozy Altidore (quad) and Omar Gonzalez (hamstring), who didn’t play in this one, back for Wednesday’s game against NYCFC.

[ MORE: Lampard “pleased for Pulisic,” praises subs in Chelsea win ]

What did we learn?

  • Worst time for a goalkeeping error: You might be thinking, “Well, yes, duh, of course it is, there isn’t a good time for that.” The playoffs, however, are really not the right time, however, and United learned that the hard way when Bill Hamid failed to hold onto a simple bouncing ball in front of goal. Stefan Frei was lights out for the Seattle Sounders earlier on Saturday and Jesse Gonzalez recovered from a poor start (and was bailed out by three goals scored by FC Dallas), and Quentin Westberg was stellar for Toronto in this one.

  • Set-piece defending, once again: Earlier in the day, we saw Seattle fail to defend set pieces and let Dallas back into their game on multiple occasions. Toronto weren’t any better in the dying seconds of regular time. With under two minutes remaining, this is how they defended a United corner kick…

That’s comically bad for a regular season game in the middle of April, let alone for a dark-horse candidate in the playoffs, up a goal in stoppage time. Every chance counts tenfold in the playoffs, and set pieces are no different.

  • D.C.’s desire still in doubt: To lose in extra time, away from home, is one thing. To capitulate and concede four goals in 13 minutes — almost as if to say you didn’t want to score the late equalizer in the first place — is shameful. Wayne Rooney‘s time in MLS ends with his team down 5-1 in extra time and him being subbed off after 105 minutes.

 

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Jonathan Osorio

Goalscorers: Delgado (32′), Rodriguez (90’+3), Laryea (93′), Osorio (95′, 103′) DeLeon (105’+1)

Serie A: Juventus win 5th straight; Napoli cruise past Verona (video)

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s action in Italy’s top flight…

[ LA LIGA: Real Madrid lose to Mallorca; Messi, Suarez, Griezmann send Barca top ]

Juventus 2-1 Bologna

Juve were made to work a bit — but not too much — en route to a 2-1 victory over Bologna. It’s their fifth straight win in league play and again puts them four points clear of Inter Milan, who are yet to play this weekend.

Cristiano Ronaldo opened the scoring with a pinpoint finish from a tight angle in the 19th minute, but Bologna hit back just seven minutes later when Danilo smashed home a half-volley after Juve failed to clear a corner kick. It was 1-1 at halftime, but not much longer than that. Miralem Pjanic picked out the near post and slotted home past the goalkeeper in the 54th minute to give Juve their deserved winner.

Napoli 2-0 Verona

Napoli, on the other hand, had their backs against the wall early when Verona visited the San Paolo Stadium. Goalkeeper Alex Meret was the hero early on with a fantastic double-save before Carlo Ancelotti’s side settled in and took control of the game.

Arkadiusz Milik got on the end of Fabian Ruiz’s cross right in front of goal, leaving the Polish forward with the simplest of tap-ins to make it 1-0 in the 37 minute. Milik made it 2-0 when he got a glancing touch on a sensation free kick from Lorenzo Insigne in the 67th.

The victory sees Napoli hang onto fourth in the league table and move to within two points of second-place Inter.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Lazio 3-3 Atalanta

Sunday’s Serie A schedule

Sassuolo v. Inter Milan — 6:30 a.m. ET
Sampdoria v. Roma — 9 a.m. ET
Udinese v. Torino — 9 a.m. ET
Cagliari v. SPAL — 9 a.m. ET
Parma v. Genoa — 12 p.m. ET
AC Milan v. Lecce — 2:45 p.m. ET

Sounders top Dallas in all-time, extra-time playoffs classic (video)

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The game in 200 words (or less): How about one word? Insanity. Simply put, an all-time classic in MLS Cup Playoffs history. It’s a small sample size, no doubt about it, but MLS’s new single-elimination playoff format appears to have solved the problem of uninspiring early-round action. Seattle advanced to the Western Conference semifinals, where they’ll face the winner of Real Salt Lake versus Portland Timbers, with a 4-3 extra-time victory, but it wasn’t without 120 minutes of nonstop drama. Seattle went from 2-0 up inside the first 25 minutes, to level at 2-2 inside 65, to 3-2 up 10 minutes later, to level again with under 10 minutes of regular time remaining. They needed 113 minutes to do it, but Seattle broke the deadlock for the final time when Jordan Morris completed the first hat trick of his career.

[ MORE: Lampard “pleased for Pulisic,” praises subs in Chelsea win ]

What did we learn?

  • Sounders making magic out wide: No matter how many times they saw it, Dallas simply couldn’t slow down the Sounders wide attackers and full backs from creating superb scoring chances from out wide. This has been one of the Sounders’ greatest strengths for a couple seasons now, yet Dallas seemed wholly unprepared for it. The speed and crossing ability they have out wide is a huge problem for a lot of teams, especially when Morris and Raul Ruidiaz are moving around freely in the box.

  • Sounders’ defensive struggles unsolved: For all the chances they created on one end, Seattle couldn’t control the game or even slow it down in middle and defensive thirds. Whether it was on the counter-attack, through sustained possession by Dallas or set pieces, Seattle struggled in the worst way. Even after going ahead in extra time, Seattle stood idly by as Dallas created a couple of golden scoring chances and were so close to finding themselves level again at 4-4. They won’t have (m)any more “get out of jail free” cards to play as they advance to the latter rounds.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Jordan Morris

Goalscorers: Ruidiaz (18′), Morris (22′, 74′, 113′), Cannon (39′), Hedges (64′), Acosta (82′)